Statewide Agencies Radio System (STARS) Program

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Frequently Asked Questions About STARS

 

What does STARS stand for?

 

STARS stands for the Statewide Agencies Radio System.

 

What kind of radio system is STARS?

 

 STARS includes a VHF Project 25 digital trunked Integrated Voice and Data (IV&D) radio network.

 

What is APCO P.25?

 

Project 25 (P25) is the standard for interoperable digital two-way wireless communications products and systems.  Developed under state, local and federal government guidance and Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) governance, P25 is gaining worldwide acceptance for public safety, security, public service, and commercial applications.  The published P25 standards suite is administered by the TIA in their Mobile and Personal Private Radio Standards Committee (TR-8).  Equipment that demonstrates compliance with P25 is able to meet a set of minimum requirements to fit the needs of public safety.  These include the ability to interoperate with other P25 equipment, for example so that users on different systems can talk via direct radio contact.

 

What is the difference between ASTRO 25 and APCO 25?

 

ASTRO 25 is a Motorola trade name for their system offering that operates using the TIA/EIA 102 standards.  ASTRO 25 includes value added features that Motorola has developed within the guidelines of TIA/EIA 102 (Project 25).

 

What does the term trunked mean?

 

Simply put, Trunking permits a large number of users to share a relatively small number of communication paths - or trunks.  A computer manages this sharing of communication paths automatically. The central controller, a computerized switch, makes channel selections and other decisions normally made by the radio user. Channel assignment is automatic and completely transparent to the individual users.  When a radio user needs to speak, the frequency is assigned by the network from the pool of available frequencies and used for the call. When that user is finished with their call, the frequency is placed back into the pool for another individual to use. 

 

What is meant by and Integrated Voice and Data network?

 

The STARS trunked radio network provides a common infrastructure to support voice and data traffic using the same sites, radio channels, and equipment.  The

common infrastructure refers to the IV&D radio sites, microwave subsystem and the Zone Master equipment used to provide statewide mobile data.  Users with mobile computer terminals (MCT) share the same mobile radio for voice and MCT (data) communications.   Voice radio calls will have priority over data.

 

Is STARS an upgrade to existing radio systems or totally new?

STARS is an upgrade to the Virginia State Police Land Mobile Radio (LMR) and Microwave (MW) radio networks.  All of the currently operating radio sites will be re-used in STARS as well as a number of new sites.  The majority of the network infrastructure equipment will be new.  As STARS is a new technology compared to what is currently in use, all of the mobile and portable based equipment will be new.  The system is designed to allow all state agencies to use the same system, thus allowing improved interoperability across state agencies and the reduction of separate radio systems for the Commonwealth agencies.

The current VSP radio system is congested and users have to wait to talk until other work group’s calls have finished.  How is this trunked radio network different?   

The STARS trunked radio system is different in a number of ways.

First of all, the current VSP radio system is conventional. Dedicated radio channels are assigned to provide radio coverage in the Commonwealth. Radio users have to manually switch radio channels to pick the one providing radio coverage in their service area. The dispatcher has to select the transmitter site closet to the radio user to communicate. In the current VSP radio system there is only one dispatch channel designed to function in any given area.  This causes a substantial number of public safety communications to use a single channel.  The FCC guideline is for 100 users on a single channel and therefore the network is severely congested.

In STARS, users performing the same type of work and needing to communicate with each other are assigned to a talk group.  A talk group can use all channels that are available on the trunked system. Other users in the same agency with different work assignments would be assigned different talk groups. You can switch talk groups on your radio to be able to talk with users in a different work group.  With the numbers of talkgroups available, a user will most often not have to wait for an available channel.

What if a user travels out of range of a site?

 

The user’s radio will search for another STARS radio site and automatically log the radio onto the new site to allow the user to place and receive calls. If the user travels completely out of STARS radio coverage, the user’s radio will indicate that it is out of range visually and emit a tone if the user attempts to place a call.

 

How does this trunked radio network differ from the agency radio systems in place? 

 

Agency radio systems in the Commonwealth currently operate on different frequencies and frequency bands from each other. For example, VSP uses VHF channels for the current radio system.  Other agencies use a mix Low band VHF, High Band VHF and UHF for their legacy radio systems.  There is little commonality of facilities and equipment used. Several Commonwealth agency radio systems were installed at different radio sites in the same geographic area. Radio coverage in the Commonwealth is different for each agency as a result. It is difficult and sometimes impossible for different agency units in sight of one another to communicate when required.

 

The STARS trunked radio system is computer controlled and uses shared frequency resources at each radio site. STARS trunked calls are automatically assigned radio channels by the trunked system controller. All communications takes place on the STARS VHF High Band radio system having the same statewide radio coverage for most agencies. In addition STARS is an IV&D system that supports data communications that is secondary to voice. Users in the Commonwealth do not have to switch radio channels manually to select a radio site providing radio coverage as they roam.  The trunked system automatically performs this task.

