The TDMA technology from the other side of the pond is poised to gain a foothold in the American public safety communications market.

Born in Europe, the digital technology known as TETRA is gaining support for its immigration to the North American public safety, utility and industrial radio communications markets.

Siemens, Alcatel, Racal, Nokia and Motorola, among other manufacturers, have developed relevant radio communications technologies protected by various patents, copyrights and trademarks (intellectual property rights). They brought their technologies together to develop Terrestrial Trunked Radio, a four-slot, time-domain, multiple-access modulation with trunking, encryption and multiple-site networking capability, and a constellation of features.

TETRA's origin

Originally, TETRA helped to satisfy a European requirement (under the Schengen Treaty) for transborder communications among public safety agencies, motor transport companies and other commercial interests. Manufacturers that provide TETRA products have signed a common agreement: the TETRA IPR Undertaking. The agreement complies with European Telecommunications Standards Institute patent policies that require signatories to license essential IPR to one another, making the manufacture and distribution of TETRA products possible and allowing the signatories to use the TETRA name and trademark.

TETRA development took advantage not only of multiple manufacturers' IPR, but also of a virtually European-wide reallocation of spectrum from 380MHz to 400MHz. Military users whose governments belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization initially yielded the frequencies. Other nations have followed suit. TETRA has since been adapted for other frequency bands.

IPR cross-licensing among manufacturers for the European market was a "given" under the ETSI common agreement. Additionally, manufacturers have licensed their IPR to one another in a way that allows the sale of TETRA equipment in Asia, Australia and the Pacific.

Not every holder of essential IPR in North America has granted licenses, though. Non-disclosure agreements, company policies and the privacy of commercial contracts often cloak IPR licensing details. Even so, TETRA proponents name Motorola as the sole reluctant IPR-holder.

"I would expect them to say that - to cast Motorola as the bad guy," said Patricia Sturmon, Motorola's senior manager of public relations. "If I were them, I would use the same tactic. The truth is, Motorola is not the only company that has to give an IPR license for TETRA to be sold in North America."