7 min read
An invisible safety net
The way C.J. Holt, Radio Network Manager at the City of Dallas describes it, there’s very little to see. “Everything we work on is invisible,” he says with a chuckle.

He’s talking about the radio communications network of the City of Dallas. With a population of 1.2 million residents, it’s America’s 9th-largest city and is growing year on year. Ensuring the city is kept safe, that emergency services can communicate effectively with each other, that the city can meet future demands placed on it, all come under his domain. In his own words, “We’re the guys behind the curtain making the magic happen.”

“The Radio Network Group is responsible for all of the fixed telecommunications infrastructure for the City of Dallas. Radio towers, dispatch centers, communications facilities, communications buildings, radio systems, microwave systems,” explains Holt, a large coffee in his hand as he strolls into the office early, as usual. “We’re responsible for all of the different facilities throughout the city, and ensuring all of our public safety and public first responders have radio systems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We have to have our people be able to talk when they need to talk, where they need to talk and how they need to talk.”

We’re responsible for all of the different facilities throughout the city, and ensuring all of our public safety and public first responders have radio systems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

C.J. Holt
Radio Network Manager, City of Dallas

Everything we work on is invisible.
C.J. Holt, Radio Network Manager, City of Dallas
A multi-ring system
As we talk, Dallas residents can rest safely knowing they are protected by a new communications network surrounding the city. The radio communications network in Dallas has recently undergone a huge upgrade. “Increased capacity and resiliency were the two issues we were looking to solve,” explains Salvador Lopez, Alcatel-Lucent Sales Engineer on the City of Dallas project.

“Our legacy microwave system was one big ring,” adds Holt chiming in to the conversation. “If we lost a whole segment or whole tower, we were blocked, we couldn’t actually make the ring all the way around. With the new system we actually have four separate rings that in some cases are connected together, and that allows better redundancy,” he admits proudly. “There’s less chance of one incident taking out a good piece of our radio system. One small incident – like a lightning strike, flood or tornado – would take out one small area, and that’s all it would do, and the rest of the ring would reroute through the other avenues.”

With the new system we actually have four separate rings that in some cases are connected together, and that allows better redundancy.

C.J. Holt
Radio Network Manager, City of Dallas

Multi-ring network system

Increased capacity and resiliency were the two issues we were looking to solve.

Salvador Lopez
Sales Engineer, Alcatel-Lucent

“In our RFP (Request for Proposal) response, we presented two options. Our base bid matched their legacy topology with one big ring, then we came up with an alternative using multiple smaller rings,” adds Scott Nelson, Senior Account Director for Alcatel-Lucent’s Mission Critical Infrastructure Team based out of Plano, who was a key player alongside Lopez and others on winning the project. “What the city gained in our alternate proposal with multiple rings was essentially five to six times as much bandwidth as the basic solution that they had originally requested.”

Every Second Counts

Every success has its network

More than just voice, data
Holt and his team, in addition to the other 10,000+ City of Dallas employees across the police and fire departments (the fire department in Dallas also includes the ambulance service), as well as the emergency management office, the hazard response team, urban search and rescue, SWAT teams, bomb squad, city marshals, city security personnel as well as office and administrative workers, have all benefitted from the new network.

Recognizing this, the Alcatel-Lucent team knew that a winning solution would have to look beyond the RFP. “Working on the RFP that the city published back in 2013, we saw first of all there was an upgrade of their technology but we felt hugely excited by the opportunity for Alcatel-Lucent to actually work with the city as a partner as opposed to just a supplier,” says Nelson.

We felt hugely excited by the opportunity for Alcatel-Lucent to actually work with the city as a partner as opposed to just a supplier.

Scott Nelson
Account Director, Mission Critical Infrastructure Team, Alcatel-Lucent

In addition to the requested microwave radio network, Alcatel-Lucent included an option for enhanced technology to allow the network to support public safety as well as other parts of the city’s operations. The new system includes MPLS which, says Holt, “is Multi Protocol Label Switching – a network term that allows signals to know, ‘Hey, I can’t go that way, go this way.'”

“We knew this would be the foundation for a lot of additional applications like video that they were going to grow to support over time, in addition to land mobile radio,” explains Nelson. “Things like supporting video-streaming feeds from body cams for the police department that the city is looking at investing into as well as other public safety elements, maybe even sanitation and landfills, streetlight connectivity and other smart-grid solutions.”

We knew this would be the foundation for a lot of additional applications like video that they were going to grow to support over time...

Scott Nelson
Senior Account Director, Mission Critical Infrastructure Team, Alcatel-Lucent

A lasting partnership
“It’s amazed us how fast Alcatel-Lucent was able to deliver on our needs. I would, without hesitation, recommend Alcatel-Lucent,” says Holt. As with all successful partnerships, that learning process is reciprocated from Alcatel-Lucent’s side too, as Scott Nelson attests: “Best of all I think, the things that we learned from the City of Dallas and how we support them and grow with them will help us with what we do in other municipalities.”

When the conversation comes back to the people this network serves, the emergency services and the City of Dallas employees risking their lives every day to keep the city safe, Holt is at his most animated. “Fifty-two seconds a year of down-time: that’s all we’re allowed per site. How often has your cell phone not worked? I mean we don’t get that with cell phones or even our landline or even our Internet service. To build a system that’s that resilient and that reliant, it’s pretty amazing. It’s pretty ingenious in how they designed it, and also it’s pretty amazing the technology that they were able to bring to bear,” he says, concluding. “Alcatel-Lucent has opened our eyes to a lot of things that we didn’t think were possible.”

It’s amazed us how fast Alcatel-Lucent was able to deliver on our needs. I would, without hesitation, recommend Alcatel-Lucent.

C.J. Holt
Radio Network Manager, City of Dallas