Every few years, Morgan O'Brien rocks the land mobile radio industry. First it was his aggregation of specialized mobile radio operators called Fleet Call. Then it was an idea to take this spectrum and use it for some new-fangled equipment that Motorola promised would bring tremendous spectrum efficiency and capacity. Later, it was saving the company by convincing some cellular guy (Craig McCaw) to invest in the company. And don't forget about the attempt to merge with MCI.

O'Brien convinced the FCC that auctioning SMR spectrum and giving the winner the ability to move licensees to lower channels was a good idea. Later, he filed a white paper that offered a solution to 800 MHz interference; unfortunately, the solution was harmful to private radio operators, who would have had to bear the cost of relocating to other frequencies. Eventually, this white paper morphed into the Consensus Plan and then the final rebanding agreement. Meanwhile, O'Brien merged his company with Sprint and then left the combined company.

Now O'Brien has a vision of creating a nationwide interoperable public-safety radio system in the 700 MHz band (see story on page 10).

Whether the public-safety industry is prepared to support an interoperable system that's constructed by a third party remains to be seen. In some areas of the country, such systems already work, in large part because the systems were constructed to public-safety standards, and operations are based upon the input and direction of public-safety users on the system.

However, O'Brien comes with built-in baggage — the distrust of the private radio community. The manner in which Nextel was created turned the stomach of a large majority of the industry. From what some perceive as a manipulation of the regulatory process to the major change in the industry sparked by taking the traditional “base and two” mobile user away from land mobile systems, there may not be a more vilified figure in the industry.

On the other hand, many admire the man and what he created. Nextel brought millions of dollars to licensees who thought for decades that their spectrum was worth nothing. (Regarding those grousing about O'Brien, I haven't seen any of them offer to give back the money.) The cobbling together of spectrum brought a third cellular competitor at a time when only two cellular companies controlled the industry, and prices were sky high.

Bridging the gap between the cellular duopoly and the construction of PCS systems, Nextel significantly brought down the prices for cellular use prior to the advent of PCS, which gave the commission a response to the intense call for further regulation of the industry.

But the real question as to the viability of the proposal — whatever it turns out to be — is whether it can be judged on its own merits, not O'Brien's.

It also will be interesting to see whether industry members are able to objectively consider what may actually not be in their own personal best interests. In other words, will the prospect of seeing further outsourcing of telecommunications responsibility — regardless of how well the system is created — jade those considering the project?

At the end of the day, we can hope that this is something that is well thought out. That includes considering all of the relevant issues, both internal and external to public safety. We should review the proposal dispassionately, objectively and intensely.

You can discuss this with O'Brien and his new company, Cyren Call, at IWCE this month, where he will be the keynote speaker and part of a Q&A session afterward. With a large part of the seminar program devoted to public safety issues, and with a public-safety-oriented pre-conference program, this year's IWCE is sure to be an exciting event.


Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at atilles@srgpe.com.