Educators, wireless industry players team to fill engineer and technician void The FCC auctions of personal communications services (PCS) spectrum and the subsequent buildout of the networks have created a flurry of activity within the wireless industry. Not only are the PCS companies needing personnel, but so are cellular companies, specialized mobile radio (SMR) companies, paging companies and the myriad companies that maintain private land mobile radio systems.
Engineers and technicians with RF experience are at a premium as the demand for their services has grown, and there are simply not enough qualified people to do the work. The Personal Communications Industry Association projects that 300,000 new jobs will be created in the U.S. wireless sector by the year 2000. The question is: Who is going to fill them?
Enter the Global Wireless Education Consortium (GWEC). GWEC is a group of colleges, universities and wireless communications companies that have agreed to cooperate in the education of RF technicians and engineers. Membership is open to any business or individual related to the wireless industry and to schools of higher education. The consortium began a little more than a year ago as a small group of wireless industry representatives and educators discussed the problem and the ways to solve it.
In March 1997, the consortium was incorporated. Now, the group has grown to six industry members and eight education members. Misty Baker, executive director of GWEC, said she expects to add 10 education members by the end of the year, and more schools, including three international universities, are in various phases of the application process.
“If we could get 100 schools adding a curriculum and saying they will graduate a minimum of 20 people out of these programs a year, we still will not meet the need, but we’re certainly going to take care of a large part of it,” Baker said.
Collaboration is vital Colleges and universities applying to become members of the consortium must be approved by the board of directors. Academic participants must agree to include a wireless curriculum; they must agree to work with industry members; they must agree to pass information along to other partners that join GWEC; and they must graduate a minimum of 20 students per year from sponsored programs within two years of joining the consortium.
“We want this to grow and increase, so the education partners must be willing to collaborate with others,” Baker said. “The basis of all of GWEC is collaboration, so you have industry partners who are competitors and education partners who are competitors, and we’re all coming to the table to share resources and work toward the common goal of increasing the quality and quantity of wireless technicians and engineers.”
Industry members pay annual dues based on a sliding scale by gross revenues. They must also agree to share non-proprietary information with academic partners and to participate in curriculum development. They also contribute by offering internships for students. In turn, they will be able to draw employees from a continually expanding group of wireless-savvy graduates.
Wireless companies are spending an enormous amount of money educating technicians and engineers_bringing them up to a fundamental level_when, in reality, colleges and universities should be doing the educating, said Paul Lindfors, chair of the electrical engineering and electronic engineering and technology department at Mankato State University, Mankato, MN, a partner in GWEC. Wireless players should then take over and train their employees on proprietary matters.
GWEC is clear on the difference between education and training, and the lines are not crossed. Baker said that training belongs in the marketplace, and the business sector is not saying in any way, shape or form that the education sector should do its training. She said what they would like schools to do is the educational part_basic RF technology with as much exposure to current technology as possible.
“The industry people have taken on the whole educational aspect of it, so they’re having to train people for maybe six to 12 months,” Baker said. “The employees are a total liability at that point. They’re not productive, and it’s not good for anyone. So if the education can go back to the schools, then industry can do training on specific products.”
Wireless focus Both Mankato State University and South Central Technical College (SCTC), a two-year college also located in Mankato, MN, were in on the ground floor of GWEC. The two-year electronics technology program curriculum at SCTC has been rewritten to emphasize wireless technology. The program at Mankato State was modified for the junior and senior years. Students study wireless communications during their basic communications course, and during their senior year they have telecommunications electives covering a broad range of subjects, wireless being one of the program options.
Seniors who choose the wireless option are required to complete a project showing they can apply what they have learned, said Lindfors. They must conceive, design, build and successfully demonstrate a project for the faculty, or they do not get their degree.
“We want industry people to give us the type of projects they want worked on that must require a team of at least one electrical engineer, at least one electronics engineering technology student and students from SCTC,” Lindfors said. “Students are certainly going to go into an environment where time is important; money is important. We want to enforce this with our students as much as possible.”
Consortium benefits Baker said that GWEC is working on a plan to divide the schools into regions. The board is also asking that each four-year school pair with a two-year institution.
“At first I thought we’d have a real reaction to that,” Baker said. “We’re finding that the engineering departments and the universities are more than happy to work with the two-year schools, and it isn’t for the purpose of taking the two-year student and moving them on to the four-year, because we want the two-year students to become technicians and move on out into the workforce.” She said what they can do is share curriculum, equipment, instructors and labs. “There are a lot of things they can do to eliminate duplication of effort and resources.”
