The project entailed preparing 13 rooms with FM based translation equipments. The rooms were of different capacities and were far from each other. The rooms capacities ranged between 200 to 4,000 people.
Based on the initial calculation we had decided to make 30 systems with 50 mW RF output capacity. This was based on the legal stipulation in Ecuador which prohibits radiating above 1 W. Though the time was impossibly short for the preparation, we managed to make 30 systems. However, due to extremely strict Airlines regulations we could not transport all the equipments and we had to make do with just 22 systems. With the given number of equipments we could equip 10 rooms against the requirement of 13.
Testing and Installation
In the testing phase we realised that about 50 odd commercial channels in Quito and surrounding areas, including a couple of Columbian channels, were radiating very powerful signals. Oscilloscope showed us just two small gaps in the FM band. These gaps were at 88.9 and 100.4. On the rest of the frequencies it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to run the translation channels at 50 mW power output without interference from the commercial channels. In the situation we had to jack up the power of most transmitters. Final configuration was something like this:
Small rooms: 50 mW
Medium rooms: 1-1.5 W
Large rooms: 3-5 W.
There was almost no provision for advance installation and testing of equipments. We got access to most of the rooms just a day before the event while some rooms were opened only on the day of the event. This made our task extremely difficult.
There was a serious shortage of technically equipped human resources. There was no Nomad co-ordinator on the ground during the preparatory stage. Also at the time of the event I was the only one to handle administrative and technical issue.
The installation and running of the equipments would have been impossible if I had not got help from Quito based radio professional, Rodrigo Jarrin and his team of two people. In addition there were 20 volunteers from the electronic college in Quito. The volunteers team was extremely helpful and enthusiastic. But they needed a lot more training than I could provide in a very short period of time. At the end of the event a team of about 10 volunteers have emerged to be a great resource for any future projects. In future we must ensure that there are two different groups on the technical side to handle the administration and technology.
Co-ordination and interface with other agencies
One of the most debilitating constraint was the complete lack of co-ordination between us, sound system providers, electricians and booth providers. We had extremely tough time ensuring that the Sound system providers had given microphone, and feed from PA system. After the installation was completed, most of the complaints from interpreters were on this front. Sometimes there was no feed and the other there was no mike or mic cable. This could have been easily avoided if there was a continuous interface with the agencies that provided the Public Address System.
- In future it would be suicidal to use the constant power transmitters. We need to have a 3 to 5 stage variable RF power transmitters to suit requirements of various rooms. This would be extremely important for POA 2005 to ensure optimum utilisation of FM based systems. We have begun the research on the variable power transmitters. We will communicate the progress in a few days. Let me reiterate that there is no way but to use the variable powered transmitters for POA 2005.
- It is absolutely necessary to have clear and advance co-ordination with the concerned agencies like Public Address System Providers, booth makers and electricians.
- For smooth functioning of the systems, it is necessary to provide for adequate training to volunteers in monitoring, trouble shooting and various features of the systems. For example, in Quito some volunteers did not know that the system was capable of relay translation.
- Need to have a brief technical orientation and equipment familarisation session with interpreters. Quite often we received complaints of equipments not working and the fault we found was either microphone was not switched on or the mic volume was turned off.
- Need to divide the Nomad project in techincal and administration. We will need dedicated people to monitor installation schedule, managing volunteers and equipments movement.
- A well equipped laboratory for FM work is also necessary. The laboratory must have Oscilloscope, RF power meter, a few digital frequency meters and other basic tools for quick repair and fine tuning.
August 9, 2004