MCP Insights

A Lot Can Go Wrong With an LMR System Upgrade or Replacement — Part One

Posted on September 20, 2022 by Nick Falgiatore

Public safety broadband networks, such as the one being implemented by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), are getting a lot of attention these days. This is in part because they are broadband enabled, but also because they represent an opportunity to eventually replace traditional land mobile radio (LMR) systems. But most agencies are not in a position today, and likely won’t be for many years, to make the transition due to broadband networks not yet being able to match the coverage and reliability provided by LMR systems. Those agencies at some point will need to upgrade or even replace their legacy LMR system.

The best way to get started is to develop a strategic plan that reflects input from the emergency responder agencies that are or will use your LMR system. The goal of the plan should be to ensure that the proposed system upgrade or replacement will deliver the performance that is desired. But such a plan also should identify potential pitfalls, which ideally will enable the agency to avoid them or, at the very least, mitigate them.

Involving emergency response agencies in the plan’s development not only will help to ensure that their needs are met but also that they will be supportive if the road turns bumpy — more on that below. Getting these agencies on board with the plan requires a lot of face-to-face meetings and nontechnical explanations of how their personnel will benefit from the system upgrade or replacement.

There are a lot of moving parts to an LMR upgrade or replacement, and there’s a lot that go wrong — in fact, no matter how detailed and thorough the strategic plan is, something unexpected almost always will occur.

Let’s examine some of the most important factors that every agency should consider when planning an upgrade or replacement.

Tower site location is the most important aspect of any LMR project, regardless of whether it is a system upgrade or replacement. That’s because the quantity and location of towers will determine whether the system will be able to provide the desired level of coverage. A challenge is that the places where emergency responders most need robust and reliable coverage are those where a lot of people live and/or work, and thus generate the highest number of emergency calls. Unfortunately, people typically don’t want to look up and see LMR towers. This is known as the NIMBY phenomenon (not in my backyard). The denser the population, the more problematic this becomes.

There are other potential pitfalls related to tower site location. The following are some of the most important factors that need to be considered:

  • With few options for locating radio towers, should imperfect locations be utilized, even at the risk of increased costs and schedule delays?
  • Similarly, if the tower is to be located atop an existing building — which is common in urban areas — should compromises be made regarding cost, schedule, and equipment serviceability?
  • Does the selected site have an adequate footprint to accommodate the tower and its supporting infrastructure, e.g., commercial power and an equipment shed to house the electronics?
  • Will the tower interfere with flight paths established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)?
  • Will any radio signals emanating from the tower cause cochannel or adjacent channel interference to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license holders?
  • Are there any environmental or historical preservation issues?

Part two will examine a few real-world examples of pitfalls that can be encountered during an LMR system upgrade or replacement project. In the meantime, please reach out if your agency is considering a system upgrade or replacement. Working with an independent, vendor-neutral consultant such as MCP to develop the strategic plan and guide the implementation always is an excellent idea.

Nick Falgiatore is an MCP senior technology specialist. Email him at

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