If memory serves, I believe this will be my 20th International Wireless Communications Expo. In that time, profound changes have occurred in the land mobile radio industry.

Twenty years ago, this industry was a sleepy little industry, quietly serving hundreds of thousands of users far under the radar screen of significant regulation. There wasn't a huge amount of money in the business, but folks were generally happy, with disputes usually confined to the frequency coordination docket and fighting with carriers over the ability to have systems interconnected.

Manufacturers were perfecting digital trunking, and every year brought some incremental advance in the state of the art. However, there weren't necessarily huge “next big thing” advances being demonstrated.

Twenty years ago, we were in the midst of licensing the “middle” 800 MHz frequencies by pools. The primary battleground was the frequency coordination docket. We were just beginning a proceeding to narrowband the 150 MHz and 450 MHz airwaves. No one had heard of “Fleet Call,” and some guy named Robert Foosaner was the chief of some part of the FCC known as the Private Radio Bureau.

Fast forward to today. We have an industry dramatically reduced in size because of Nextel's purchase of a significant amount of formerly private spectrum. Whoever thought those kind of mega-dollars would ever come into this industry? The traditional “base and two” customer has for the most part gone to cellular services. And there are auctions for new spectrum.

However, while there is much to lament about what has changed, there is much to be excited about. Moving Nextel out of spectrum below 862 MHz will give public-safety agencies first crack at an average of 4.5 MHz of 800 MHz spectrum (that's 90 channel pairs). With newly found homeland security funding, agencies will be aggressively deploying in this band, as well as 700 MHz and 4.9 GHz. These same agencies are outsourcing more and more of the communications services to radio dealers, which have the technical expertise to construct and maintain networks.

Innovative technologies abound, from mesh networks to Wi-Fi to voice over IP for backhaul. Public-safety agencies, determined to provide better indoor coverage and resist interference from cellular networks, are building indoor solutions to ensure coverage. The 800 MHz rebanding process will ensure that every radio dealer nationwide has plenty of work to do for the next three years. And narrowband technologies are now starting to take hold, freeing additional un-auctioned spectrum.

Thus, while some are discouraged about the state of the industry, I'm bullish on your business. Yes, it has changed. But those who are able to change with the industry are finding new opportunities, new means of serving their customers' communications needs and new revenue areas.

I think that the program at IWCE this year reflects that attitude. From the Rebanding Zone, to the Hot Spot, to the innovative seminar sessions, this year's IWCE shows a changing and expanding industry — one that is more vibrant than in the recent past. With wireless increasingly replacing wireline communications, you are in the midst of a revolution. Choose to be a part of it.


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

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