Lately we’ve been hearing about the convergence of commercial and land-mobile-radio technologies. The expectation is that, should the proposed 700 MHz nationwide broadband network for first responders ever materialize, it will contain elements of both worlds.

Motorola is preparing for such a future. As Senior Writer Donny Jackson reports in the March print edition of Urgent Communications, the company plans to meld its commercial and government businesses in the hope of being at the forefront of next-generation public-safety communications, as it was for the last generation.

The strategy makes a lot of sense. What other company in the industry can match Motorola’s blend of commercial and LMR technologies? I can’t think of one. But what potentially is good for Motorola could spell doom for other entities — and that’s not going to be good for the public-safety sector.

Last week, I spoke to an executive of a mid-range LMR vendor who expressed grave concerns about this scenario. His biggest fear is that the commercialization of public-safety communications will put the sector onto a slippery slope that will lead to a commoditization of the devices that first responders carry, in the same manner that cellular phones eventually became commoditized.

If that should happen, this executive said his company and others like it will have a difficult time competing — if they can at all.
“If this stuff gets commoditized, where will the funding come from to repurpose military technologies?” said the executive, who requested anonymity. “I don’t know how to pay for it as a supplier. How do I make the investment to do that? If you think it’s coming for free, it’s not. And every military technology is expensive.”

He added that leveraging military technology is the only way a company the size of his can compete. “My source of innovation always has been military-based technology, because I’m too small a company to create something from the ground up.”

If this doomsday scenario comes to fruition, the public-safety sector could be left with a duopoly from which to get its products: Motorola, which does have the ability to create something from the ground up and can draw from the commercial and LMR sides of its business; and Harris, which also has the deep pockets needed to create something from nothing and has the added benefit of having a highly regarded military side of its business from which it can draw technology inspiration.

Wouldn’t that be a kick, just as Project 25 finally is on the cusp of realizing its potential to drive down the cost of subscriber units? All of those mid-tier companies that have been waiting for two decades to compete with Motorola on a level field — well, it wouldn’t be completely level because of Motorola’s vast resources, but at least the slope no longer would appear mountainous — could find themselves once more at a distinct disadvantage. In a worst-case scenario, they could find themselves out of the game or, at the very least, relegated to the role of niche player.

That wouldn’t be good for those companies — or the sector they serve.

The potential impact of the convergence of commercial and LMR technologies is just one of several timely topics that will be discussed at length this week during a “state of the industry roundtable” that I will be moderating at IWCE 2010 in Las Vegas (Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.). I will be joined by Ed Kelly of EF Johnson, Steve Cragg of Vertex Standard, Kelly Kirwan of Motorola, John Vaughan of Harris, Jose Martin of PowerTrunk and noted wireless industry consultant Andy Seybold. It should be interesting. I hope you’ll join us.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.