Plenty of obstacles exist to block TETRA in the U.S.
We haven't heard much since major TETRA intellectual property holder Motorola gave its blessing to the Utilities Telecom Council to form a working group to identify the technical issues related to the use of the technology in the U.S. for utilities, and to find a way to make the standard meet FCC equipment requirements. But things are heating up a bit.
In November, the TETRA Association asked the FCC for a waiver of certain technical and emission rules so that TETRA can make a swift entrance into the U.S. In particular, the association asked the commission to waive rules pertaining to bandwidth specifications and current emission masks, as well as waive the permissive change rules to allow manufacturers with equipment authorizations for a modified TETRA standard to upgrade to the full TETRA standard without additional applications or authorizations from the FCC.
The UTC and other industrial sectors had been making noise about their desire to deploy TETRA in the U.S. — and for good reason. TETRA has been so widely deployed around the globe — by public-safety agencies, militaries, utilities and transportation companies — that the technology has attracted numerous vendors, which in turn has reduced the price of network and radio equipment.
But Motorola and others have been concerned about the whether the standard would work in the U.S. without changes. One fundamental problem is that TETRA operates on 25 kHz channels. While that channel allocation is adequate to operate in the 800 MHz band, TETRA would have problems at 900 MHz and in the VHF and UHF bands once the FCC's narrowband deadline hits in 2013.
"The problem that TETRA has is the constraints of the frequencies, the RF masks in U.S. spectrum. You can't type -accept the equipment," Chuck Jackson, Motorola's sales and service vice president and director of systems operations, said last year.
But the TETRA Association argues that such a waiver won't cause any harm. It said it has conducted a technical demonstration that indicates TETRA technology doesn't cause harmful interference to users in nearby bands — even though it doesn't meet all of the FCC's requirements when it comes to occupied bandwidth and the emissions mask.
"The TETRA standard instead limits the power emitted to adjacent channels and at different frequency offsets, which accomplishes the same goals as the FCC’s Part 90 rules," the association argued in a follow-on filing with the FCC. "In sum, grant of the waiver will not cause harmful interference, as the TETRA standard protects against that, albeit using a different method than what is set out in the FCC rules. A grant of this waiver is warranted, as strict application of the rules would serve only to frustrate the underlying purpose of the rules."
However, the majority of comments coming to the FCC oppose such a waiver. Motorola, Harris, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, the Land Mobile Communications Council, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials and the Telecommunications Industry Association — arguable the most important voice — warn against potential interference problems if the FCC issues such a waiver. They want a thorough review of the potential interference impacts from TETRA. Based on these comments from heavyweights like the TIA, it looks like the TETRA Association won't be able to ram the technology through the FCC. It is anxious to tackle a new and massive market like the U.S., but Motorola, I believe, still holds the cards in terms of how the technology gets introduced into the U.S. And it clearly believes that the standard must be altered for use in the U.S.
So the question of TETRA's appearance in the U.S. most likely will boil down to, Who will be in charge of altering the standard? Motorola has suggested that the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) could make recommendations for modifying the standard in the U.S. Or, TIA could take it on. Even a user group like the UTC could become, in essence, a standards body.
It looks like the TETRA Association will have to be patient.
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