It was late in 2021 when we received a call from an office complex in Orange County with a request for a quotation on a new Bi-Directional Amplifier (BDA) to replace an existing system. I immediately became curious about why they wanted to replace the existing system. They said that the unit had failed and that they were told that no parts were available for repair of the unit.
I was speaking with Tom (the building engineer) on the phone about the replacement unit and that I thought that it would be best to look at the existing installation before quoting a new system. However, I continued to probe about the old system, so Tom forwarded me an email where their existing DAS contractor had told them that there were no parts available for repair of the system. It also indicated that the system did not function in one direction, but it was unclear which direction had failed. I told Tom that I felt that it would be far more economical to repair the existing system rather than to replace the system. Tom was skeptical that it could be repaired, but was anxious to save at least $25K if we were able to perform our magic on the system. Therefore, we made an appointment to come down and look at the system.
We arrived at the building around 9AM. It took some time to locate Tom and gain access to the location where the DAS equipment was located. We eventually had access, so I went to the vehicle and drove around the building so that I could enter the parking structure and park next to the DAS equipment room which made it far easier for us to work on the system.
I pulled out all the test equipment and tools from the vehicle and carried them into the DAS equipment room. Mark and I proceeded to run a series of tests on the equipment checking its performance in both directions. There were numerous alarm lights cycling on and off telling us of the failures of the device, but our tests indicated that the amplifier was operating correctly and the sole problem was that the master controller card was indicating massive failures of the BDA. This creates a problem with code compliance with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) because the device is supposed to page the Orange County radio technicians to alert them of the unit failure so that they can mark it in the database that is used by the first responders to indicate that their radios will not operate properly if they enter the building for an emergency response. The code also requires that repair or replacement needs to be handled expeditiously within a given time frame. The failed system must be repaired within a certain amount of time or replaced. However, we determined that the unit actually was functional in spite of the alarm status indicating failure so the unit would allow the first responders to be able to use their radios inside the structure.
It was time to fall back and regroup once we had more information. We contacted the manufacturer for drawing on the unit which they promptly supplied. However, the manuals that we obtained did not contain the specific technical information that we needed to troubleshoot the amplifier control and alarm system. We found out that there was a jumper that needed to be installed to give us access to the factory alignment and configuration menu which was required for us to fix the unit. We finally were able to obtain the schematic drawings on the different cards in the system which gave us the level of confidence that we could actually fix the unit. We also located another control card that we were able to borrow so that we could run a comprehensive test to verify that our supposition that the control card was the actual problem.
Now that we had all of our ducks lined up in a row, it was time to head back to the building. We arrived at the building around 9AM and headed directly to the DAS room. Tom was busy, so he sent one of his engineers to meet us to provide access to the DAS equipment room. We installed the control card and configured it for the specific equipment configuration of this system and voila, the system started to work! We had now proved that what we suspected as being the problem was in fact the actual problem. We also had the unit functional with the borrowed control card which we needed to return sooner rather than later, but did not have a specific deadline as to when we had to get it back. This now bought us some time to determine a way to repair the old card or find a replacement.
We had a meeting in our conference room to discuss the most likely item to fail on the controller card and how to fix it since the replacement cards were supposedly not available. There were only two integrated circuits (ICs) with only another dozen components in total on the card. We ordered the multiplexer IC which we thought was the one that had failed, but an exact replacement part was no longer made. We located some similar chips located in Taiwan, so we paid for them and waited for delivery in three weeks. Once the parts arrived, we gave the parts to Rick to attempt the card repair. Unfortunately, it did not go well with the new IC chip and we were unable to get the card to function properly. We had another meeting where we went over all of the data we had collected and concluded that the new multiplexer chip was not operating correctly and that we may also have a bad microprocessor IC chip. This meant that we were completely dead trying to repair the old controller card.
Now it was time to become creative in an attempt to find another control card. We contacted the manufacturer demanding to have them sell us a replacement card, but they insisted that there were none available. We started searching EBAY, Amazon and many other websites in an attempt to find a used, refurbished or new card from any source. We tried looking for a used unit that was being retired from service, but to no avail. All searches for the control card ended in a total failure.
Time had gone by and Tom was becoming understandably nervous that he was going to get cited and possibly fined by the AHJ for the system not being fully functional. We talked about our efforts to repair the existing card and the efforts to find a new card. However, he needed results and we were determined to deliver those results. As a backup plan, Tom wanted a price from us for replacing the old system so that he could make a decision as to who would be contracted to replace the system if we failed to repair it. We agreed that we would have until the end of April 2022 to get the unit operational. He had prices from several other DAS contractors for system replacement and asked me for our price, but I refused to give him a price at that time. I told him that I would rather spend the time working on his repair than working on giving him a price on a replacement unit, but I agreed that if we did not get the old BDA fixed that I would have a price for him within a couple of days.
It was time for another approach to solve the problem. We failed to fix the old controller card and have been unable to locate a used card. So I thought of how I could convince the manufacturer to “find” the parts that we needed. I sent them an email which I followed up with a phone call threatening them with legal action if they did not make a reasonable attempt to find the replacement parts. This gave them the incentive to become pro-active looking for the parts. After two weeks of biting our finger nails, we received notice that they managed to locate a replacement controller card. I notified Tom that we were going to get the card, but it would still take another 2-4 weeks for the factory to actually pull the card out of stock, process the order, install the firmware into the card and run it through their QC so that we would actually receive a working controller card, ship the card to us and for us to receive the card. We then tested the card and were convinced that we had a working card.
We made another appointment with Tom to head down to the building at 9AM to install the new replacement controller card. We arrived on time and Tom had security unlock the room for us. We installed the new card after installing the factory programming jumper which allowed us to make the factory settings required to configure the card for this specific unit. We proceeded to calibrate the settings and removed the factory programming jumper. We now had a completely functional unit without having to replace the BDA with a new one.
Now that the BDA system was functional, it was time to perform the annual certification of the units. We took the 20 grid square report and proceeded to take our own measurements. There were 3 levels that had to be measured so we proceeded to check the signal in each grid square one at a time until we completed the first floor. We then proceeded to the 2nd floor and then the 3rd floor. All floors passed with flying colors which gave us no end of pleasure. We had succeeded at what all others had failed or given up upon. We knew that we were in a better position than anyone else to fix the DAS problem, but now we had proved it to ourselves and to Tom, the customer.
I called Tom on his cell phone to have him come down to the DAS room so that we could go over the results. He was pleased to find out that not only was the system fully operational, but we had completed the annual certification. I told him that we would be sending him the certification report within the next week or two and that we would be sending him a bill that represented less than 20% of what he was expecting to spend to replace the BDA equipment. Our price also included his annual certification which was not included in his other bids.
To say the least, Tom was totally stoked. When he contacted us, he was expecting to spend $30K+ to replace his existing system, but with our experience, determination and perseverance, we were able to do the entire job for under $6K. No one else was willing to try to fix the system once they were told that parts were unavailable. None of the other DAS contractors were able to determine what item had failed or how to determine which item in the BDA had failed. So Raycom stood out from the pack as the only company who was willing to take on the task of repairing the unit. If we had failed to fix the unit, we would have been paid nothing for our time unless we managed to get the job of replacing the unit since Tom was already convinced that it was not repairable so he did not want to spend any time or money in pursuit of any further attempts at repair.
Raycom succeeded when all others failed. . . . . . . .