When I first entered the professional world of private radio, it was clearly a different day. (I won't say exactly when my career started, but a few clues are that the Federal Communications Commission had just split VHF channels from 30 kHz to 15 kHz; the commission was still attempting to license Citizens Band users; and people were saying that trunking systems wouldn't be any more efficient than conventional community repeaters. So, I admit, it was a while ago.)

Back then, in the private radio world, companies had communications departments responsible for radio frequency matters, and such departments held the communications system acquisition-and-expansion purse strings. Everyone spoke the language of two-way radio.

That was then.

Like most RF guys, it was my perception that data communications and the value-added solutions these technologies brought to businesses was cutting edge and had significant promise, but it was a world that I should best leave to the techies who spoke the language of kbps per second, as opposed to my comfort zone-RF bandwidths.

(I promise that this article isn't about “refarming.”)

Such a decision on my part was a mistake. I was talking to a potential customer recently, a paving contractor, who commented to me that to increase productivity and remain competitive in his world, he must have “GPS in his trucks” to keep track of where they are from one moment to the next.

He also said that he and his supervisors “don't have time to talk to the truck drivers and other company vehicles out on jobs … I just want to send them a message and for them to respond quickly.”

I'm the one who got the message that wireless data isn't cutting edge. It's the norm. The people, the language, the products and the consumers of private radio have evolved. To succeed today in communicating the benefits of products and services, one must know:

Where the decision-maker is

Traditionally, people who made wireless communications decisions were familiar with RF. They knew about climbing poles, line loss, coax cable, height above average terrain, antenna patterns and setting up microwave systems. Slowly, the RF communications groups merged into the IT department. They were not always welcome, as RF experience was deemed “old school.” Today, the person you talk to is likely to report to the CIO or CTO.

Regardless of title, the person you're talking to now wants to know what business issues you can help to solve — not what products you have to sell. More often than not, it is the voice-and-data communications solution that will speed up operations, reduce costs and increase efficiency.

The language of wireless data

When wireless communications meant strictly radio, I could comfortably talk to prospects about channel pairs and frequencies. But the first time a customer asked if he could achieve “126 Kbps,” my response was: “What does that mean in kHz?”

He looked at me like I was crazy or once processed CB applications. He was speaking Greek to me, and I was speaking RF to him. Clearly, my reaction was not an effective way to secure customer confidence.

At a minimum, I now figure that I need to be bilingual. I can talk about 12.5 kHz or 50 kHz channel pairs, but I need to know in advance what data throughput such bandwidths bring to bear as a customer solution. Improving response times, keeping tighter control of assets in the field, eliminating redundant tasks — these business objectives are just as important as technical specifications in the language of wireless data.

From channel pairs to bandwidth

While differences between two-way radio and data solutions are common knowledge, many, like me, were slow to acknowledge the need for convergence. For example, it no longer helps to tell a prospect, “We may provide you 12.5 kHz and more voice channels.”

In fact, the customer may need fewer channels with wider bandwidth to improve data communications.

Bandwidth, not frequencies, drives wireless data communications. Companies are not only asking for two-way radio voice solutions, they are searching for ways to reduce costs, improve responsiveness and compete better in a challenging marketplace with voice and data solutions. That's why it pays to keep an eye-and an ear-on the new mainstream of wireless data technology. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Mark E. Crosby is the president and founder of Access Spectrum, a provider of “Exclusive Private Wireless” solutions.