The Radio Engineering Division of VITA offers a variety of services to state agencies, local governments, and education including:
The Radio Engineering Division provides assistance to agencies and localities in the design of new systems, analyzing communications problems and recommending solutions, identifying sources and resolving interference problems.
Review of proposed communications systems and equipment procurement is necessary to prevent wasteful expenditure of resources. The personnel of many state agencies either consider themselves sufficiently knowledgeable to determine what is needed or rely upon the advice of other users or vendor representatives. This frequently results in requests for unnecessary equipment, systems which do not meet agency needs or combinations, which will function improperly or be incompatible with existing systems. This review also allows the Radio Engineering Division to ensure that there is a valid FCC license and that the frequencies being requested are authorized for use by the agency.
Radio spectrum is a scarce and valuable resource, similar in many respects to land, and like land, there is only so much available and "they're" not making more. The demand is extreme. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and international regulatory agencies have decreed that the practices of the past will no longer be tolerated and much more efficient usage is to be mandated. At the same time the federal government is moving in the direction of "deregulation", which means that much of the control formerly exercised by the FCC in this area is passing to private associations, commercial interests and state governments. The states have been actively moving to meet these responsibilities. Virginia has been a leader in this regard and many, both inside and outside of state government, look to us for continued leadership and guidance in this area.
Approximately seventy four Virginia state agencies operate radio systems utilizing some two-hundred fifty radio frequencies. Many more radio users share frequencies within systems operated by other agencies/localities. The need for radio communications by state agencies is increasing continuously. Finding radio frequencies to accommodate the demand is becoming ever more difficult. Fortunately, modern technology makes it possible to utilize frequencies previously unsuitable for communication and to make increasingly efficient use of those traditionally employed. New frequencies and technologies require a significant higher level of administration and control. The Radio Engineering Division is heavily involved in the planning and development of procedures and systems to make more efficient use of radio spectrum and to implement newer technologies, when practical, so as to provide state government with the best possible radio communications. This capability exits nowhere else in the state government and is probably not available at any realistic cost anywhere else.
Despite deregulation, the federal government still requires licensing in order to prevent total chaos in radio communications. The process has become infinitely more complex in the last three years and promises to continue to do so. The licensing process, in addition to the legal ramifications, provides a tool for controlling monetary expense and avoiding confusing and mutual interference among state government users. Licensing has become a major activity of the Radio Engineering Division. Significant procedures, and data sources have been developed, and most state agencies have come to depend totally on their expertise in this area. Past attempts to obtain this service from alternate sources (radio hardware vendors or commercial firms specializing in this activity) have often been problematic. The results are usually very expensive and serve the interests of others rather than the user agency. The Radio Engineering Division has gone from hand calculations on topographic maps and typing FCC applications to GPS coordination and on-line filing with the FCC.
The FCC rules and regulations governing Public Safety are constantly reviewed by the Radio Engineering Division. Although primarily focused on Title 47, part 90 FCC rules and regulations, the Division is also involved in other spectrum areas such as Fixed Earth Stations (satellite links) used in state higher education facilities. Immediate and future impacts to Public Safety and state government, as a whole, are reviewed, assessed and disseminated to various levels of management and governing bodies (i.e. 800 MHz rebanding, the narrow banding of part 90 frequencies by 2013 and its ramifications on all state and local governments, and 700 MHz). Other considerations that the ISP follows are FCC policies governing new technologies such as software defined radio (SDR), 4.9 GHz and how will this effect Public Safety operations and/or protocols.
The ISP plays an important role in the spectrum management of STARS project. Besides serving on the various STARS committees, the Radio Engineering Division has oversight and/or insights on the various frequency assignments and uses on these frequency assignments around the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Division manages half of the state-controlled 700 MHz allotments granted to the states by the FCC. Additionally, the ISP provides guidance, policy, and frequency assignments to the other half of the 700 MHz assignments provided to the Virginia State Police (VSP)/STARS project.
Sites suitable for communications use are an invaluable resource because such sites are not always readily available. Competition for such sites is great and costs to buy, lease or develop are often prohibitive, or at least represent a considerable portion of the total cost of the radio system. Commercial interests, particularly radio system vendors, often gain control of the better sites in a geographical area and restrict their use to systems using the vendor's products. Management of such sites is not restricted merely to providing space but requires detailed engineering of each system to ensure that all will operate satisfactorily without interference or other performance deterioration. The state is fortunate in having available for development a number of sites under the management of VITA.
James Monroe Building: In a large metropolitan area such as Richmond, there are two general requirements which are often difficult to meet simultaneously: range (distance), which is basically a function of antenna height above the surrounding terrain: and the ability to penetrate to the interiors of the large downtown buildings, which is a function of proximity to those buildings. Presently in Richmond, only two radio sites meet both requirements and of these only the Monroe Building is available for state use. The site has an environmentally-controlled structure which houses 8 to 10 communications systems.
MCI Sites: VITA has an agreement with Verizon Business (MCI) to allow us to install and operate radio systems at all present and future tower sites within the state, some twenty or more sites at present. Currently, these sites are not being utilized.
Chesterfield County site at Bon Air: VITA has negotiated a contract with the county to allow us to place radio systems at their site on the Department of Corrections property. This is an exceptional site located on one of the higher elevations in the Richmond area and includes a 500-foot tower.
Other Agencies sites: VITA has semi-formal arrangements with several other state agencies such as Department of State Police, Virginia Department of Emergency Management to allow us to place systems at their sites. VITA negotiates each site on an individual basis
This is a relatively recent activity of the Radio Engineering Division. As discussed in the previous section on frequency management, the FCC has decreed that an entirely new, more effective planning procedure will be followed in allocating radio frequency spectrum. The new rules apply to a specific portion of the spectrum in the 700 MHz band.
The FCC has allocated to each state 96 narrowband channels in the 700 MHz band of spectrum and has given each state the authority to allocate and coordinate these frequencies. This will require not only statewide planning to allocate these frequencies efficiently, but will require coordination between the border states and Virginia. Initially 48 channels, or half the spectrum, have been allocated to the STARS project, and the other 48 channels are to be used to upgrade all the correctional facilities within the Commonwealth.
As a companion to the above 700 MHz frequencies, VITA has been allocated 1.2 MHz of interoperability frequencies in the 700 MHz Band for the primary use of interoperability between entities, states, localities, etc. Working in conjunction with the State Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC), a plan will be developed to allocate these frequencies to localities with the Commonwealth.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in December 2004 that all licensees of VHF High Band and UHF two-way radio systems must meet new narrowband requirements by January 1, 2013. The mandate may require some radio equipment owned by state or local governments to be upgraded or completely replaced. Read more about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling commonly referred to as "Narrowbanding".