A once-popular adage was “one size fits all,” but enterprises choosing that path will be left behind as innovative competitors move swiftly past them.

Henry Ford is credited for perfecting the use of mass production and for stating, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” This strategy excelled, and by 1918 half of all the cars in America were Model Ts — in a monolithic black.

Alfred P. Sloan at GM is credited with introducing styling changes and a pricing structure — Chevrolet to Cadillac — to attract and keep customers. These innovations, along with Ford's resistance to change, propelled GM past Ford to industry leadership.

So what does the early history of the automobile industry have to do with land mobile radios?

Customers in the market for LMR technology upgrades often feel like they only have one technology choice. Utilities are being told by powerful market forces that their only alternative is to adapt high-tier, public-safety-grade P25 systems for their needs. These same forces are suggesting — given the specter of narrowbanding — that they skip past 12.5 kHz and move directly to 6.25 kHz or equivalent technologies.

City and county users needing to upgrade their LMR systems often choose to convert the entire system to P25, especially if federal grant money is involved. But does the entire system have to be upgraded to P25? Sheriff's offices and police departments warrant P25. But do public works, parks and recreation, planning and zoning? Are the more expensive P25 radios applicable to these users?

Innovative cities and counties are deploying hybrid solutions. For example, the sheriff and police groups deploy on P25 channels, while public works deploys on conventional FM. The conventional stations can be migrated to P25 as needed. User needs and grant requirements are met, and a modern LMR system is deployed. The city or county spends money on needed features per user group. In these systems, P25 users can communicate with conventional users and vice versa. The radios are smart enough to detect whether the incoming signal is digital or conventional and change modes accordingly. Interoperability is achieved at the best possible cost. Indeed, by carefully deploying the right mix of technologies in a hybrid solution, users can upgrade their systems at the best cost while also making them future-proof.

Utilities also are facing the need to upgrade their LMR systems, either due to the narrowbanding mandate or because second-generation proprietary trunking technologies have reached their end of life. If capacity and other operational needs drive users in the direction of 6.25 kHz technologies, there are multiple solutions available.

If capacity is not an issue, why spend the extra money? A more innovative approach may be to upgrade a system with open standards technology at 12.5 kHz today. Then, as a user's needs and wallet allow, the system can be migrated to 6.25 kHz-equivalent technologies or operated in a hybrid mode, with portions of the system at 12.5 kHz and portions at 6.25 kHz. These multimode systems allow interoperability between 12.5 kHz and 6.25 kHz and satisfy capacity needs where required.

Powerful market forces suggest one size fits all, but alternatives allow users to select the best combination of solutions to meet today's needs — while future-proofing their investment with “no fork lift” migration strategies.

Bill Fredrickson is the senior vice president, global utility sector, for Tait Radio Communications.