 

Why don't we just keep it simple?

 

Let's face it; we live in a world of technology. What we're getting is the new generation of equipment operating on a common network providing interoperability between users on the network when needed and autonomous communications via talk groups when agency specific communications are required. 

 

Is there a back up if a failure occurs in the computer controlled radio system?

 

STARS is configured with two interconnected zones.  The STARS Zone Master sites are designed with multiple levels of redundancy in the event of a computer failure.  For example, each zone has built-in redundancy to be able to operate in the event of failure of one of its controllers. If a link fails to a radio site, the radio site has the ability to operate as an independent trunked radio site. The site will allow radio users in its coverage to communicate with each other; however, wide-area communications involving other sites will be lost.

 

What kind of dispatch consoles will Agencies have?

 

A number of agencies will use a control station for communications at a field office location instead of a console.  Agencies without dispatch consoles will have dispatch capability via these control stations.  A control station consists of a

STARS radio installed at a field office location.  A typical installation would place the control station at a desk with the control station’s antenna installed on a support structure such as a pole or mast on a roof.  Control stations provide access to STARS through a nearby STARS IV&D radio site. The control stations have trunked features such as the ability to display a calling unit’s identification number. 

 

For those agencies with dispatch operating positions, the new consoles will be PC based with flat screen monitors instead of CRT’s. Radio channels or talk groups will be shown on the screens in a format that resembles a radio control module in older pushbutton consoles.  PC based consoles provide operators the flexibility to re-configure the module positions and function.

 

What happens if a dispatcher’s console fails?

 

A console failure means the console position is no longer able to communicate on the STARS network.  VSP Dispatchers will have a backup control station accessible from each dispatch console to enable them to communicate on STARS in the event of a console failure.

 

Can a radio user roam throughout the Commonwealth and communicate with his or her office or dispatcher? 

 

There are two parts to the answer. First of all is how a user communicates with his or her office or dispatcher.  Communications at an office may be supported either by a radio console or control station. 

 

Wide-area access to STARS when roaming outside a user’s assigned district or service area depends upon the talk group setup and whether an agency has a requirement for wide-area communications.  Most talk groups will not be set up as wide area and will only support communications within an agency’s service area or district.  Wide-area communications, when supported, connects a radio call from one service area to another and may involve one or more IV&D sites from both zones in opposite ends of the Commonwealth. The wide-area call can involve dispatch console, control station and user radios on the wide-area talk group.

 

Can the public using a scanner monitor the STARS digital calls?

 

Yes, radio scanners are now available that can monitor an APCO P.25 trunked radio systems’ digital voice calls regardless of frequency band.  Voice privacy is possible if the digital voice calls are encrypted.

 

Will encrypted radios operate on STARS?

 

Yes, Law Enforcement radios will be equipped with encryption. Encryption key codes resident in the vehicle’s radio equipment will be managed through Over-the-Air Re-Keying (OTAR), supported by the IV&D infrastructure that allows the keys to be managed remotely.

 

How does STARS facilitate interoperability between different agencies on STARS and with agency units operating on their current radio systems?

 

Interoperability between agencies is supported in multiple ways.

 

First, direct agency interoperability is supported by use of a common talk group on STARS accessible to the agencies. Common talk groups are assigned to multiple agencies for the purpose of interoperability.  . Agencies may also have talk groups only accessible by units assigned to the agency. These are considered private talk groups.  

 

Second, Agencies may be permitted access to another’s talk group for interoperability purposes. With access to another agency’s talk group, a user may switch talk groups to establish interoperability communications.

 

Third, a VSP dispatcher can, upon request establish a talk group patch to tie talk groups together. With this method each agency’s user remains on the agency’s own private talk group and conversations originating from any of the patched talk groups will be heard by the others. The dispatcher also has the capability to dynamically regroup talk groups and assign individuals from different agencies specific to an event or emergency to a new talk group.

 

Fourth, to accommodate agencies maintaining their legacy radio systems, Agency Interface stations will be installed throughout the STARS network to allow dispatchers to establish a communications link between an agency’s legacy radio system and STARS users. The VSP dispatcher, upon request, will patch an agency’s talk group to the Legacy Interface station to allow users on STARS to talk with users operating on the legacy system.

 

How may agency units migrate from a legacy radio system to STARS?

 

Agency migration plans will be made specific to an agency’s needs and migration timing. In general terms, migration may be accomplished in several ways depending on the number of units being migrated.  If a relatively small number of radios are involved, all may be migrated at the same time. If a large number of radios are involved, there may be a period when the agency’s legacy radios and STARS radios will be installed in a vehicle until all of the agency’s vehicles are equipped with STARS radios. Once all vehicles have STARS, the old radios may be removed. 

