TETRA Takes Another Try at U.S. Market
Tuesday, May 13, 2008 | Comments


By Sandra Wendelken

TETRA technology is making a second push into the North American market after a failed attempt about eight years ago. Several groups of U.S. mission-critical communications users are showing interest in TETRA technology, a trunked radio standard developed in Europe that has been blocked from deployment in the United States because of intellectual property rights (IPR).

In recent weeks, members from the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC), Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) have heard presentations from officials from the U.K.-based TETRA Association about the technology. Those groups are considering sending letters to the TETRA Association noting that if TETRA technology were commercially available in the United States, members of the three U.S. associations would be interested in it.

“If it were commercially available, we would be interested,” said Howard Moody, a consultant to AAR. However, Moody noted that the technology isn’t available, so the situation remains unchanged. He said AAR’s wireless communications committee would decide whether to send a letter to the TETRA Association supporting commercial products in the United States in the coming weeks.

TETRA technology, which is deployed in 100 countries throughout the world, isn’t available in the United States because of TETRA IPRs. “The board of the TETRA Association that represents all members has agreed to support our initiatives to explore whether the users in America want TETRA,” said Phil Kidner, chief executive officer (CEO) of the TETRA Association. “We’re not trying to force it down anyone’s throat; we’re trying to find out if people would be interested.”

One catalyst behind the latest movement for TETRA in the United States is Warren Havens, president of Advanced Transportation, Location and Information Systems (ATLIS) Wireless. ATLIS entities own 200 MHz and 900 MHz spectrum in 80 percent of the United States, and Havens is looking to deploy statewide wireless networks for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) in California and other states using TETRA technology.

Havens also would like to provide ATLIS’ spectrum to utilities and other users in joint ventures to build and operate shared mission-critical communications wireless networks. A utility could permanently secure ATLIS spectrum to build its communications network. Once ATLIS completes ITS wireless technology and equipment development, Havens would add ITS components to the utility’s infrastructure — antennas sites and systems and backhaul — to build the ITS network. “Essentially we want to share spectrum and for infrastructure use common technology and equipment,” Havens said. “In our 200 MHz and 900 MHz spectrum, utilities would have their channels as much as needed, and we can use the rest for ITS. Also, during big emergencies, we could allow utilities to pre-empt some of our spectrum or system capacity and switch to critical infrastructure industries (CII) use.”

But before that vision can come to fruition, Havens needs commercially available TETRA technology and equipment to become available in the United States. Havens said that Motorola attorneys told him that Motorola will not license its U.S. patents essential for TETRA, which blocks use of TETRA equipment in the U.S. “We believe it is a violation of U.S. antitrust law,” he said. In fact, several sources report the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is conducting an investigation into TETRA technology, although an FTC spokeswoman declined to confirm or deny such an investigation is ongoing.

TETRA Association officials and Havens also met in late April with officials from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Office of Spectrum Management to clarify whether TETRA technology, which is based on four-slot TDMA in 25-kilohertz channels, could be used for federal systems under NTIA rules for spectrum efficiency and channelization.

"NTIA has no spectrum management rules specifically barring TETRA use by the federal agencies,” said NTIA spokesman Todd Sedmak. “In the 162 – 174 and 406.1 – 420 MHz bands, NTIA requires 12.5-kilohertz channeling. However, when NTIA wrote its rules, it recognized that TDMA technology might develop, and NTIA's rules allow the possibility of TDMA technology that provides a channel equivalent of 12.5 kilohertz per voice link or better.”

However, Sedmak said that unless a federal agency submits a request to NTIA for spectrum certification for TETRA equipment, NTIA will not further specify those rules for TDMA. NTIA does not type-certify equipment for manufacturers; it responds to interest from the agencies, and NTIA has not yet received a TETRA request from any agency, he said. The spectrum certification process allows agencies to indicate a desire to develop or purchase new equipment.

“If an agency requests TETRA, rules will be developed,” said Sedmak. “These rules would be aimed at ensuring compatibility with the 12.5-kilohertz uses from an interference standpoint. At the same time, interests in interoperability will require TETRA proponents to provide information regarding how interoperation requirements will be met.

“Federal agencies have come forward supporting and requesting use of P25 (Project 25)-compliant equipment. Therefore, NTIA has specified unwanted emissions specifications and receiver standards for P25 technology.”

Havens also said that federal and state governments have clear rights to use TETRA and other technology they deem necessary under an eminent domain law from World War I. Essentially, the law provides that government agencies and their contractors can’t be subject to patent infringement litigation by patent holders, but also provides for fair-market compensation for government-authorized uses of the patents involved. Havens has established a Web site www.tetra-us.us with details on the TETRA initiatives and legal documents.

Motorola executives were unavailable for interviews by press time. However, getting vendors who have invested millions of dollars into Project 25 (P25) and other technologies to bring a competing technology into the market will be an uphill battle. “We haven’t committed to bring TETRA into the U.S.,” said Sunny Taylor, president and CEO of EADS North America Secure Networks. “We’re 100 percent focused on P25. It’s all P25.” EADS deploys TETRA networks worldwide outside North America.

In a presentation at the UTC Telecom 2008 conference last week, Kidner highlighted that only 48 percent of the TETRA contracts awarded during 2007 were public-safety contracts. Transportation comprised 23 percent of the 2007 TETRA contracts, followed by utilities with 7 percent. A TETRA presentation is on the agenda for the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) meeting in June.

The first push to bring TETRA technology to the U.S. market occurred from about 2000 to 2002. The North American TETRA Forum, comprised of user groups, consultants and vendor representatives at the time, attempted to bring the technology to U.S. public-safety and other markets, but the effort was unsuccessful.

“Although it is some eight years since the initial attempts to remove the IPR barriers and bring TETRA to the U.S. and Canadian markets, the need for such a comprehensive technology remains as strong today as it was back in 2000,” said Mark Hoppe, former chairman of the NATF. “TETRA certainly makes a lot of sense for the utility, transportation and SMR marketplaces. In addition, with the noncompliant P25 TDMA protocols being sold into the public-safety market, it seems reasonable TETRA would be as welcome of a solution for public safety in North America as it is around the world. The NATF’s belief was always that the user should decide which technology best meets their requirements, rather than being dictated to by manufacturers.”

Sandra Wendelken is editor of MissionCritical Communications and RadioResource International. E-mail comments to swendelken@RRMediaGroup.com.

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