Morgan O'Brien, the founder and former chairman of Nextel Communications, presided over the growth of a wireless company that started small but eventually took its place among the wireless industry's major players. In this exclusive interview, the keynote speaker at IWCE 2006 shares a few insights concerning the past and the present, as well as his vision for the future of public-safety communications.

MRT: Did the interference problems in the 800 MHz band surprise you?

O'Brien: I went through all the classic stages that someone goes through when something terrible happens. When the engineers first showed up at my door with the allegations, I entered the first stage, which was denial. It was like, “Leave my office because you're telling me something that can't be true, so therefore it's not true.”

MRT: What happened next?

O'Brien: They kept coming back. It wasn't something we wanted to hear, but if it was true, it didn't matter how it would affect the company. It was a matter of life and safety. So I visited areas where the complaints were loudest and then talked to the board of directors to carve out a position for the company that would guide us in terms of the public-safety world and, in particular, this issue. Then we started an exhaustive effort to first figure out what was causing the problem, then to determine solutions, from both public safety's perspective — What are they thinking the solution might be? — and from our side, what was feasible.

MRT: How did the discussions with public safety go in the early stages of the effort?

O'Brien: I told public safety that I already knew what their position was: Stop. But I also told them that if I went back to Nextel and said, “Stop,” I would be replaced and the guy who replaced me would say, “We can't stop.” So that wasn't an alternative. Of course, there were lots of things we could do short of “stop” to ameliorate the situation, but the reality was that while we could do things to lessen the effect of the problem, we couldn't fix it without doing something radical. So I was given the task of finding a comprehensive solution. That led to our white paper, which eventually evolved into the Consensus Plan.

MRT: Of course, 800 MHz interference isn't the only crisis afflicting public-safety communications. In fact, you have called such communications a “total disgrace.” What did you mean by that?

O'Brien: The wireless industry, all of us, has let public safety down. We've allowed public safety to have the most primitive technology, the most fragmented spectrum and inadequate resources that are attempting to keep 10- and 15-year-old systems — and worse — running. We have the unacceptable situation that the plumber who is working in the men's room at the police station has a more sophisticated device for which he paid less than any of the people who are there trying to save lives.

MRT: How did this situation come about?

O'Brien: You have to have about a 30-year perspective to be able to answer that question. It has to do with the way spectrum has been defined over the years, the way it has been licensed, the way public safety has operated its systems and how it has procured the equipment. No one is at fault. Public safety simply is carrying the burden of history. Lots of stuff has happened, and for things to change, it's going to take something big. It's not going to be incremental, where suddenly it's all fixed, and public safety is at the same point with their devices as [consumers] are with theirs. That's not going to happen.

MRT: Then what needs to happen?

O'Brien: In the past, I have questioned whether I had yet to identify the ingredients for a solution or just hadn't come up with the recipe. By the time I speak at IWCE, I hope to have filed with the FCC a proposal — developed by working with a number of industry veterans — for addressing this. We have collected ourselves in a company called Cyren Telecommunications. We believe we now have the recipe. It will involve doing what we have been doing so well in wireless, but now doing it for public safety.

MRT: Can you offer any specifics?

O'Brien: It involves creating a network designed for public safety, by public safety, under the control of public safety, but in a unique relationship with multiple commercial partners. It's not just carriers. There are many people in the industry who can contribute to the solution who currently aren't carriers; basically any company that has hardware or software that could contribute to the creation of a next-generation public-safety network that will bring public safety up to the rest of the wireless world, which I've been maintaining for years is where they ought to be.

IWCE 2006 basics

Location:

Las Vegas Convention Center

Technology workshops:

Mon., May 15 and Tues., May 16, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Conference sessions:

Wed., May 17, 11:00 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.; Thurs., May 18, 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Fri., May 19, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Exhibits:

Wed., May 17, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.;
Thurs., May 18, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.;
Fri., May 19, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Conference tracks:

Spectrum Utilization; Land Mobile Radio; Broadband Mobile Data; Emerging Technologies

Keynote:

Morgan O'Brien, co-founder and former chairman of Nextel Communications, Wed., May 17, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Networking reception:

Wed., May 17, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Spotlight sessions:

“Katrina — Prepare for the Future,” Thurs., May 18, 8:30 to 10:00 a.m.;

“800 MHz Rebanding — Where Are We Now?” Thurs., May 18, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.;

“State CIOs — A Sampling of Successful Communications Initiatives,” Fri., May 19, 8:30 to 9:45 a.m.

