Programmable RF Systems Advance Public Safety Communications

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In-building public safety communications systems are designed to do one thing – protect lives. During emergencies, it is imperative that such systems ensure clear and continuous reception and transmission of RF signals to first responders who risk their lives to protect others.

For this reason, the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) increasingly is demanding to certify that radio calls from an external base station or portable radio are received clearly from designated critical areas inside a building before issuing a certificate of occupancy. This requirement is so important that it has become a building code mandate in many cities and counties around the country.

AHJs develop their local building codes by drawing on specifications ensconced in national and international fire codes, namely, the NFPA and IFC series. Public safety RF performance includes receive power levels (minimum received signal strength), operating frequencies, typically VHF/UHF or 700/800 MHz public safety bands, and coverage in critical areas such as underground parking garages, stairwells and elevators along with common areas like lobbies and hallways.  

Here’s the challenge. To be code compliant, building owners hire systems integrators to install a public safety communication system that meets the AHJ-specified RF performance.

System integrators will install either bi-directional amplifiers (BDAs) and a distributed antenna system (DAS) available from a variety of manufacturers depending on the building square footage and the number of floors.

Coaxial cable typically connects the head-end to indoor antennas strategically located throughout critical and common areas. The BDA derives its signal source over the air from a nearby outdoor base station then retransmits that signal to all indoor antennas. DAS has a built-in signal source and transmits RF to antennas over a host/remote configuration.

There’s a catch. Every building is different. The RF system design must be tailored to that structure. Plus, these types of systems were hard-wired meaning the RF equipment installation, activation and testing is all done on site.

More important, when any performance parameter must be tweaked after the system is in service, either because the AHJ makes a change or the building is modified, a technician must implement BDA or DAS adjustments on site to ensure the building remains code compliant.

Over time, this activity runs up operating expenses for building owner and system integrator alike. Moreover, this approach is not scalable to as many buildings as the AHJ would like.

That situation is evolving. Fiplex Communications is an established Miami, FL-based supplier of RF equipment for public safety and mission critical applications. The company recently unveiled its FLEX line of programmable RF terminals that promise to streamline the installation and operation of in-building public safety communications systems, regardless of the jurisdiction or the building.

The FLEX product line includes programmable BDAs, DAS and battery backup unit (BBUs) whose RF operating parameters such frequency, power, and gain can be software-defined from a remote computer. This enhanced capability allows for ease of system upgrades and modifications without a dispatch, saving time and money.

According to the company, FLEX addresses performance and complexity challenges inherent to complying with stringent AHJ-mandated critical communications code requirement. At the same time, FLEX lowers economic barriers preventing systems integrators from wide scale penetration into their addressable market.

FLEX’s mission-critical performance and software-defined configuration delivers field deployment flexibility fostering greater building coverage that AHJs desire and better business opportunities for systems integrators.

“The response so far to FLEX from AHJs and our strategic partners has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s being embraced as a game changer,” says Robert Pitcock, Fiplex CEO.

By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor

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