FM resurges; will contenders convert the faithful?
Conventional? Good news . Manufacturers want to sell large two-way radio communications systems, and the bigger, the better. The largest contracts involve big cities, or several cities together; large counties, or several of them together; statewide systems; and for the federal government, regional or nationwide systems. Most involve central-controller trunking, mostly at 800MHz.
Many of these sales go to the usual players-Motorola, Com-Net Ericsson and E. F. Johnson. A relative newcomer, the AMP division of M/A-Com, landed Pennsylvania’s contract.
Yet, an estimated 75% or more of the public safety agencies use conventional VHF equipment. Plus, hundreds of thousands, if not a few million, business and industrial customers use conventional VHF and UHF equipment.
Manufacturers have shown a renewed interest in VHF and UHF conventional equipment, and that should be encouraging to dealers because they sell a large portion of it.
At the International Wireless Communications Expo trade show (owned by our publisher, Intertec Publishing), Motorola rolled out new conventional products in what one of its senior product managers, Craig Chenicek, said culminates the company’s first complete look at conventional two-way radio products in 10 years. Com-Net Ericsson Critical Radio Systems, the fresh new owner of the former Ericsson Private Radio Systems, continues the rollout of new conventional products that began a year ago.
We don’t discount the efforts of smaller manufacturers. Kenwood Communications, for example, through its Kenwood Systems unit, builds conventional and trunked systems for public safety, business and industrial customers. What we’re saying is that the investment by large manufacturers in upgraded conventional products puts money behind the notion that small customers, in large numbers, will continue using private radio communications.
Spectrum efficiency choices
Intek Global became the Securicor Wireless subsidiary of Securicor, Surrey, United Kingdom, in August 1999. The company since has placed the Securicor Wireless brand on its radio, AVL, data and network products. Securicor Wireless offers spectrum-efficient “linear modulation” (LM) products with MPT 1327-style trunking.
Datamarine International’s SEA subsidiary offers spectrum-efficient, “amplitude-companded sideband” (ACSB) products with distributed logic trunking.
ComSpace’s “digital channel, multicarrier architecture” (DCMA) products work with conventional two-way radio and all trunking protocols.
Securicor Wireless products offer AVL, vehicle status and low-volume mobile data at a competitive price, instead of promoting voice communication as a primary feature.
ComSpace products let FM trunked systems migrate to a capacity-multiplying digital mode, one channel at a time. More recently, ComSpace has promoted voice quality and advantages for soon-to-be-available “packet data” for data applications.
The Securicor Wireless network rollout goes slowly. Yet, the company has important customers, such as utility members of its spectrum licensing partner, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative. (SEA has similar utility customers.) In March, Securicor Wireless added Sunrise, FL-based Marketronics as a customer that will build an LM network in southeastern Florida and perhaps in selected Latin American countries.
ComSpace isn’t announcing customers until its products are FCC type-accepted, beta-tested and ready. Meanwhile, it inked an OEM agreement with Hitachi Denshi that gives ComSpace the Tokyo company’s enormous manufacturing capacity. It adds Hitachi Denshi’s product engineering expertise to ComSpace’s current team, headed by its executive vice president and chief technology officer, David George.
Much has been said about how spectrum-efficient radios will rescue business, industrial and commercial land mobile radio in a time when additional allocations by the FCC go to everyone else.
Outside of 220MHz, most of the progress in spectrum efficiency has involved FM two-way radios with narrowed deviation to fit 12.5kHz channels, instead of the previous 25kHz channels. That’s a potential 2:1 improvement, depending on whether the adjacent 12.5kHz channels can be used without interference. LM promises as much as a 6:1 improvement, and DCMA promises as much as 8:1.
In the 220MHz band, and to a limited extent at VHF highband, 5kHz LM and ACSB networks have been built.
In addition to supplying itself with network infrastructure and selling mobiles to its own subscribers, Securicor Wireless sells infrastructure and mobile units to other network operators. SEA has pursued a similar strategy, although its network build-out through its Narrowband Network Systems subsidiary has only limited operations. ComSpace has no plans to operate networks and wants other manufacturers to make DCMA subscriber units and, eventually, repeaters under a technology license.
First ACSB and then LM had turns as fresh, new golden prospects for placing large numbers of spectrum-efficient units with subscribers. They haven’t yet displaced FM, but mostly because regulatory obstacles kept them from competing as effectively as they might have. DCMA will take its turn as the next golden prospect, and it doesn’t seem to face the same regulatory hurdles as it steps up to the task of converting the faithful from FM.