More info: www.iwceexpo.com

*Current as of March 14
800 mHz Transition Administrator 659
9-1-1 MAGAZINE 1743
A.W. Enterprises 749
ABB Inc. 1731
AC Data Solutions 846
AC/DC Industries 745
ACE Technology 737
Acorn RF LLC 249
ADTRAN 1435
Advanced Charger Technology 1253
Advanced Labeling Solutions 532
AdvanceTec Industries Inc 440
AEA Technology 847
Aeroflex 923
AFL 1531
Agiosat Global Communications 1525
AGL Magazine 247
Airaya Corp 1034
Airwaves Licensing Assistance Inc 1050
ALCATEL 843
Allied Moulded Products Inc 1247
Aluma Tower Company Inc 1451
Amphenol Connex 1747
Anritsu Company 1329
Antcom Corp 1554
Antenex Inc 1325
APCO International 1233
AR Worldwide 1229
ARINC 653
Astra Radio Communications (ARC) 1453
Astron Corp 313
ATI Wireless 835
Avcomm International 1741
Avtec Inc 1337
Bard Manufacturing Co 752
Barrett Europe Limited 1360
BEE Electronics Inc 1226
Bird Technologies Group 910
BlueSky Mast Inc. 1635
Bluewave Antenna Systems Ltd. 1629
Cadex Electronics Inc 643
Call24 Wireless Call Box Systems 944
Cape International/IMPACT Radio Acessories 1310
Cara Enterprises Inc 1737
Catalyst Communications Technologies Inc 1353
CDMI 256
Cellular Specialties 1449
Centurion Wireless Technologies Inc 316
CES Wireless Technologies 1643
ChargeGuard Inc 1043
Childs Antennas LLC 623
China Industry Components Co. 1557
Cimarron Technologies Corp 1225
Citel Inc 1132
Cobalt A/V, (Comtronics, Inc.) 246
Comarco Wireless Technologies 1456
Commtech 1740
Commtech Wireless Pty Ltd 325
Communications Applied Technology 1727
ComProd Communications 432
Computer Resources Inc 562
Comtelco Industries Inc 1234
Connect Systems Inc 832
Con-Space Communications Inc 857
Cook's Communications Corp/FleetStat AVL 744
Cost Control Associates Inc 1261
CPI Communications Inc 1619
Crescend Technologies 529
CTA Communications 534
Ctek Inc 359
Cygnus Business Media 457
Dalman Technical Services Ltd. 1057
Daniels Electronics Ltd 1602
Dantherm Inc 1146
Dataradio Corp 419
Datron World Communications Inc 650
David Clark Company Inc 632
David Levy Company Inc 1230
dbSpectra 1130
DCI - Licensing Assistance Office 1262
DCI Digital Communications Inc 662
Dekolink Wireless Ltd 1722
Delta Electronics Mfg Corp 1425
Digital Antenna Inc. 1252
Digital Dispatch Systems 1358
Digital Paging Co 330
DKM Solutions 258
Dupont Building Inc. 1349
DuraComm Corp 1426
DX Radio Systems Inc 1319
Dynamic Instruments Inc 239
EADS Public Safety 937
Earmark LLC 1652
Eartec/Porta Phone 841
EFJohnson 1413
Electro-Comm Distributing 1007
Electronic Systems Technology Inc 251
EMR Corporation 116
EnGenius Technologies Inc. 354
Enviro - Buildings Inc. 452
EPCOM 1813
ERF Wireless 233
Eventide Inc 1334
Exocomm Technology Group/ExoCel Batteries 1126
Federal Communications Commission 756
Fiber-Span LLC 1359
Fibrebond 943
Flash Technology 1260
Flom Test Lab 1454
Forestry Conservation Communications Assoc. (FCCA) 456
Fred A. Nudd Corp 731
Futurecom Systems Group Inc 521
Gai-Tronics 1343
Gamber-Johnson 1217
General Dynamics 959
Genesis Group 1441
G-Wave 1654
Harger Lightning & Grounding 551
Harris Corporation 1443
Havis Shields Equipment Corp 1152
Hint Peripherals Corp 1553
Honeywell Aerospace 252
Honeywell Batteries/Global Technology Systems Inc 1149
Hutton Communications Inc 514
I2S Technologies Inc. 1160
Icom America Inc 1100
Icom America Inc 1307
IMSA 227
InfiNet Wireless 353
Infinimode Systems Inc. 833
Innovative Circuit Technology (ICT) 119
Intersect Inc. 356
IP MobileNet Inc 1142
IPC Command Systems 619
Jointcom Communication Technology Co Ltd 860
Jotto Desk 1346
JV USA Communications 1725
Kathrein Inc, Scala Division 1646
Kenwood USA Corporation 100
Kenwood USA Corporation 1730
Kirisun Electronics (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd. 253
Klein Electronics 1536
KR Nida Communications 242
Kullman Industries Inc 825
Kyoceraa 949
Kyosey Company Limited 742
Laserbit Communications Corp. 1035
Leathersmith 1754
Leoni Site Solutions 1756
