Keep on trunking

Bahrain’s emergency services have enjoyed a successful implementation of TETRA and are looking to leverage the data network potential of the standard.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  February 27, 2005

|~|fireman_m.jpg|~||~|Bahrain Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) network went live in 2003 and is designed to provide an over-arching communications network for the MoI’s emergency services. It replaced a very high frequency (VHF) system that was proving costly to maintain and was also dogged by security issues, which allowed people to eavesdrop regularly on police conversations. Prior to the implementation, The MoI stipulated that the network should have no single point of failure and be monitored from three control rooms. The system was therefore designed in such a way that the overlap between cell sites would provide seamless coverage in the event of a single base station going down, and that the MoI’s engineers could easily shift backhaul capacity between its 23 base stations in case a particular site became overwhelmed. “The whole concept was to get nationwide, hand-portable coverage, as well as a high degree of in-building coverage,” says Maj. Mansoor Al Hajeri, head of communications, MoI Directorate, Bahrain. “The first thing for us was to get good voice communications. We specified that a certain number of buildings had to have 100% coverage inside, such as key facilities where conferences happen and where we didn’t want to go through the trouble of installing indoor repeaters. But it has worked a dream – we’ve not had a single occasion of downtime,” he adds. The robustness of the network was tested to the limit, however, when the whole of Bahrain suffered a nationwide power cut, lasting several hours, in August 2004. This followed an explosion in a key turbine within the country’s main power station, after a power surge from a major aluminium plant. “We had our biggest test when we had the power cut,” says Col. Philip J. Stockley, aviation advisor and chief pilot, OC communication division, MoI. “Certain sites had standby generators, but not all of them. Once we realised the power was going to be off for a long time, we were therefore trying to extend the four hours provided by those generators but also running around like crazy looking for additional generators for the other sites. We didn’t worry about the extremities of the network — they weren’t a security issue — just on the main populated areas. But after ten hours our first base station failed though we were there with a generator, just about to plug it in,” he adds. Because a neighbouring base station provided reserve coverage, the outage went unnoticed, but changes have since been made to the system to protect it from further disruptions to the Kingdom’s electricity networks. “We learnt a lesson – maybe four hours [of power] just isn’t enough,” says Stockley. “We have now fitted more stand-by generators and we have two generators on call just in case it happens again,” he explains. 2005 will see the functions and features on offer to the network’s 3000 end-users expanded, particularly to allow emergency personnel to access critical information while out in the field. The MoI says it has just developed a WAP application for checking car registration numbers against a central database, and information attached to them such as outstanding fines. This was piloted during the GCC Conference in Manama during November 2004 and should be launched in the next few weeks, according to the MoI. The integration of automatic vehicle location (AVL) tracking with TETRA is also in the offing over the next few weeks, followed by further services such as traffic light management and remote access to information on casualties for the Kingdom’s medical staff. Further down the line, The MoI also plans to adopt a swipe card system which would allow users to cross-reference citizens’ details when Bahrain introduces its national smart ID cards towards the end of 2005. “TETRA is really a data network so we’re trying to utilise it in the widest possible sense, beyond just voice calls,” says Al Hajeri. “We’re now moving into a much more feature-rich environment,” he concludes.||**||

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