Other benefits of the consortium are seminars and internships. Baker said that GWEC is planning to host seminars at regional sites around the country so that those in the industry, as well as faculty and students, can learn the latest information. She said GWEC is also working on an exchange program between faculty and industry representatives in an effort to keep faculty members up to speed by giving them time in the industry for which they are preparing their students.
Another wireless program Those colleges and universities involved with GWEC are not the only educational institutions attempting to increase enrollment while providing a boon for the wireless industry. The State University of New York Technical College at Canton (SUNY Canton) has introduced a two-year wireless technician program, which is based on the school’s Electrical Engineering Technology program, to begin in the fall.
According to John Crary, dean of the School of Engineering Technology, the program will belong to the wireless industry, not to SUNY Canton. The program was designed jointly by the faculty and the advisory board, and each year the board will review the curriculum so that the school can teach the students exactly what the industry needs them to know. In return, the school asks that the partners support the program by donating equipment and assisting with student recruitment, scholarships and co-op program opportunities.
The program will blend theoretical and hands-on training for careers in fields such as two-way radio, digital paging systems, satellite communications and cellular. Employment opportunities include installation and repair, as well as electrical and mechanical design, technical sales and generating and releasing engineering documentation. The curriculum includes six wireless courses: Wireless Communications I-IV, Wireless Electronics and Wireless Communications Field Applications.
As part of co-op experience, students are expected to work in the industry during the summer between their first and second years. In the fall of 1997, the school will be developing internship sites for summer 1998. Crary said several advisory board members have already committed to providing these paid experiences.
Learning long distance SUNY Canton has also been asked by several of its partners to provide remote instruction. Crary said the school is open to the idea and is willing to negotiate arrangements for its program to be accessed from remote sites via televised classes, teleconferencing, Internet courses or any other such arrangement that would be beneficial.
SUNY Canton, like GWEC, is looking beyond the United States. Its advisory board includes members from Canada, and the school expects to recruit additional Canadian partners. It is also working with China to develop a partnership, and SUNY Canton representatives are having conversations with representatives in South America and Vietnam that may result in joint ventures there as well.
GWEC Education Members Mankato State Unversity Seattle Central Communication Colleges South Central Technical College University of Massachusetts at Lowell University of Oklahoma University of Texas University of Washington Washington State University
GWEC Industry Members AirTouch AT&T Wireless Ericsson Lucent Technologies Motorola US West
SUNY Canton program members Arch Communications Calian Technology Ericsson Glenayre Harris Motorola Newbridge Networks Niagara Mohawk Power Nicholville Telephone Nortel PCIA The Soft Technology Corporation Tri-County Communications Systems Upstate Cellular Network
ITA criticizes ‘Little LEO’ proposals The Industrial Telecommunications Association (ITA) has filed comments referencing two non-consensus recommendations presented by a working group of the WRC-97 Advisory Committee, dealing with the allocation of spectrum of low earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications.
Low-capacity (Little) LEO proponents are trying to secure international spectrum below 1GHz for new mobile satellite services that operate in a low orbit. As a result, a plan is being developed for sharing spectrum between the Little LEOs and existing radio services.
One of the draft proposals prepared by a working group of the advisory committee supported the allocation of additional spectrum for Little LEO uplinks in the 450MHz-470MHz band. This proposal, however, was not supported by the advisory committee. Noting that the band is currently being refarmed because of growing land mobile congestion, ITA said it was puzzled as to why the non-consensus proposal would advocate a Little LEO allocation that includes land mobile frequencies.
Calling it inconsistent with current International Telecommunications Union practices, ITA objected to the group’s plan for the spectrum allocation to be broad enough to include individual countries’ allocation tables.
Paging, narrowband industry disputes LEC interconnection position The Personal Communications Industry Association’s (PCIA) Paging and Narrowband PCS Alliance (PNPA), in comments filed with the FCC, vigorously opposed local exchange carrier (LEC) claims that paging carriers are required to pay LECs for LEC-originated traffic transported to paging networks.
The PNPA’s comments were in response to a public notice released after the commission received requests by Southwestern Bell Telephone (SWBT) and some paging carriers to clarify its interconnection rules between LECs and paging carriers.
“The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the FCC’s rules clearly prohibit LECs from charging paging carriers for LEC-originated traffic,” said Rob Hoggarth, PCIA’s senior vice president, paging and narrowband. “This interpretation of the law has recently been upheld by the California Public Utility Commission and is acknowledged by a number of LEC players. We are confident that the FCC will eliminate any confusion that currently exists and induce the entire LEC community to abide by the Act.”
