Potomac Spectrum Partners (PSP) plans to establish three testbed systems demonstrating its balloon-based radio interoperability offering with wide-area coverage in a western state during the first quarter this yearthe same period when company also is slated to launch two commercial deployments, according to a top PSP official.

Although PSP will use TETRA as the backbone technology for its networks, the PSP systems leverage interoperable push-to-talk solution from partner TASSTA that can allow myriad technological devices—from LMR radios to cellular handsets—to communicate with each other. Base stations are located on balloons supplied by partner Space Data that operate at more than 60,000 feet in the air, providing wide-area coverage and the ability to deploy networks more quickly than a traditional terrestrial installation. However, PSP will leverage terrestrial sites when appropriate.

Bruce Scapier, managing member at PSP, said he met with FCC staff members to inform them about the company’s technological capabilities and deployment plans.

“We have met with the FCC staff, and we feel comfortable moving forward with our plan,” Scapier said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

Scapier said the western state’s systems—to be established during the first quarter—will be “long-term” testbeds that will be “open to essentially anyone who wants to participate,” noting that the PSP systems can work with a wide variety of devices.

“It does not mean just the smartphone networks and not just TETRA or P25,” Scapier said. “It means any radio that’s out there can be made to interoperate with any other radio that’s out there.”

Potentially, that could include devices operating on dedicated networks like FirstNet at some point, Scapier said.

“We’re not competing with FirstNet, nor are we trying to replace FirstNet,” he said. “We look forward to FirstNet being successfully deployed, and we are big supporters of FirstNet.”

Meanwhile, PSP continues to pursue its previously announced plans to deploy two networks in the Midwest, with installation beginning in the first quarter, Scapier said. The citywide system should be finished quickly, while installation of the state system likely will take six to eight months, he said.

PSP is led by a team with considerable wireless-communications experience, including key investor Jim Judson, who was a co-founder of the Eagle River Investments—with Craig McCaw—that took over ownership of Nextel Communications to make that entity a major nationwide commercial carrier prior to its sale to Sprint.