The Nixon City Council heard from representatives from a pair of communications companies about their separate proposals for new trunked radio systems for Gonzales County during a special called meeting on Monday, Oct. 18.
Gonzales County officials have previously discussed installing a Motorola P25 VHF simulcast radio system that would be paid for through a Community Development Block Grant issued through the Texas General Land Office (GLO) 2020 Mitigation Application program at a cost of between $4.68 to $4.93 million.
However, Nixon officials, including Mayor Dorothy Riojas, City Manager Harold Rice and Police Chief Mike Cantu, have expressed concerns that Motorola’s system — which relies on a master tower tower at the Gonzales County Sheriff’s Office and additional towers in Waelder, Belmont and Smiley — will not provide enough coverage and that critical communication lapses could occur in their community.
The Nixon contingent is asking the county to consider instead a proposal by Dailey-Wells Communications and the Lower Colorado River Authority for a 700/800 MHz trunking system that would allow better connectivity to counties to the west and north of Nixon they believe also will cost nearly half as much as the one being proposed by Motorola.
“These radio towers will affect all of the first responders of our county, along with every person that lives in our county and passes through,” Riojas said. “We felt that we needed to be informed on each possible system and how one or the other will affect the citizens of Nixon and this county.”
The major differences in the two systems being proposed are in the radio frequencies being used and in ownership of the system.
VHF (Very High Frequency) — which is being proposed by Motorola — is commonly used not only for two-way land mobile radio systems and long-range data communications, but also for FM radio broadcasting. 700/800MHz — which Dailey-Wells and LCRA use — relies on UHF (Ultra High Frequency) bands that have a much shorter wavelength, which is why repeaters are used to help increase the range of the radio bandwidth.
The county would own the Motorola system and contract for yearly upkeep, maintenance and monitoring, while they would lease equipment and pay for monthly radio subscriptions on LCRA’s network through Dailey-Wells, with LCRA providing the system monitoring and upkeep.
George Ebelt, a senior account manager for Motorola Solutions Inc. in Spring-Klein, said he believes the county would be better served by owning their own system because “it gives you, the county, or you, the city, the ability to make your own decisions.”
“You don't have to rely on what somebody else is going to tell you to do because you're paying a monthly subscription for it,” Ebelt said. “You make those decisions on how you want that to grow, how you want that to expand. If you want to expand it, you expand, and you don't rely on someone else for the expansion needs.
“From an interoperability standpoint, you determine what the interoperability is, whether it's VHF for people to come talk to you, or whether it's 700/800 for boundaries of other counties that surround you. And that's what allows you to make those decisions. The vendor doesn't decide who the owner is, you decide who the owner is, and to me, that's pretty important.
“I've been doing this for more than 30 years, and I've never seen where if a county had the opportunity through a grant to own their own system, they would rather be on another system where they pay a monthly fee, or another system where they buy some components and let someone else manage it for them.”
Ebelt said the portable coverage would be guaranteed at 95 percent, which he called an industry standard.
“This is outside with a portable, not up here at head level or down at belt level where you have all of your loss with the speaker mic. This is that coverage that will guarantee from a 95% perspective,” Ebelt said. “We manufacture the equipment, we guarantee coverage on the equipment, we are the ones that can put a map together on the equipment that we manufacture. We're not a dealer, we're not a user of the equipment, we actually manufacture it.”
Meanwhile, C.J. Hijazi, senior vice president of Dailey-Wells Communications, said the system maintained by LCRA would make it possible for Gonzales County officers to deal with situations that take them into neighboring counties — including all the way to San Antonio and Bexar County.
“Look at this coverage here, this is all 700 sites that are existing today. You can take that radio and drive all the way in that area up and down and communicate on 700 MHz,” Hijazi said. “If you have a chase that goes through Guadalupe County (Seguin), what are you going to do with VHF? When you are communicating and you're going all the way into Guadalupe County and you can go all the way into Bexar County and still communicate on that system and back into Gonzales County.
“We have the two cores, the San Antonio core that we purchased and the LCRA core connected together, so anybody can communicate between the two cores. As you're driving away with a chase, you can still communicate back through dispatch. You're not an island.”
He also questioned offering or dictating just four tower sites to the county and said the amount of coverage the county can receive should be up to the county and not just a standard answer of 95 percent.
“Is that the right number 95%? The answer is what are you looking for? You are the customer. You tell us what you need,” Hijazi said. “Another carrier, they tell you how many sites its going to take, but I'm going to tell you, what are you looking for? What kind of coverage do you need, so I can provide it to you?
“If I'm gonna do coverage testing, I'm gonna tell you ‘This is what I'm gonna provide you. This the percentage I'm gonna provide you’ and we’re both going to do ‘Can you hear me now?’ testing all the way through Gonzales County because that is how we operate.”
Hijazi also said the county would benefit from having LCRA’s $50 million system already in place and working.
“They have this entire infrastructure, so you do not have to pay for upgrades or updates,” Hijazi added. “You are utilizing a $50 million system and they’re constantly going and talking to us and making sure they have the latest and greatest in software and technology.”