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Wireless radio communications benefit Wilco public responders and residents

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 19 November 2020
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2709

Fees from all radio users fund a revenue pool that maintains the radio network, including 24/7 support from Motorola through an annual service agreement. Fees also cover maintenance expenses for emergency backup generators, the tower lighting systems, landscaping and radio/network equipment upgrades.

The city of Georgetown started the first radio communications site using  analog technology with 800 MHz (megahertz measures the frequency of the signal) electronic devices in 1996.

In 1997, Williamson County, along with the city of Round Rock, combined resources with Georgetown to create the Countywide Interoperable Communications System.

Cedar Park also built its own 5-channel, 800 MHz analog system and eventually joined the county’s communications system in 2003. By 2005, the county system had four radio towers supporting communications among these jurisdictions.

However, analog proved less reliable in transmitting information. Analog systems use electronic pulses with varying magnitudes to send data, while digital systems transmit information using a binary format, resulting in less distortion, noise and interference.

Additionally, municipal and county emergency responders had been relying on the lower frequency ranges of VHF (range of 30 to 300 MHz) and UHF (range of 300 MHz) for their primary means of communication.

Williamson County partnered with the city of Austin and applied for a U.S. Department of Justice grant to upgrade from analog to digital (with higher frequency bands), thus creating the Greater Austin-Travis Regional Radio System. 

After approval of the grant, the digital upgrade was successfully completed in January 2008, and the Williamson County Radio Communications System was born, replacing the former county system.

In Wilco, multiple signals are transmitted and received across the spectrum to towers that use 700/800 MHz, VHF,UHF and microwave. Microwave transmitters transmit data in the 6 gigahertz spectrum.

Today we have 10 radio towers throughout the county, with links to the various dispatch centers. Under each tower is a shelter that houses all radio communications and network equipment. 

Besides being a part of the Greater Austin Travis Regional Radio System that provides radio coverage to a large part of the state, the Wilco system also adheres to the Texas Statewide

Interoperability Channel Plan established by the Texas Department of Public Safety. 

The Interoperability Plan, according to its 2020 report, is a multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplinary strategy to enhance interoperable and emergency communications over the next one to three years. To perform their jobs effectively, public safety responders depend on sophisticated communications systems to relay critical information in real time.

Today’s wireless communications systems must evolve and sustain service to accommodate a myriad of emergencies such as domestic terrorism and weapons of mass destruction threats, requiring coordination from agencies at all government levels.

The Radio Communications System is a wonderful example of the county, municipalities and entities—such as school districts and emergency services districts—working together to coordinate this service for the benefit of Wilco and Central Texas residents.

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