With TETRA, appearances can be deceiving
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Uncertainty takes a toll
Other than the highly publicized deployments underway at BC Hydro and New Jersey Transit, and a less-publicized request for proposal issued last December by the Toronto Transit Commission, there isn’t much evidence that TETRA is on the radar screen in North America.
"It hasn’t been a subject of any of the meetings that I’ve been in," said William Brownlow, telecommunications manager for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
Jose Martin, CEO of TETRA vendor PowerTrunk, believes that a key factor in the inertia concerns the filing submitted to the FCC by Motorola Solutions, which is seeking clarification concerning the commission’s TETRA order issued last September. In this ruling, the commission approved TETRA’s unrestricted use in the UHF band (450-470 MHz) and the non-NPSPAC portion of the 800 MHz band (809-824/854-869 MHz). In addition to being restricted from use on the NPSPAC frequencies, TETRA also cannot be used on public-safety 700 MHz narrowband spectrum.
"This is one of the reasons why there are no more projects in place today in the U.S.," Martin said. "The uncertainty is considerable."
According to Alan Tilles, chairman of the telecommunications department at Shulman, Rogers, Pordy, Gandal & Ecker, the concern is about adjacent-channel interference.
"TETRA makes more aggressive use of the bandwidth than other digital technologies," Tilles said. "So, there is greater potential for interference to adjacent-channel users. The frequency coordinators have to be more careful when they coordinate a TETRA system, with regard to sufficient distance from adjacent channel licensees."
Tilles added that this isn’t a problem, as long as the coordination is done properly. Mark Crosby, president and CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance, which provides frequency-coordination services, agreed.
"People are getting nitpicky — and I’m not pointing fingers at anybody — as to whether it should be in a 20 kHz emission [mask] or a 22 kHz emission [mask]. … At the end of the day, it’s a technicality," Crosby said. "I don’t know why people are spending time on this. … It’s going to be carefully coordinated, and I doubt that it’s going to create this incredibly technical upheaval and cause interference from New York to Denver. I don’t get it."
Nevertheless, the FCC needs to address this sooner rather than later, according to Tilles.
"What my years of experience working with various manufacturers have told me is that manufacturers don’t like uncertainty in the marketplace — and I don’t think users do either," he said. "So, whatever technology you’re going to choose, you want to know that you can use it today, and you can use it tomorrow. When there’s uncertainty, that makes people skittish. [Manufacturers] don’t develop product as quickly or as well as they otherwise could, and users are more reluctant to adopt. It doesn’t do anybody any good."
However, Bender thinks none of this matters much to the utility sector, and that more TETRA activity is occurring than people realize.
"Utilities don’t publicize their purchasing efforts as much as some of the other organizations," he said. "Utilities are looking at TETRA now, but their sales cycles are long and they are diligent about picking out their equipment, and they’re not going to publicize what technologies they’re considering, until they make a decision one way or the other. They want to keep their evaluation of RFPs internal and private — they don’t want vendors approaching them while they’re in the process of reviewing the technology."
Crosby further opined that TETRA will be given every consideration by the critical-infrastructure sector.
"When you’re plunking down millions of dollars for a communications system, people are going to look at everything — they have to," Crosby said. "People weren’t going to beat the doors down just because TETRA is here. That’s not the way this economy, or this industry, works. People are going to do their due diligence."