Morgan O’Brien heads Nextel Peace Corps
Nextel: I hope you’ll write something nice about us for a change.
MRT: We’d like to.
That was our witty exchange with a top-level Nextel Communications official at the APCO International closing banquet on Aug. 9 in Salt Lake City, about an hour before Nextel’s vice chairman, Morgan O’Brien, spoke to a dinner audience of delegates and guests.
It’s true that we haven’t had much good to say about Nextel. We’ve written about alleged perjury by one of the company’s attorneys in a licensing matter; alleged irregularities in the grant of licenses for thousands of frequencies to a Nextel merger partner on a Saturday at the FCC’s Gettysburg, PA, office; and the employment by Nextel of former FCC officials (at six-figure salaries plus stock options) who made decisions favorable to the company during their government service.
Nextel boasts of using spectrum-efficient technology to serve eight million customers on SMR spectrum that the company estimates might support one million analog dispatch customers. We disparage the same “accomplishment” because Nextel doesn’t use the spectrum to offer the low-cost dispatch service on which business and industry rely.
Analog SMR operators offer the low-cost dispatch service, but Nextel continues to buy their systems and convert them for wireless telephone service. (At least one other digital SMR offers low-cost dispatch, too, but Nextel seems about to gobble it up.) While possibly uplifting the wireless telephone business, Nextel has made access to affordable radio communications tools more difficult for business and industrial dispatch users.
Those are some of the things we’ve had to say about Nextel. Is it any wonder the company’s media representatives and senior management stopped returning our calls several years ago?
Until the subject of 800MHz interference came up. While covering news about interference from a Nextel cell site that blocked reception of truck drivers’ radio calls at a recycling company’s office, we left a phone message with Nextel. Just routine. Didn’t expect a return call. We were surprised and pleased to get one. The Nextel representatives to whom we spoke didn’t want the story to run, but it did, on our Web site, with their comments included.
Nextel is secretive. That’s the company’s right, of course. For example, it signs SMR operators to non-disclosure agreements covering system returning projects and system buy-outs. It won’t talk much about actions it takes that affect dispatch users.
Refreshingly, Nextel is more open when it comes to 800MHz interference problems, at least when public safety radio systems are involved. Morgan O’Brien stepped right into the lion’s den to tell APCO members that the leopard had changed its spots.
O’Brien described Nextel as aggressive and territorial and its legions of lawyers as well-trained, well-disciplined, battle-tested and not afraid of hand-to-hand combat. He went on to explain that, when it comes to public safety interference, the situation calls for the opposite of the warlike tactics for which Nextel is known.
“I’m here in a new role, which is heading up the ‘Nextel Peace Corps,’” O’Brien said.
At his request, Nextel’s board of directors has placed O’Brien in charge of resolving interference with public safety radio communications systems. Short-term, that means reprogramming Nextel cell sites. Long-term, that means returning public safety radio communications systems to frequencies as far removed from those Nextel uses as possible and practical.
Nextel will codify its long-term solution in a pleading before the FCC scheduled for submission in October. At most, public safety agencies, directly or through APCO, should submit proposals of their own. At least, they should file comments when the time comes.
O’Brien: “This is the beginning of the process. You may find me annoying for my persistence. You will learn to trust me and the Nextel team that our motivation is the same as yours. We have the utmost respect for the mission-critical nature of your radio systems and the importance of our participating with you to make sure it continues.”
What O’Brien said is good, yet our advice is summed up best in the words of President Ronald Reagan in connection with nuclear arms reduction: “Trust — but verify.”
Now, if that wasn’t nice, at least it wasn’t a knock in the head. Nice comes with evidence of progress.
Peruse the text of Morgan O’Brien’s speech on MRT’s Web site.