Selecting wireless communications equipment is becoming more difficult for producers. Changes in federal regulatory policies and the availability of many new systems often make these large capital decisions difficult. As a result, producers have been slow to embrace new technologies. Producers are often hesitant to embrace any new electronic technology due to concerns of available radio spectrum.
The same wave spectrum that provides clear signals for ready-mix truck signaling also works efficiently for cellular phones and beepers. Prior to the recent explosion in the personal use of cellular phones and pagers, commercial industry and land transportation companies were the largest user groups. But today, according to Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), "Private wireless businesses now have access to only 299 channels, or 32 % of the 1974 and 1986 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) channel allocation in the 800-megahertz and 900-megahertz bands." The shrinking availability of traditional wave-band limits producers who wish to expand their business size and operating area.
According to Greg Vickers, operations and equipment manager for the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, the FCC has a stated goal to "transition" allocation of radio spectrum from owners to renters.
With tremendous consumer demand for subscriber-based services like cellular phones, Congress and the Clinton administration continue to view spectrum sales as a key source of deficit-cutting revenue. The recent tentative balanced-budget settlement includes expected revenues of over $26.3 billion from spectrum auctions to be conducted over the next five years.
Since transitioning started in 1993, large telephone companies have purchased large portions of the 800-MHZ spectrum at higher prices than private owners previously paid. According to a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, members of Congress are preparing legislation that will require the FCC to set minimum bids and limit the number of auctions held in a given time period to keep spectrum band auction revenues at new high levels.
Not everyone in Congress agrees with the current approach. In a news release, Breaux says, "The auction process has unfortunately skewed the spectrum-allocation process toward subscriber-based services and away from critical radio services such as private wireless, which are exempted from auctions." He recently introduced legislation whereby the FCC would allocate 12 MHZ in the 706- to 846-MHZ area of the radio spectrum to private wireless use.
Regulators and manufacturers are working together to develop new approaches that increase the efficiency of industrial radio spectrum use. The FCC has implemented a policy that may increase the number of potential users within a frequency. The policy is referred to as refarming. The channel spacing in UHF bands 421-430 MHZ, 450-470 MHZ and 470-512 MHZ will be reduced from 25 kHz to 12.5 kHz initially, and eventually to 6.25 kHz. VHF bandwidth 150-174 MHZ will be reduced initially from 30 kHz to 15 kHz and eventually to 7.5 kHz.
The refarming plan is in full implementation. Effective last January, the FCC required manufacturers to sell only radios that are capable of operating on channels of 12.5 kHz or less, as well as at the current bandwidth.
In addition, the FCC has frozen licenses for UHF high-power 12.5-kHz channel spacing until further notice. Only 12.5 VHF and UHF low-power licenses are now being awarded. The freeze is intended to force producers to migrate to the narrower channels.
KEYWORDS: radio, tracking, wireless communication