Dotting Is and crossing Ts
Last month we discussed the essential elements of system installation. In this penultimate installment of our series on land-mobile radio, we will discuss the importance of effective program and project management. Program managers oversee multiple aspects of the project, such as budgets, resources, material flow, quality assurance and timelines. Meanwhile, project managers oversee the specific tasks that must be executed in order to bring a new system to life, such as site construction, equipment installation and system testing/optimization.
The program and project managers are responsible for the system deployment, from the time the contract is signed between the vendor and the customer to the moment that the customer takes possession of the system. The program manager controls the budget once it has been defined. The program manager also is responsible for the hiring and scheduling of all contractors needed for system staging, installation and optimization. This will require an understanding of local wages and work rules.
One of the first tasks is to create a program evaluation and review technique (PERT) chart, using Microsoft Project or similar tool. The PERT chart essentially is a project flow chart. Next, the engineers will determine the complete bill of materials. A support group that is part of the purchasing department will place the orders for all of the materials needed in the early stages of the project. The project manager will arrange for a secure place to store the material.
Not all of the material can be produced at the same time. It is essential then to identify items with long lead times so that these orders can be placed first; the goal is to have all of the material arriving at the staging and storage sites at the same time. As material arrives, the items should be thoroughly checked for any obvious damage incurred during shipping.
If a new site is being installed, then excavation, concrete pouring and foundation work will be required for the building and the tower. In addition, the electric power company must be contacted by the project manager and an order for power at the site must be placed, including individual meters for each tenant.
Also, regulatory approvals such as zoning and construction permits, and Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communications Commission authorizations will be required. The program manager is responsible for securing these items well before the start of construction.
There are eight main phases for a large project. These are as follows:
- Contract negotiations
- Design phase
- Preliminary design review
- Final design review and notice to proceed
- Acceptance testing
- Reporting and documentation
Let’s now discuss each of these areas in greater detail.
The contract negotiation phase — which will establish project parameters, define the work to be done and specify the equipment that will be used for the installation — can last anywhere from a few weeks on a small project to multiple months for a large project. Meanwhile, the design phase includes the following areas:
- Radio network design
- Site selection and licensing
- Permits and zoning
- System architecture
- Backhaul planning
- Dispatch, command and control
Once the system has been designed and all of the components have been selected, a preliminary design review will be conducted within both the vendor’s and client’s organizations, to ensure that nothing has been overlooked up to this point. This review should consider the following:
- Project schedule
- System architecture
- System coverage
- Test plans
- Site leases
- Licensing, permitting and zoning requirements
- Action items
- Final design review plans
Once the preliminary design review has been completed, the next step is to repeat the process, which is called final design review. Upon completion of this review, the end customer will give the vendor the authority to proceed with the project. At this point, the construction phase can begin.
The first step will be for the project manager to develop a timeline for the remainder of the project. However, it must be emphasized that construction on the system cannot begin until all of the regulatory approvals have been obtained. These items include:
- Zoning and construction permits
- Civil-engineering certification by a professional engineer (including grounding and electrical)
- FCC authorization (at least a conditional temporary authority)
- FAA authorization (if required)
The first items to be constructed are the pads and/or foundations for the building(s) and tower(s), followed by the structures themselves. Once this phase is completed, the equipment can begin to be delivered. If a factory staging of the equipment wasn’t done, then a field staging must be performed. Regardless of whether the staging was done in the factory or in the field, a factory acceptance test will be conducted to ensure that all functions and features of the gear are performing as expected.
When everything has passed muster, the installation phase can begin.
In an IP network, a separate network design review must take place with the local IT department to obtain the required IP addresses and authorizations necessary for that part of the system to work. In all cases where IP addresses are used, the addresses used for testing will not work in the actual system. In fact, never plug an Ethernet connection into a system without first getting the proper authorization from the IT manager in charge of equipment addresses. You could shut down a critical part of an agency’s operation by failing to follow the proper procedure on this part of the installation.
During the system optimization phase, every adjustment and level is rechecked to ensure that they match or exceed what the design engineer had designated for the system. The RF and audio levels, for example, should be within 1 dB in almost every instance. If the levels are deficient in any way, the system will not perform properly and the design engineer will need to be consulted — and perhaps brought to the site — in order to correct the problem.
If the system involves a microwave path, the levels between the system design and actual measurement must be exactly the same or there will be a problem— such a discrepancy must be corrected before moving on to another part of the system. If IP and computer networks are part of the system, these also must be part of the system optimization. You will need to work closely with the IT department to develop and perform that part of the optimization. Finally, if the system is a simulcast or multicast, then optimization must be conducted at each site and throughout the entire system.
At this point, the system’s coverage area can be spot-checked, but note that a full coverage test will be performed as part of the final acceptance test. If site-to-site handoff is one of the operational features of your system, then this function also should be evaluated during system optimization.
Before you perform the final acceptance test — which is conducted in the presence of the customer — it is advised that you do a dry run during the system optimization phase. It is vital that this test confirms that 100% of the system is working as designed.
The final test should be detailed enough so that all operational features are verified. As mentioned previously, this includes the coverage area. If the new system is for public-safety agencies, it must have as close to 95% coverage as possible so that field units can communicate with their dispatchers in their normal jurisdiction. In addition, most public-safety agencies cannot tolerate service interruptions of any kind, so redundancy must part of the system design. Simply put, first responders can’t be effective if they don’t have a reliable radio system.
The final test will assure the customer that all parts of the system are working as desired. Each component within the system should be checked for functionality and the precise operating levels and parameters should be remeasured in front of the customer to show that the individual components have been optimized properly for that particular system.
Whether performing the role of program manger or project manager, you are responsible for the documentation of the system. This will include meeting notes, schedules, receipts, reports and everything else related to the project. If everything goes well, a deficiency in the documentation may not be noticed. If things do not go well, the deficiency most definitely will be noticed. Because you won’t know how the project will turn out until the very end, you must keep the reports up-to-date and accurate. It is common for a large project to have thousands of pages of documentation that is handed over to the customer at the end of the process.
This documentation also will be necessary for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the system. Next article will conclude this series by discussing what it takes to keep a system running properly once it is turned over to the customer.
Part 1: Class is in session: Basic LMR and FCC definitions
Part 2: Start at the beginning: Understanding LMR user needs
Part 3: The devil’s in the details: Conducting a user-needs survey
Part 4: Decisions, decisions: Understanding the LRM procurement process
Part 5: Let’s get started: System engineering begins with RF planning
Part 6: The lynchpin: Receiver planning and noise interference
Part 7: Connecting the dots: How to connect LMR sites
Part 8: The next piece of the puzzle: Understanding dispatch communications
Part 9: Now the real work begins: How to select a suitable LMR site
Part 10: The bane of your existence: How to deal with RF interference
Part 11: Winning the battle: More causes of RF interference
Part 12: Now the fun begins: Installing the LMR system
Ira Wiesenfeld, P.E., is a consulting engineer who has been involved in the radio communications business since 1966. He is a senior member of the IEEE and has been a licensed amateur radio operator since 1963. He can be reached at [email protected].
Robert C. Shapiro, P.E, is the senior manager-systems engineering for Cassidian Communications, an EADS Company. He serves on the TIA TR8 committee as TR8.18 vice chair and is a senior member of the IEEE. He can be reached at [email protected].