Project MESA slows as vendors hold out
DENVER–Project MESA was launched five years ago as a collaborative effort between the United States and Europe to identify and create common specifications for the next generation of public-safety wireless systems, yet progress has been sluggish as those involved with MESA lament that no manufacturer has stepped up to introduce technology that will push the vision of the MESA system.
“We have a set of user requirements, and we need vendors to step up,” Jeff Bratcher, chair of the TSG ITS, told MRT at the conclusion of the APCO session, “Project MESA, The International Wireless Vision of the Future.”
Project MESA, a partnership between U.S. standards-making body the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and Europe’s European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), has offered a statement of requirements (SOR) since 2002 that includes features such as wireless mission-critical broadband data, secure and interoperable capabilities and IP-based mobile networking. The MESA Technical Specification Group has been mapping existing capabilities and gaps with the goal of creating a “system of systems” approach that will match and exceed the capabilities of today’s Internet and 3G systems.
“This has been a long and drawn out process, and to be honest, manufacturers were participating early, but telecom industry got rocked earlier this decade and people had to back off,” Larry Nyberg, secretariat with Project MESA, told the APCO audience.
Part of the reason vendors have not been attracted to Project MESA is that manufacturers don’t see a tremendous marketplace for their equipment, said Craig Jorgenson, chair of the service specification group with Project MESA. Much like the Project 25 market, upfront investments are high for manufacturers while the prospects aren’t as high as they are in the commercial sector, according to industry watchers.
Another part of the problem is the public-safety industry itself. “We are absolutely too slow,” said Jorgenson. “Public safety hasn’t clarified the need. It’s still considered a vision even though we see 3G systems out there. People are still dealing with their LMR issues.”
Some vendors are slowly turning their interest back to Project MESA, such as Qualcomm Inc. and Ericsson, said Nyberg. Bratcher told MRT he is hopeful that Qualcomm will become more involved in the process now that the company has purchased Flarion a leading developer of OFDM access technology and inventor of wideband spread-spectrum technology known as Flash-OFDM, along with a significant amount of intellectual property pertaining OFDM technology, which will likely become the basis for any Project MESA system.
OFDM has already transformed the fixed wireless world by moving 802.11-based technologies from theoretical speeds of 11 Mb/s to real-world transmission speeds of 50 Mb/s and beyond. The technology is also the basis for the emerging WiMAX standards, which are expected to attract a variety of telecom players globally by extending the reach of DSL and cable, offering broadband competition to wireline services.
The beauty of OFDM is the technology’s high spectral efficiency, resiliency to radio-frequency interference and high-data speeds because the radio signal is split into several narrowband channels at different frequencies. This multi-lane highway of sorts has only been possible to achieve recently because of higher processing power.
Project MESA participants have also been disappointed by the lack of participation from other countries, such as Japan and South Korean–areas most notable for their development and research of wireless technology. Korea has expressed interest in Project MESA but has yet to join and has only participated as an observer.