Making VHF trunking work
Making VHF trunking work
When Lonnie Danchik looked for a business strategy to continue to grow as a commercial radio service provider in the Dallas metropolitan area, he saw a range full of 800MHz and UHF wranglers. His solution: Try the VHF narrowband trunking brand.
‘Git analog, l'il doggies.’
Texas is cowboy country, and every good drover knows that you have to keep your herd moving. If you don't, you'll never get to the market. It also helps to constantly improve your breed.
For nine years, Lonnie Danchik has been looking for new opportunities to keep growing his CommNet Communications operation in the Dallas — Fort Worth metroplex. He sells equipment, provides dispatch radio, installs and services, and resells paging, cellular, PCS and ESMR. Danchik keeps looking for the “next good thing” to differentiate his herd, such as fleet management, mobile data, computer-aided dispatch or GPS/AVL. In the process, CommNet has become the largest independent SMR trunked-system operator in the city. [For Danchik's viewpoint on the challenges facing dealers, see “Point-of-Sale Perspective” on the back page.]
Changes across the land-mobile prairie, including spectrum scarcity and the domination of 800MHz by a few coyotes, caused Danchik to reexamine his market, to review FCC rules changes and to reevaluate his business plan. The result: Danchik took hold of the opposite ends of the trunking spectrum “rope,” 900MHz and VHF, and lassoed Dallas with it.
The first move, made attractive by the availability of exclusivity, was into 900MHz. However, the repositioning came with technical challenges in combining and audio quality. CommNet's 900MHz system has the technical bugs worked out and now has mature loading. It generates a nice income, maintains low churn and even picks up “returnees” from ESMR who just want traditional dispatch. But there were still goals that Danchik wanted to achieve for users including better propagation characteristics, simpler and less-expensive mobile installations, and higher-power portables. Looking five years down the road, Danchik saw that FCC “refarming” offered opportunities for UHF trunking, but he held back, based on the lack of exclusivity, fierce competition and interference problems he observed in the Dallas market.
Old breed, new variety
“My goal was to compete with Nextel's dispatch feature — not their phone feature,” Danchik said. “I said, ‘What technology exists, so that we can do that?’ What the customer wants is so far away from what we've been able to provide, we've either got to get innovative, or go do something else.”
Looking for that something different, Danchik recognized that other refarming changes could create opportunity back at the place where land mobile started: VHF.
The FCC's refarming order, effective at the end of 1997, also authorized trunking in the shared 150MHz — 174MHz band, where channels were previously 30kHz wide and spaced every 15kHz. The FCC added new interleaved channels between each existing channel and promoted a move to narrowbanding down to 7.5kHz bandwidths. Great: new, exclusive channels. However, the order restricted operations to equipment that could operate on channel bandwidths of 12.5kHz or less. Not so great: time to wait for the manufacturers to catch up.
By fall 1999, a few manufacturers, including Kenwood Communications, which CommNet selected, were ready to market type-accepted mobiles and portables.
The coordination started smoothly. “In the early days of filing, in the Dallas area, getting the new, narrowband frequencies was actually pretty easy.” Using Forest Industries Telecommunications as his coordinator, he was able to process several applications for five-channel blocks throughout the Dallas and north Texas area.
The situation was rosy — until — the larger coordinator camels stuck their noses under the tent. Frequency Advisory Committees cooperate, but they have also been, to be blunt, competitors ever since the FCC pooled their jurisdictions.
Some FACs started inspecting and criticizing the work of other FACs, and they also began alerting their VHF clients to possible interference from the new VHF trunking licensees. This set off a flurry of radio hypochondria, often eliciting complaints about interference received from systems that had not even been constructed yet.