Radio Coverage Analysis

Radio coverage analysis is an important aspect of telemetry and communications system design for public and private organizations. Two typical applications are SCADA telemetry and mobile communications. Coverage analysis is essential to ensuring effective telemetry between SCADA master computers and remote sites spread over large geographic areas. Coverage analysis is also key to establishing an effective communication system for maintenance personnel and public safety organizations.

Coverage analysis can help protect capital investment dollars by ensuring a new system is designed for its anticipated growth. In a growing community it is not enough to design for communications from the master or base station to the limits of the existing service area. A design that does not anticipate future growth trends with expandability to cover the areas that are to be constructed in the near future can result in costly redesign or early system replacement. On the other hand, coverage analysis can show the performance difference made by changing antenna types, antenna heights, and selection of tower sites. This analysis can provide the visibility necessary to make the sound engineering trade offs during the design phase that will save money over the life of the system and provide for future growth.

Coverage Plot
Area Coverage Plot

Timberline has the expertise to perform radio coverage analyses and provide detailed coverage estimates in the form of transparency plots or reports that can be utilized by our clients to assess the effectiveness of existing systems or to optimize the location and configuration of equipment for new installations. A typical Timberline report would determine the equipment type and configuration of the master radio station required to provide effective coverage or in the case of an existing system, identify areas where problems may be expected and provide recommendations to improve system performance.

The Durango Fire Dispatch Center recognized a need to be able to readily determine the radio coverage of their existing dispatch radio system. This information is critical to the effectiveness of fire-fighting efforts in the region and the safety of personnel that are called upon to fight these fires. Based on communication expertise, the Center selected Timberline to perform the desired analysis. In this effort, Timberline performed computer analysis of the radio coverage provided by the existing dispatch radio system, which enabled them to accurately assess the effectiveness of the four base stations and 11 repeaters.

For each of the base station and repeater locations, Timberline prepared scaled plots that showed the predicted area coverage. These plots were made on clear, durable Mylar film that can be overlaid on existing maps and utilized in the Dispatch Center for advance planning or taken to the field during actual operations. The coverage plots were created using different colors to show the anticipated performance for both handheld and mobile radios.

Coverage analysis is essential for mobile and point-to-multipoint radio systems. For point-to-point radio systems, we use both commercial products and a suite of microwave engineering programs developed in-house to generate propagation path profiles, calculations of path availability, intermodulation, and obstruction fading. We own 3-arcsecond USGS terrain data for the entire United States as well as 30-meter data for selected regions. When public health and safety concerns are at issue, Timberline is able to calculate radio frequency radiation exposure and analyzes exposure against the OSHA standards.

Radio system performance can be accurately modeled and predicted using a variety of computer programs. However, these programs rely on sophisticated mathematical models to predict radio performance based on climate, terrain, and other factors. Consequently, the results are only as good as the expertise and understanding of the people doing the analysis. Timberline has the theoretical understanding and practical experience to select the appropriate mathematical model for your propagation conditions. Contact us to discuss how Timberline can assist you in communications and telemetry evaluation and design projects.