A voice for TETRA
Mark A. Hoppe, the interim chairman of the North America TETRA Forum (NATF), heads an organization that was formed to meet the needs of what he described as the growing interest in TETRA digital radio communications technologies among business, industrial, utility and public safety users.
"At the core of NATF is the belief that customers, rather than manufacturers, best understand their particular needs and should have the freedom to choose the technology most suited to their specific situation," Hoppe said.
Since 1997, Hoppe has offered consulting services to the wireless industry, working for St. Paul, MN-based Blue Wing. From 1994 to 1997, he was a systems engineer, product manager and market manager for E. F. Johnson.
NATF wants to clear away any restrictions that may prevent TETRA equipment sales in North America. The TETRA Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) governs intellectual property rights (IPR). The MoU requires any signatory to make its applicable IPR available to any other signatory. What's stopping TETRA from being offered in North America? Some manufacturers fear litigation.
Motorola, a signatory to the MoU, is taking the view that its IPR would be violated by any organization that might sell TETRA equipment here. In Motorola's opinion, the MoU only applies outside of North America. Although other MoU signatories do not share that view, for now they seem unwilling to risk shipping equipment into North America. Meanwhile, Motorola sells TETRA equipment overseas and could sell it here if it wanted to, because other IPR holders want to cooperate. Motorola believes it should stand in the way, though, saying that its resolve is based on its assessment of desires of its public safety radio users. Skeptics say that Motorola's resolve is based on its dominance of U.S. digital public safety technology and the higher price for that technology compared to the European price for TETRA equipment.
NATF's position is that it wants TETRA to be available as a choice for all users, and not necessarily public safety only.
Motorola has offered its IPR "if and when" TETRA is adopted as a North American standard-if the American National Standards Institute or the Telecommunications Industry Association adopts it, for example. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has adopted Tetra as a standard.
In the United States and Canada, many companies sell radio communications equipment that include technologies not part of North American standards, including Logic Trunked Radio (LTR), SmartNet, digital channel multicarrier architecture (DCMA) and integrated digital enhanced network (IDEN). It isn't necessarily contrary to users' interests when manufacturers offer equipment without regard to a standard.
Our take on NATF is that it will give prospective TETRA users a venue for demonstrating the extent of their interest in the technology. If enough of Motorola's customers participate in NATF and want TETRA, maybe the company will relent and allow use of its IPR without the hurdle of the standards process.
NATF might just give its user members the voice they need to get the TETRA choice-if they want it.
NATF will sponsor "TETRA 2000 Workshop and P25 Phase II TDMA Update" in Boston on Aug.18. Information is available at www.tetraforum.org.
Nextel At press time, news began emerging about racial and sexual discrimination allegations against Nextel Communications, McLean, VA. Neither Nextel nor Leeds Morelli & Brown (LMB), the law firm representing complainants, returned our calls, but the Reuters news service has described the allegations and Nextel has posted a statement on its Web site.
The news service reported that as many as 300 employees plan to file complaints.
Jeffrey Brown, a partner at LMB, is quoted as saying that a financial settlement is sought that would exceed the amount paid by Texaco in 1996 to settle a racial bias case. Texaco agreed to pay $176 million over five years. Brown also said that LMB wants Nextel to commit more than $2 billion toward diversity programs.
In its statement, Nextel declined to comment on any specific allegations until all the relevant facts are gathered and assessed. "We will conduct a thorough investigation of those allegations once we have received the information we need to do so," the statement reads.
Nextel continues to build its network. Construction costs contributed to company expenses of $1.5 billion against sales of $3.3 billion last year.
The action by LMB places a huge question mark on Nextel's financial future. Nextel's wireless telephone network has previously attracted investment and possible acquisition attention from wireline carrier MCI. Since then, WorldCom bought MCI. WorldCom inked a merger deal with Sprint that would bring it Sprint's national PCS wireless telephone network in the bargain. That merger started looking doubtful about the time the discrimination allegations surfaced. While WorldCom might otherwise look anew at Nextel to gain a national U.S. wireless telephone network, it may not want to buy legal troubles of this type.
Now that the Sprint merger has unraveled, WorldCom may turn its attention to European acquisitions and leave the matter of a U.S. wireless network for another time. Nextel's management seems inclined to defend the company against the allegations. Yet, if Nextel suddenly settles and announces a deal to be acquired by WorldCom, the wheel of cash will have spun faster than the wheels of justice can.