Readers offered many thoughtful responses to a column I wrote recently about the utility industry's interest in TETRA and the fact that it can't have it in the U.S.. In it, I questioned why the industry believes Project 25 technology isn't right for utilities. I noted that P25 was originally designed for public safety but questioned why a scaled-down version of P25 couldn't be used to target the industrial market to make a cheaper alternative for utilities. Their chief complaint surrounding the technology is that it is optimized for the public-safety community and too expensive.

Some readers reminded me that Motorola markets a version of iDEN for the utility industry that is cheaper. That may very well be a viable solution, but it also doesn't solve the utility industry's desire to deploy a technology that has multiple vendors and has an interoperable architecture like TETRA. It's also not so clear what the future of iDEN will be.

At any rate, I want to share with you some of the thought-provoking comments I received about the topic. It's clearly an issue that received mixed comments. Some of the comments have been edited for length:

  • "Maybe the utility companies should look at NEXEDGE digital technology. It is similar to P-25 and much less expensive. Kenwood, ICOM, and other manufacturers are selling products that operate quite nicely, even using the 6.25 KHz bandwidth that the FCC is trying to get everyone to move toward sooner or later. Since it is digital, it interfaces into the Internet quite nicely and makes it possible to talk all over the country. It will even "cross patch" to the P25 radios through simple boxes that Telex and other manufacturers make. Currently products are available in the VHF and UHF bands, and I'm sure later on will be in the 700/800/900 [MHz] bands, as well. Forget trying to battle TETRA in the US and go with the up-and-coming, newer-type technology developed for the U.S."
  • "As mentioned by other posters, P25 isn't the only digital technology out there. A nearby fire agency recently went to a Motorola-based digital system at the behest of the state, and the fire chief told me that he had to purchase a special insurance policy to cover his radio equipment because there is no way he could afford to replace a radio if one got lost or damaged. This goes to the heart of the issue — the equipment is much too expensive and proprietary. Take a look at some of the newer ETSI digital radio standards, and you will see where there is the possibility for affordable digital two-way radio with advanced features."
  • "I work in the utility industry, and I'll tell you why P25 should not be considered: We converted to a 12.5 KHz P25 VHF (Motorola) system several years ago and have regretted it since. We went from a 25 KHz analog system — also VHF (Motorola)--that worked well to one that barely works at all. After a great deal of speculation and wondering why our new multimillion dollar system didn't work nearly as well as the old analog system it replaced, I began testing to try to figure out why.

    So far we have found that the VHF P25 mobiles don't work well at all in the presence of high-voltage electrical energy. We've measured up to 36dB receiver degradation inside our electrical Substations with 115 kV and 230 kV lines present. The problems exist with lower voltage lines, as well. We tested wideband analog radios alongside the P25 radios and never measured much more than 6db degradation. We found that the analog signals, while degraded, were still usable where the P25 radios just flat don't work — no audio output of any sort."
  • "I work for a large utility in Kentucky. We have a statewide, UHF conventional P25 system. Our system has served us well. We utilize many Gold Elite dispatch operator positions. The CAI signaling is very useful to us. We employ the Call Alert and Emergency functions to assist with our dispatch operations. Our business clients depend on our radio system tremendously. It has served us well."
  • "Is there any point to talking about the future of TETRA? Those of us in the utilities have to move now to comply with the January 2013 narrowbanding requirements. TETRA really seems like a pipe dream at this point. Motorola has so tied our hands that utilities are pinched to find vendors that will meet our needs, both infrastructure and cost. By keeping their MPT equipment out of the U.S. and strongarming the deployment of TETRA in the U.S., they have stymied the whole market. Analog simulcast is a thing of the past, and a 12 1/2 KHZ deployment of any kind will most likely have to be replaced within ten years. We need options that utilities can afford, and that may even take us to Phase 2."

Thanks to everyone who wrote. I appreciate the feedback, and the insights.

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