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Recently I developed an Excel worksheet to compare the cost of sustained use of three different types of radio systems that are commonly used by police and fire departments that serve cities with less than 250,000 population in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The results are surprising, and the Excel worksheet is now available to you without cost. Please download the worksheet, input data for your agency, and let me know your results.  Your comments about the worksheet design are welcome.

Participation in a regional P25 digital trunked radio system by a small to medium size city may cost at least 700% more than traditional analog voted repeater systems for equivalent coverage. Not only are digital trunked radio systems fragile and prone to performance problems, they are incredibly expensive when compared to more reliable alternatives.

The fundamental premise for my calculations is that the total cost of sustained operation for a municipal police or fire department radio system must be considered. The acquisition cost must be amortized over the useful life of the equipment and recurring operating expenses must be added to determine the annual sustaining cost. The annualized sustaining cost must then be apportioned among the agencies that use the system.

The meaningful amount is the total annual cost over a long period. The potential cost for individual agency participation in a regional radio system must be considered before possible subsidies (such as Federal grants) are factored into the calculations. Recurring subsidies rarely occur and are almost never guaranteed, leaving the long-term financial burden to city and county budgets. I believe that city and county government should be prepared for these recurring expenses before committing to the financial obligation of systems that are probably not affordable. My worksheet does not address the possibility of subsidies, because it would lead to a false sense of long-term affordability.

The worksheet calculates the cost to sustain three alternative radio system designs:

  • Analog conventional voted repeater systems.
  • P25 digital conventional voted repeater systems
  • Participation in a regional P25 digital trunked radio system.

The fiscally responsible approach to managing public safety telecommunications systems includes accurately estimating the total cost of sustaining ongoing operation through at least one complete equipment replacement cycle.  Money from Federal grants may be available to help pay for the initial equipment acquisition, however there is no assurance of continued funding. Manufacturers are able to declare hardware and software obsolescence on short intervals. There is no assurance of subsidies being available when very expensive digital trunked radio equipment needs to be replaced.

Click here to download the P25 Digital Radio Cost Comparison Worksheet

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