Repurposed Repeaters Built By ILEAS Communications Staff

ILEAS Communications staff have been thinking outside the box! For some time, they have been rehabbing and repurposing surplus radios and distributing them to public safety agencies throughout Illinois.  They have outdone themselves again by repurposing surplus repeater units into portable repeaters for the use during emergencies and disasters. This involved taking surplus repeaters from ISP and building specialized cases and reprogramming the repeaters.  Read below about what they did and how ILEAS is supporting public safety agencies across our State.

As grant funding has shrunk over the past years, ILEAS has always searched for innovative ways to get the maximum benefit from these funds. ILEAS Communications is no different, as it seems that the needs always outpace the available funding, requiring us to think outside the box. Our Starcom Radio Repurposing Project is an example of this philosophy, and this also drives our latest cost-saving project, Repeater Repurposing.

One of the critical needs we have is repeaters, these are devices that extend the range of portable radios used by responders, especially in areas where Starcom21 coverage and/or capacity is limited. The biggest need was for the Unified Command Posts (UCP), as they had no repeater capability.

FirstNet funded the replacement of Illinois State Police (ISP) Vehicular Repeater Systems (VRS). These perfectly good VRS units were rendered unusable for their original purpose by the change. ISP was preparing to scrap the units. ILEAS technical staff checked with other users, and the available documentation, and saw that the VRS could be re-purposed to be used as stand-alone repeaters. The VRS modules were perfect candidates for this project, as they are highly ruggedized, designed to operate in the trunk of a car with constant vibration and temperature extremes.

ISP generously donated 42 VRS units to ILEAS for this project, and we jumped at the chance. ILEAS built some early prototypes to validate the concept and the design. Some of our ITECS and UCP teams field tested them and gave us invaluable feedback.

ILEAS technical staff built 36 units, this project only required us to make a wiring change to the VRS, reprogram them, add a “duplexer” module plus other assorted parts, and then install the units in transit cases for portability. These repeaters will be distributed to ITECS, UCP, and to various locations around the state.

They are compatible with almost all 65,000 Starcom 21 radios around the state, plus many Non-Starcom 7/800 radios, assuming the proper channels are installed. These repeaters are analog-only and do not have all the features (like encryption) of digital repeaters, but they will provide effective interoperable coverage when needed. They are small and self-contained, meaning they can be deployed almost anywhere.

A new 700 MHz repeater costs approximately $14,000 per unit, ILEAS was able to repurpose these repeaters for around $800 per unit in parts. ILEAS spent approximately $30,000 for this entire project vs. buying all new units for a total price of over $500,000.