Light Speed Industrial Inc. 535
Lind Electronics Inc 1245
Link Communications Inc 1340
Locus Location Systems 725
M/A COM Inc 1300
Macleod International 1733
Maxon CIC Corp. 952
McKay Communications Inc 250
MCM Technology LLC 1752
MemoryLink 240
Mentor Engineering 1049
Mercom Systems Inc 1540
Merry Electronics USA Co Ltd 1529
Microvoice Corp. 1362
Microwave Data Systems 940
Midian Electronics Inc 519
Midland Canada 831
Midland Radio Corp 508
Miller Building Systems 559
Mobilcomm 1134
Mobile Mark 935
Mobile Radio Technology 1156
Mobile Satellite Ventures 1736
Moducom 1749
Motorola Inc 813
MotoSAT 861
Mountain Union Telecom 1244
Mounting Systems 762
Multiplier Industries Corp 113
Mustang Company 1457
NABC, North American Battery Corp. 1546
NARDA Safety Test Solutions 1719
National Emergency Number Association (NENA) 761
Nearson 829
Nello Corp. 1161
Newmar 1818
New-Tronics Antenna Corp/Hustler Inc 1332
NIC Technologies LLC 1133
Nighthawk Systems Inc 235
Northrop Grumman 1357
Oldcastle Communications 344
Omnitronics Pty Ltd. 453
Opt-In Wireless 226
Ormandy Software 733
OTTO Communications 537
Part-15.org 1738
PCIA 661
PCTEL Antenna Products Group Inc. 926
Peltor Communications 337
Penta Corp 1541
PolyPhaser Corporation 1519
Positron Public Safety Systems Inc. 1256
Power Products 443
Power Up 1739
Powerwave 946
PPC 1452
Primus Electronics Corp 1534
ProComm Americas Ltd. ‥Savox in the USA 1556
Project 25 Technology Interest Group 550
Pryme Radio Products 1242
Pyramid Communications 543
Quala-Tel Enterprise/Rescom 1246
R & R Design Inc 1632
Racing Electronics 1125
Radiall/Larsen Antenna Technologies 808
Radio Club of America Inc 248
Radio IP Software Inc. 1656
RadioResource Media Group 634
RadioSoft 225
RAM Mounting Systems 1144
Raytheon JPS Communications Inc. 929
RELM Wireless Corp 900
RF Imaging and Communications 1432
RF Industries/Connectors Division 823
RF Industries/Neulink Division 824
RF Technology Pty Ltd 1440
Ritron Inc 907
Rohn Products, Div. of Radian Communications 856
Roxtec Inc 243
Sabre Towers and Accessories 343
Safecom 754
Sales Force Testing Inc. 1462
SAMLEX America Inc 1600
Satel Oy 437
SCA 746
Schwaninger & Associates 1533
Shelter One 849
Shenglu Antenna Co. Ltd. 352
Shenzhen HYT Science and Technology Co. Ltd. 346
Shenzhen Voxtech Co. Ltd 238
Shulman Rogers Telecommunications Group 660
Shyam Telecom Inc. 350
Sierra Technology Inc 1729
Signal Intelligence 1434
Simulcast Solutions 1621
Sinclair Technologies 1237
SiteSafe Inc 1232
SkyTec Inc. 858
SmarTrunk Systems Inc 1616
SoftWright 732
Southwest PV Systems Inc 237
Space Data Corp. (SDC) 1751
Spectracom Corp 1622
Spectrum Firm Inc. 241
Stancil Corp. 852
STI-CO Industries Inc 726
Stone Mountain Design 1640
Stratex Networks 1653
Sunrise Telecom 458
Survey Technologies Inc 933
Swissphone Telecom AG 232
Systems Implementation Inc 845
Sytech Corporation 421
Tait Radio Communications 546
Talk Toolbox 1746
Talley Communications Corp 1549
TCC Industries Inc 840
TEKK Inc. 826
Televate 760
Telewave Inc 810
Telex Communications Inc. 1706
Tessco Technologies 1213
Test Equipment Solutions Today 1162
Thales Communications Inc 540
Thermo Bond Buildings 1744
Times Microwave Systems 1520
TMC Radio PTY Ltd 956
TPL Communications 1119
Transcrypt International Inc 340
Trident Micro Systems 819
Trilogy Communications 525
Trio Datacom 1629
Troy Products (Div of Troy Sheet Metal) 1350
Trylon TSF 434
TWR Lighting Inc 730
Unimo Technology Co Ltd 229
United Communications Corp. 556
United Telecom Council 1530
USAlert LLC 1033
UsedRadio.Com 837
Valesco Battery Support Systems Inc. 1356
Vertex Standard 500
VFP Inc 1154
W&W Manufacturing Co 1613
Wade Antenna Ltd. 834
WaveRider Communications 934
Whelen Engineering Co 1543
Wilson Cellular 1552
Winncom Technologies 962
WiPath Comunications 231
Wireless Accessories Unlimited (WAU) 1450
Wireless Dealer Magazine 1352
Wireless Pacific Limited 1745
Wireless S.A.M.S. LLC 459
World Tower Co. 533
Zetron Inc. 1507