 

How does STARS facilitate interoperability between localities and STARS?

 

Locality interface radios will be installed at STARS sites throughout the Commonwealth to allow VSP dispatchers to establish one communications link (RF talk path) between a locality’s radio system and STARS users. A single interface link (an RF talk-path) will be provided to each of the counties and independent cities to bring interoperability at no cost to the jurisdiction.  A fixed radio will be placed at one of the 121 STARS transmitter sites that will be programmed to include one specific talk group or channel, as determined by the locality.  The radio will act as a mobile radio on the locality network.  When interoperability is needed, the dispatchers (locality and State Police) will contact each other via telephone to establish the patch.

 

In addition, direct interoperability with localities may be established by having a locality’s conventional VHF frequencies programmed in a STARS radio, when appropriate and with an agreement with the locality to use the frequency. Most localities in the Commonwealth currently operate analog equipment.  STARS radios have the capability to operate in analog and digital modes using the P.25 common air interface (CAI) to support direct interoperability.

 

How does STARS facilitate interoperability from Locality to Locality?

 

Locality-Locality interoperability is facilitated by use of the Locality Interface stations installed throughout the STARS network tied together via a VSP dispatcher’s console.  When interoperability is needed, the dispatchers (localities and State Police) will contact each other via telephone to establish the patch.  The localities then may communicate via the radio patch.

 

What if the locality uses different frequency bands for its Public Safety users?

 

STARS will provide one talk path for locality interoperability via the Locality Interface radios.  Localities are encouraged to establish interoperability within their jurisdictions.  If a locality uses different frequency bands and channels for each user group, then it is the locality’s responsibility to tie or patch the other user channels to the interoperability channel provided by STARS. 

 

STARS facilitates interoperability with the Federal Government by providing Federal Government users with STARS subscriber radios. Federal Government users with STARS radios will have direct interoperability via STARS with STARS users using common interoperability talk groups.  Federal Government users with older VHF radios may only be able to communicate in conventional analog mode with STARS users operating outside of STARS or via a Locality Interface radio with STARS users remaining on STARS.

 

Are there any conventional radio channels provided for interoperability in STARS?

 

Yes. First, locality interface radio channels are provided for localities operating on conventional radio channels.  In addition, agency interface radio channels are provided for agencies continuing to use existing legacy conventional radio systems. The locality and agency interface radio channels will be connected to VSP dispatch’s consoles. The VSP dispatchers can connect a locality or agency interface channel to a STARS talk group when needed to provide a communications link between STARS users and users operating outside of STARS.

 

Is STARS a funded project?

 

Yes, in 2004 the General Assembly through House Bill 106 approved $159.3 million in bonds to fund the STARS project for the next two years.  Virginia HB 106 authorizes the Virginia Public Building Authority (VBPA) to issue bonds in the amount of $159,300,000 to finance the undertaking, development, acquisition and construction of the first phase of the State Agencies Radio System (STARS).  Senate Bill 608 grants the Secretary of Public Safety the authority to implement the Statewide Agencies Radio System.

 

How many transmitter sites are planned for STARS?

 

The current design incorporates forty-five IV&D radio sites. A 121-site digital microwave network interconnects the trunked radio sites.  The system is divided into two control zones (Richmond and Salem) that share information for wide-area calls and network monitoring at a Network Operations Center (NOC), located in Richmond.

 

What are other states doing about their radio needs?

 

Virginia is not alone.  Nearly half of the states are in the process of some form of upgrade or replacement of their radio communication systems.  Many of those states upgrading or replacing their radio systems are using or proposing to use the same TIA/EIA 102 (P.25) technology as Virginia.

 

Will STARS replace SIRS as the primary connection between the state and localities?

 

No, the State Interdepartmental Radio System (SIRS) is a Low Band VHF frequency used for direct inter-agency communications without the need for an infrastructure. STARS compliments SIRS.  SIRS will remain the law enforcement interoperability standard for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

 

Are there opportunities for localities with VHF high band systems to come onto the STARS network as a primary user?

 

Yes if their radio frequencies are compatible with STARS’ channel plan.

 

When will STARS come to my area of the state?

 

Richmond (Division One)

December 2005

Tidewater (Division Five)

May 2008

Culpeper (Division Two)

July 2008

Northern Virginia (Division Seven)

October 2008

Salem (Division Six)

April 2009

Appomattox (Division Three)

May 2009

Wytheville (Division Four)

September 2009

 

Who can I contact if I have more questions about STARS?

 

You may contact STARS@vsp.virginia.gov for more information.