Whether they operate in a dense city center or the smallest town in rural America, wireless sales and service providers — known for years as two-way radio dealers — can be the most critical partner in successfully deploying wireless communications, security and monitoring solutions.

EWA gathered three of these wireless entrepreneurs together for a virtual executive roundtable to talk about their businesses and give some insights on how to work most effectively with companies like theirs. Participants were:

What major technological shift — i.e. in products, regulatory environment, technology innovation — do you see in the wireless landscape that your customers really need to be aware of and work with your company on in the next one to two years?

Sullivan: First of all, the FCC is much more aggressive in monitoring end users and enforcing penalties. All users need to keep a current FCC license. Second, the digital products are providing wireless solutions that give customers much more capability than analog systems. Two-way radio users need to engage with their wireless provider as a partner in their business to get the most value from their system.

Gallinghouse: A “one shoe fits all,” single-device mentality has developed as a result of the products offered by cellular service providers. Also, the federal government is pushing for the perfect system for nationwide interoperability and broadband access for public safety. All this requires valuable radio spectrum. What seems to get lost in the process in the continued need for low cost private radio systems that have limited applications to serve specific requirements for business, industrial and public-safety users. The demand for more and more spectrum, coupled with the issue of government’s auctioning of spectrum to generate money, threatens to diminish spectrum availability for private radio systems. These systems are a vital part of the day-to-day operations of the engines that drive our economy and for those public safety agencies that protect lives and property. If the public is not vigilant and does not demand the FCC’s allocation of sufficient spectrum resources to satisfy private radio’s needs for the future, we will continue to see private radio spectrum allocations evaporate.

The other important issue affecting our customers within the next year is the Jan. 1, 2013, mandate for narrowbanding. Our customers need to recognize that the deadline is rapidly approaching and there will be a rush that will consume the time of technicians nationwide. Therefore, they should begin immediately to develop their own migration plan by working with us and not wait until the last minute.

Spehar: So much is now digital and IT. We have to be IT gurus to get radio systems to work. The big issue now with digital and IT is that you really have to “know your stuff." We do a lot of reading! We go through manuals and learn every way we can, but mostly learn through classes. The good thing is that manufacturers continue to present good classes and the manufacturers require certification before you can sell and service product.

What is the key advantage for an end user, such as a public- safety agency, school or business, in working directly with your company?

Gallinghouse: Local service is particularly important for public- safety agencies, and, for that matter, all of our customers. Because we service and maintain two-way radio repeater system infrastructure in addition to end user equipment, with lives and property at stake, rapid response is critical when reports of technical problems are received. Our customers have learned that we will be there quickly with solutions when they need us.

Sullivan: It’s our experience with two-way radio solutions, FCC regulations and our service support. We can save the customer from making costly mistakes by recommending the right solution for their application.

Spehar: We’re a smaller company, so we can act a lot more quickly than bigger companies. Because we deal with EWA and other organizations, we keep up nationally on what’s going on, especially with the FCC. We can let customers know about narrowbanding, for example. Same thing with licensing. It’s easier for us to do it than for a customer to hack their way through it. There are things with construction deadlines, for example, that just don’t make sense unless you understand the rules. We’re not going to get confused with the FCC language and we can push ahead and make the necessary calls. I give all of my customers my cellphone number and you can call me if you have a problem. What other company do you get to talk to the owner?

What additional certification do you have for your business or technicians? What is the importance of that kind of certification for your customers?

Gallinghouse: Service personnel attend training seminars provided by our vendors to obtain certifications for installation, operation, maintenance and repair. That way, our customers can have confidence we are connected to the manufacturers and will be capable of resolving any technical issues, during and after the completion of the work.

Sullivan: Our sales staff participates in manufacturer-provided sales learning programs and annual certification. Our service team participates in on-going training sessions and classes. The new digital products have much great capabilities than analog and manufacturers continue to offer enhancements. Continuous training helps us know what is available and how it benefits our customers.

Spehar: We require a two-year degree, and everyone keeps us with the digital world. We do training and my people go to school to keep up with everything. We go through all of the manufacturer provided certifications. We’ve been around for 26 years, and I figure we must be doing something right.

What do you offer as a local business that you know is unique to your organization?

Sullivan: We give our customers a great return on their investment. They get a solid working solution without overspending and a team of people ready to help from the very first phone call.

Spehar: For us, it all comes down to service. When we respond to bids, we’re not always the lowest but we have such a good rapport with our customers that they see us as trust worthy and recommend us. Whatever is easiest for our customer, that’s what we do. We know that they all talk to each other, particularly the police chiefs. We also warrantee anything we install, say, in a vehicle, for the life of the vehicle.

Gallinghouse: Because of the unique threats our area faces from hurricanes and associated natural disasters, we have developed a customized wide-area repeater system with multiple backups to ensure continued availability of radio communications for hospitals, nursing homes, local government and medical support facilities. This system served our customers well during the hurricanes Katrina and Gustav disasters.

What else is important for wireless users to know?

Gallinghouse: Continued availability of VHF and UHF spectrum for private radio, including businesses, industrial and public safety, is of utmost importance. Language in recent bills introduced in Congress required surrender of such spectrum to support the build out of a public-safety broadband network. In addition, recently we learned of the tests of Super Wi-Fi using the UHF band in Europe. If this is successful, it raises the question of the potential targeting of UHF spectrum for long range Super Wi-Fi in the United States. Thus, we must remain vigilant for more spectrum grabs. How can the public, private radio users and service providers protect existing private radio allocations and prevent the further eroding of said allocations?

Sullivan: Buyers need to be prepared as wireless carriers shift technologies. For example, if Sprint takes the Nextel technology off the air, are the public safety agencies, commercial businesses and others using Nextel ready to implement another system quickly? Have they done their homework to identify a replacement system? I think a percentage of these customers could use a digital two-way radio system that would be more cost-effective and functional than the wireless carrier options.

Profoundly affected by the proliferation of wireless technologies, the complexities of new regulatory rules, rapidly expanding requirements for more sophisticated and secure communications and an economic downturn at a level not experienced for generations, only the strongest wireless sales and service providers have survived and each, in their own way, for their own market environment, have crafted services that match the needs of government and private-industry customers alike.