Nextel awards site development contract to Cord Communications Cord Communications, Portland, OR, has been awarded the site development contract for Nextel Communications operations in Northern California and Southern Oregon.
As part of the agreement, Cord will provide in-house, turnkey services, including deployment strategy, program management, site acquisition, land-use planning, civil construction and antenna system installation. Cord will manage and conduct the buildout process from start to finish on Nextel’s behalf.
The Northern California and Southern Oregon buildout is part of Nextel’s continuing nationwide expansion and will be served by Cord’s new Sacramento, CA, and Medford, OR, offices.
MCI chooses AccessLink for integrated messaging device MCI’s business division has chosen Wireless Access’ AccessLink wireless messaging unit for its recently launched narrowband PCS (N-PCS) messaging service offering, networkMCI interactive paging. The new wireless service provides nationwide messaging coverage with enhanced interactive reply capabilities in 16 major markets.
AccessLink allows for Internet email connectivity and custom message creation from the device. MCI is marketing the new messaging service exclusively to business customers through its corporate sales force in its more than 250 branch offices across the country.
AccessLink is a two-way, belt-top wireless messaging device. Users may access Internet-based applications. The device allows users to create custom messages directly from an integrated keyboard.
Pyramid Communications purchases Nextel Carolina service shop Pyramid Communications, Arlington Heights, IL, has purchased the Nextel Communications Service Shop in Greenwood, SC.
In addition to service capabilities, Pyramid Communications provides a full line of Motorola communications equipment including pagers, portable and mobile units, as well as base stations.
“Customers will now have the opportunity to order Motorola equipment and accessories locally, right in our service shop,” said R. LaVance Carson, president of Pyramid Communications.
Chadmoore Wireless adds three cities to SMR operations Chadmoore Wireless Group, Las Vegas, is now commercially operational in three additional cities, bringing the total number of markets in which it operates to 11.
The cities include Charlotte, NC; Mankato, MN; and Augusta, GA. The cities serve a total combined population of 1.2 million, bringing the total population covered by Chadmoore’s 11 commercial cities to 4.6 million.
Chadmoore said it intends to have between 30 and 40 cities operational in its proposed operational footprint by year-end 1997.
E.F. Johnson to build Yuma public-safety radio system The City of Yuma, AZ, has awarded a contract for a new radio communications system to E.F. Johnson, Burnsville, MN. The 800MHz Multi-Net II trunking system will support all of Yuma’s police and fire department operations and, eventually, city public works.
Phase One of the project is scheduled to begin immediately. E.F. Johnson will build a 10-channel primary repeater site and a five-channel backup site to provide 200 square miles of coverage within the Yuma city limits. Local E.F. Johnson dealer Gila Electronics will assist with installation and programming of 130 mobile and 230 portable radios for police and fire personnel. The city’s existing dispatch consoles will be tied into the new system.
In Phase Two, E.F. Johnson will install its Summit dispatch console with 10 positions in Yuma’s new dispatch center, interface the existing fire station alert system into the new center to the radio system’s primary site and build a microwave link from the new dispatch center to the radio system’s primary site.
Wireless phones used for more than 59,000 calls a day Each day, more than 59,000 calls are made to 9-1-1 or other emergency numbers by wireless phone users, according to statistics released by Thomas E. Wheeler, chief executive officer of CTIA.
CTIA conducted a national survey of wireless phone carrier representatives and emergency communications offices for 1996. According to the survey, 21,659,967 emergency wireless calls were placed during the year in the United States. This amounts to 1,804,997 per month, 59,180 per day, 2,466 per hour and 41 per minute.
IBM, Geotek join to upgrade Geotek’s FHMA network IBM, White Plains, NY, and Geotek Communications, Montvale, NJ, have signed an agreement to upgrade Geotek’s existing network architecture supporting its commercial mobile radio system, which is based on Geotek’s FHMA technology. Geotek markets bundled wireless mobile voice and data services, equipment and software programs that allow businesses to stay in contact with workers in the field, to track vehicles, to coordinate pick-ups and deliveries, to monitor assets and to exchange information.
IBM will provide systems upgrade and integration services, giving the infrastructure more capabilities, including an open interface with other wireless standards. IBM will also work with Geotek to develop and supply switching and switching control systems for the enhanced network to allow Geotek to broaden its market presence.
“What you’re seeing in this announcement is a forward-looking view to say let’s look at what we’re doing to change how these companies are doing business as we integrate voice and data, as we pull the different pieces together, and let’s go out and really solve their client problems,” said Randall McComas segment executive, emerging markets, IBM.
