Mike Miller, president and CEO of Marshalltown, Iowa-based RACOM, talked with IWCE’s Urgent Communications Editor Donny Jackson about trends he is seeing in the industry, including an increase in next-generation 911 business, the benefits of IP-trained staff and consolidation opportunities for dealers.

 

It’s 2014, and the business from FCC mandates for narrowbanding and rebanding is done in most of the country. How is this impacting your business?

“What we thought would happen is that 800 MHz rebanding is done, narrowbanding is done and that business would fall off for a period of time, because everybody’s got new equipment—that was the conventional wisdom we all sort of planned for. But that’s not the case at all. I think that business is every bit as strong or even stronger.

“I try to pinpoint reasons behind it, and some of it is that people narrowbanded their UHF and VHF systems and are now realizing that their coverage is really bad, so they’re moving to a digital technology, adding simulcast or adding voted receivers. So, there’s a lot of that work … to try to get back the coverage they lost during narrowbanding, so that’s been a strong business for us.

“One of the strongest areas of business for us is people moving from analog phone systems to next-gen 911 phone systems. In our part of the world, that’s where all the grant money is. For the past year, the state of Iowa [homeland security] was giving $50,000 to any 911 center that wanted to upgrade to a next-gen 911 phone system.  In July, they’re increasing it to $100,000, so they’re making it even sweeter for people to move to next-gen 911 phone systems.”

 

How many PSAPs are you seeing make that migration today?

“In Iowa, there are about 115 to 120 911 answering points, so there are 115 to 120 911 telephone systems that need to be upgraded from analog-based to next-gen IP-based [technology]. We don’t service them all, but my guess is that maybe half of them have made the migration to next-gen 911, with us or with somebody else. And I’ll bet that half of those did it before the state was offering much grant money. So, it’s not just a grant-money thing. It’s ‘I want to be prepared to accept text messages.’

“I see a lot of customers take the migration strategy of ‘I’m going to do my consoles first; I’m going to do my 911 phone system next; and I’m going to do my radio system third.’ When they’re planning for the radio system and upgrading the other two large pieces of technology in the dispatch center, they say, ‘If I’m going to upgrade that, I better go next-gen 911.’”