Dealers Form Digital SMR Consortium
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 | Comments



By Sandra Wendelken, Editor

A new consortium of two-way radio dealers is working to build a nationwide digital SMR service by combining unused digital frequencies from SMRs and dealers across the country. The mainly UHF service is incorporating IDAS digital technology from Icom, along with other mobile communications products.

Bob Burchett, president of the Push-to-Talk Organization, said the idea began with a regional network in California. The group purchased 30 repeaters as a proof of concept to test their coverage and capabilities on mountaintops, in buildings and other areas. “Digital has come of age,” he said. “The system far outperforms analog in every respect.”

Burchett then advertised for available digital UHF and VHF channels the group could lease to expand the service. The Push-to-Talk Organization enters into a channel vendor agreement with each firm with available spectrum and rents the channels as part of its NXDN-based network. A regional channel vendor then receives 100 percent of the revenue from its specific area or region, or if there are multiple channel vendors in one region, they split the revenue money. Each regional channel vendor also becomes a member of the technical committee and a member of the board. “We have 15 board members but we’re expecting a lot more,” Burchett said.

According to the group’s Web site, the network’s coverage area includes channels in California, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Burchett said he’s adding about two new territories each week.

The service is offered as a regional offering, and it doesn’t connect to the telephone network; it’s dispatch service only. Digital and IP technology allow seamless roaming across the regions with features like encryption and GPS tracking, Burchett said. “For eight years, Nextel regional SMRs weren’t connected to each other or the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Their core business was our core business — regionalized communications and PTT dispatch,” he said.

Randy Power, president of ProComm, a dealer and SMR in Phoenix, recently signed on to be a channel vendor on the network. Power said the target customer base is the traditional dispatch market — buses, transportation companies, plumbers, electricians, farmers, long-haul truckers, hotels, schools and shopping malls. “Our customers will be people who want privacy through digital mode but who can also talk over a longer distance, with a choice of radios,” Power said.

Power said that customers can choose different suppliers for their radios and equipment. Icom markets its NXDN-based technology as IDAS. NXDN is a digital FDMA 6.25-kilohertz channel technology being developed by several manufacturers. “Kenwood radios will work on the systems in conventional mode, but not in trunked mode,” Power said. Ritron and HYT are also developing NXDN radios that could potentially work on the system.

Burchett said that an IDAS repeater is less than $5,000 installed. The dealers and channel vendors can guarantee in-building coverage for a specific customer because they will install repeaters on required buildings, further boosting revenue and reducing churn.

“SMR operators and two-way dealers in general are clearly in jeopardy of extinction these days what with Verizon, Nextel and AT&T trying hard to take the last 1 percent of the wireless business we have left,” Burchett said. “The only way we will survive at all is to band together as one, build a nationwide network and provide customers with a seamless system to give them the quality of service they demand since they accept no less.”

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