IBM and Geotek have also signed a letter of intent to market Geotek’s network serv-ices in conjunction with IBM services and products such as the IBM ThinkPads and software applications, allowing customers to access office systems from remote locations. The two companies have identified their first pilot customers in the Northeastern United States. More than 300 IBM customers will be targeted. Within these Northeastern accounts, the companies estimate a potential user base of 30,000.
SMR-WON’s future up in the air Since the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) in April, members of SMR-WON have been questioning the usefulness of the association. Gene Stoker, chairman, said that the board members are split about 50-50 on the issue. Stoker says that although nobody he has talked to wants to throw in the towel, there is no consensus on which direction to take. He said about half would like to keep working as a separate association. The other half agree that the group’s cause would be better served by joining forces with one of the other associations, but they do not agree on which association would be the best choice. At this point, the future of SMR-WON is up in the air, but members are encouraged to let their views on the issue be known.
Avtec receives public safety contracts for console systems Avtec, Gilbert, SC, has received several public safety contracts for its DSPatch series of color touchscreen integrated radio and telephone console systems.
The State of North Carolina, Division of Emergency Management, ordered a 64-line DSPatch system with three operation workstations. The system is located in Raleigh, NC. Western Virginia Emergency Medical Services Department placed an order for a 64-line DSPatch system with three workstations for its regional dispatch center in Huntington, WV. Located in Bangor, ME, the Penobscot County Regional Dispatch Center has ordered a 64-line DSPatch system with six operator workstations. The City of DuBois, PA, has ordered a 32-line system with two workstations for the city’s 9-1-1 center. The City of Hooksett, NH, Police Department has placed an order for a 32-line system with two operator workstations.
Winding up a three-year contract with the State of California’s Highway Patrol, Avtec has completed the installation of 19 DSPatch systems at regional CHP dispatch centers throughout the state.
RF training group provides training for Wavetek The RF Training and Technology Group, Dallas, has been appointed the national technical training resource for Wavetek Wireless Communications Division Distribution Network, Indianapolis.
Services being provided for Wavetek include a paging repair school, RF technology training (overview class), base station repair for paging applications and EDACS training for M/S testing and B/S testing applications. These classes are all 1®-day courses. The training group is also providing cellular handset repair training; cellular theory and site maintenance using TDMA, analog and CDMA; and applications of communications service monitors courses.
The training group also provides educational training courses to other communications providers including a radio certification course; mobile radio systems engineer, a course for radio systems engineers that covers engineering, economics, installations and interference; microwave systems engineer, paging systems, maritime systems, practical applications of oscilloscopes and two-way radio systems.
AMTA files for reconsideration of 220MHz rules The American Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has asked the FCC to reconsider certain aspects of its recently released rules for the 220MHz industry to assure that regulatory parity exists between Phase I and Phase II licensees. AMTA has argued that the most important consideration for both categories of licensees is that their systems perform to a level that will enable them to attract and retain subscribers, both in coverage and service quality.
AMTA has asked the FCC to reconsider its announced rules for incumbent flexibility, to allow Phase I licensees the same flexibility that 800MHz and 900MHz SMR incumbent operators enjoy. The assocation also requested that the FCC modify the level of protection of incumbent non-nationwide systems to reflect the actual performance of 220MHz technology.
The association has argued that the rules adopted in the Order do not provide adequate protection between Phase I and Phase II licensees and has asked the FCC to modify the rules to reflect real-world conditions. Ongoing experience shows that a 28dBu contour better represents the reliable service area of a 220MHz system, rather than the FCC’s permitted 38dBu contour. Based on this information, AMTA recommends that the FCC enlarge the minimum geographic separation between Phase I and Phase II licensees.
If the FCC fails to adopt co-channel protection criteria based on a 28dBu contour definition for 220MHz reliable serv-ice areas, with a 10dBu buffer zone, it would deny Phase I 220MHz licensees a quality of service comparable to other competitive wireless services, AMTA argued, and would lead to substantial areas of harmful interference.
Transcrypt to acquire E.F. Johnson Transcrypt International, Lincoln, NE, has signed a letter of intent to acquire E.F. Johnson, Waseca, MN. In 1996, E.F. Johnson had revenues of $79.3 million, and Transcrypt had revenues of $13.8 million.
The letter of intent contemplates the acquisition of substantially all assets and the assumption of certain liabilities of E.F. Johnson for total consideration of $34 million. In connection with the letter, Transcrypt and E.F. Johnson have entered into arrangements that include Transcrypt providing a $2 million letter of credit, and E.F. Johnson entering into a licensing agreement that provides Transcrypt with certain intellectual properties of E.F. Johnson as the first step toward acquiring all of its assets.