‘It’s a great time to be in the radio business’
A few years ago, I had to buy a car. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, other than I wanted a soft top. There were a few problems with that. I got burned many moons ago on a used car and vowed never to buy another. That was problem one. It led directly to problem two, which was that new convertibles are quite pricey. That in turn led to the third problem, which is that I tend to be a tightwad — it’s why I always have made purchasing decisions based on need versus want. In this case, I needed a car, but wanted a convertible that was outside my cost comfort zone. That left me with quite a conundrum.
So, as often happens in life, I compromised. I bought a new Jeep. I could have bought a used Ford Mustang for about the same price, but a used vehicle was a deal-breaker. The decision to buy the Jeep came with some sacrifices. One is that I have to crank my windows up and down and actually insert a key to unlock the doors. The biggest sacrifice is that the roof-conversion process is more complicated and laborious than simply hitting a button and letting the electric motor do the work. The flip side is that my Jeep is even more fun to drive in the summer, because I can take off the doors, and — with on-demand four-wheel drive — it’s great in the snow, which is something worth considering when one lives in Chicago. Plus, the Jeep fits my personality and lifestyle.
What got me reminiscing about this purchase was a conversation I had last week with Gary Lorenz at Hytera, in advance of our IWCE 2012 in Las Vegas, which begins on Feb. 20. One of the things Lorenz told me was, “It’s a great time to be in the radio business.”
Wow. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone say that. It’s been awhile. The last few years have been rough, particularly for those vendors whose bread and butter is in the public-safety and government sectors. Declining tax revenues and shrinking grant programs have forced many entities to delay system upgrades. Some have been forced to cut back on maintenance of their systems and subscriber units. That, in turn, has made things rough on radio system and equipment vendors.
But Lorenz is enthusiastic, in part because Hytera is jumping feet first into TETRA as a result of the FCC’s ruling last year that allows such systems to be used in the U.S. Hytera currently is beta-testing a system in Wisconsin and plans to offer a demonstration during IWCE.
Digital mobile radio, or DMR, is another segment that has Lorenz excited — somewhat surprisingly, because of the public-safety sector’s economic travails of late. Lorenz told me that DMR is a more affordable way to get into digital radio, compared with the quantum leap into Project 25, a compromise of sorts that might appeal to cash-strapped agencies.
For example, a DMR handset can be had for under $1,000, while a P25 radio can cost five times that amount. Another advantage, Lorenz said, is that DMR radios, such as those manufactured by Hytera, utilize 12.5 kHz channels that can be split into two 6.25 kHz equivalent channels. So, any analog system operator contemplating a forklift approach to complying with the FCC’s narrowbanding edict might be able to kill two birds with one stone by migrating to DMR. Of course, NXDN is another affordable digital radio option that offers 6.25 kHz channel equivalency. This will come in handy should the FCC ever decide to mandate 6.25 kHz channel operation — something many expect will happen sooner or later.
So, while the broadband revolution centered on Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology gets most of the headlines because broadband is sexy, there seem to be a couple of significant, albeit smaller, evolutions occurring in the realm of digital land-mobile radio. One is Ginger, while the other is Mary Ann. And while very different from each other, they both have a place on the island — and will for quite some to come.
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