Trucking companies choices for radio/wireless comms

As digital cellular continues its march across America, the network fragmentation leaves those needing mobile terminals such as the transport (trucking) industry stuck in difficult situations as the terminals are locked to the particular network used by the provider. With competing standards such as CDPD (AMPS) and the wider coverage offered by Mobitex and ARDIS, not to mention IS-136 and IS-95 networks, regional transport providers find substantial gaps in their dispatch networks, leading to the trusty payphone or bag phone being the last-mile link. With the uptick in manufacturing, I’ve seen commercial transport (semi trucks) increasing on the roadways. What I hear is on the fixed routes where companies have multiple round trips daily, drivers will look out for other trucks from the same company and tell them dispatch wants to talk to them.

When drivers are issued bag phones that go from truck to truck, the lack of external antenna means calls can be missed while sitting at a loading dock, behind/inside buildings, or in wooded/hilly areas. Even worse are handheld phones with the antenna retracted. So as an alternative, some companies use high power (illegal) CB radios with amplifiers to give them several miles range, especially if used outside the legal 40 CB channels. They can get over 15 miles range that way truck to truck, on par with legal VHF biz-band radios but at substantially less cost.

I can understand reluctance of companies to outlay for biz-band gear with FCC PR 92-235 narrowbanding hanging over them. The push to 6.25 kHz technology is going to take more than FM as the advantage of FM over AM disappears with such low modulation index. It means that a lot of 25 kHz gear is going to come on the used market (including AuctionWeb/eBay), so either companies are waiting for that, or more likely the rapid expansion of cellular. People really value one to one communications, despite the many situations where one to many and many to many is advantageous. In the end, I think one to one comms will win out, and there will be a massive hunger (more than exists already) for frequency spectrum to host all these communications. As handheld digital terminals become more important, this will reduce the frequency crush temporarily, until everyone wants one. Paging delay is becoming an issue in some areas as pagers become cheaper and popular.

I suppose my feelings are a bit like the rural telephone entrepreneur of a century ago, acquiring rights to string wire throughput town and countryside. Eventually there are too many wires, which required investing in multiplexing technology, driving consolidation of rural telephone companies due to economies of scale. I can see this happening in cellular and wireless in general, including two-way radio CMRS/SMR. There is still time to jump aboard before the spectrum is swallowed by conglomerates, who will want “my” frequencies.