Vol. 81, No. 1New technology

Male RCMP officer speaks into hand-held radio.

Loud and clear

New police radio system offers better range

A new radio communication system will soon be distributed to RCMP detachments in Central Canada. The system connects officers to the strongest signal and allows more conversations on the same channel, important features during an emergency. Credit: Pascal Milette, RCMP


A new radio communication system used during the G7 summit in Quebec last summer is being deployed for use by the RCMP in Central Canada. The system provides officers with a smarter solution for communicating during emergencies.

The radio network is built using technology that's similar to cellular technology. It's a more efficient way for police officers to communicate, especially during critical incidents, according to Chris Quizi, who works with the RCMP's National Radio Services.

"When an event like the attack on Parliament Hill happens everybody starts using their cellphones to get in touch with loved ones or checking for news updates, and that jams up the cellphone networks," says Quizi, the manager in charge of the radio renewal project. "That's why we build dedicated radio networks. So in the event that something major happens, officers have a reliable way to communicate."

Work has been underway since last June to set up more than 200 radio sites in Ontario and Quebec by 2023.

Strongest signal

Using a network of cellular and radio towers, the new radios automatically connect to towers with the strongest signal. This allows officers to stay within range of their colleagues as they travel across long distances, and not have to change channels as they travel out of range of a tower, as they do now using the existing radios.

Radios are encrypted making it impossible for someone other than RCMP officers or partnering police agencies to listen in on conversations. A lost or stolen radio can also be disabled remotely.

What's more, multiple conversations can occur on one channel at the same time without hearing each other. In contrast, the traditional system allows only one conversation at a time, and anyone tuned to the same channel can hear it, as long as they're within the tower's coverage area in the same region.

Sgt. Eric Boudreault was in charge of 201 Emergency Response Team members and 42 police officers providing tactical operations during the summit last June. Stationed at the command centre in Valcartier, Que., Boudreault directed officers who were situated up to 244 kilometres away between three main locations.

Using the new radio system, his team was even able to maintain contact with officers on the ground while flying VIPs between Bagotville, La Malbaie and Quebec City.

"The reception was amazing," says Boudreault. "I was able to speak to all my team leads in each location even though the geography of the ground was very difficult."

Ensuring crisp, clear reception across the area of approximately 100 square kilometres of mountainous terrain was the biggest challenge for the radio communication team, says Erick Soucy, who was in charge of the project in Quebec.

According to Soucy, to ensure the best reception for operational teams on site, 42 radio sites were set up, including 14 new towers that were constructed in just 10 months — a process that can take up to two years for just one tower under normal circumstances.

After the G7 summit, most of the radio sites were decommissioned. The exceptions were the back-up core in Quebec City, which will be moved to Ottawa, and the main core, which will be used in Montreal.

New beginnings

The RCMP hopes to use existing towers owned by cellular providers, provincial government or private companies for the majority of radio sites planned for the deployment in the next five years. But constructing new towers hasn't been ruled out if it means improving reception in some areas.

Up to 120 radio sites are planned for Quebec and 88 in Ontario. The goal is to have 90 per cent of the sites running by 2021, according to Quizi.

"It's getting to the point where the old radios are unsupported and that's why we need to put in the new system," says Quizi. "At a certain point we can't get pieces for the hardware and the vendor doesn't support the software."

RCMP in each province oversee their own radio communications with some sharing systems with provincial governments and others with municipal police forces. Doing so means each province is in varying stages of a system's lifecycle.

"This was a great opportunity where Ontario and Quebec needed a new system at the same time and it made more sense to partner together," says Quizi.

As the radios get replaced with ones using the new system, the old equipment at each radio site will be removed and offered to RCMP detachments in other parts of Canada.

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