Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA), the digital trunked mobile radio standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, could find a home in North America now that the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) is forming a working group to identify technical issues related to the use of the technology in the U.S. and is working to make the standard meet Federal Communications Commission (FCC) equipment requirement. Most importantly, it is doing so with the blessing of the technology's primary patent holder Motorola.

During the UTC's annual conference last week in Las Vegas, the UTC's Technical Division agreed to form a working group to identify the technical hurdles to bringing the European technology into the U.S., said Jill Lyon, vice president and general counsel with the UTC.

"There do need to be some changes to the equipment so that it can be type-accepted in the U.S.," Lyon said. "Each private land mobile band has different bandwidths and power levels. Separate tweaks for each of those will be required so that TETRA can be rolled out."

The idea is to create a technical document to detail how TETRA can be developed in the U.S. so that vendors have a unified way of manufacturing U.S. equipment.

TETRA has made its home in 105 countries around the world and boasts some 2000 deployments. Last year, the TETRA Association created a working group in North America after it received questions from the UTC, which consists of more than 500 utility companies in the U.S., and the American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents 400 companies in the petroleum and natural-gas industries.

The association in the past has said that the only factors keeping TETRA from coming to the U.S. were licensing issues; specifically, that Motorola — owner of some key TETRA intellectual property — wouldn't license the technology in North America. Motorola's official stance in the past was that the technology would have to become a Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) standard in the U.S. for Motorola to license it here.

Chuck Jackson, Motorola Sales and Service vice president and director of systems operations, said Motorola's stance on TETRA intellectual property has been twisted a bit over the years. In the 1990s, when TETRA was being considered for the public-safety standard, Motorola was asked if it would license the technology. The vendor indicated it would, if TETRA became a TIA standard. TETRA subsequently was removed from consideration for the public-safety community, primarily because most public-safety users were — and still are — conventional users.

"The problem that TETRA has is the constraints of the frequencies, the RF masks in U.S. spectrum. You can't type -accept the equipment," Jackson said. "What we've been saying, or at least what we think we've been saying is: 'Guys, you have to work out the technical issues. You have to go to TIA and do this.' People haven't understood that ... What we are finally saying here is that there are a whole lot of other issues, and if someone wants to take this on, we would be glad to participate."

Lyon said that "TETRA manufacturers seem to think that the tweaks involved to meet U.S. rules are not something that would require a new standard." She emphasized that the UTC is technology neutral but has long sought to give UTC members the ability to have a choice of digital trunked radio technologies, as many analog systems currently in operation are near the end of their useful lives.

Lyon added that utility pilots of TETRA technology will commence in the U.S. Canada's BC Hydro will begin a pilot soon.