By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
WASHINGTON, D.C. -Four months after the FCC approved the 2-watt Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), the uproar caused by detractors-primarily Motorola and RadioShack-has stalled all product development.
Suppliers including Audiovox, Kenwood and Unwired-many of which were initially enthusiastic about the new service-said they have placed all marketing plans on hold because it is uncertain now if the FCC will change or rescind the service.
The FCC is expected to issue a "Memorandum Opinion in Order" that will finalize the rules for the MURS frequency at the earliest in two months, although the ruling could be delayed while the commission undergoes a shift in leadership.
Referring to the Motorola petition, an FCC spokesman said, "We are taking it under advisement and will probably take action on it some time in the second quarter." When asked how the FCC might act, the spokesman said only, "We will focus on the requests."
Dwane Campbell, RadioShack director of product evaluation, said his company spoke with the FCC in January, and "thirty days ago, the commission indicated that this was going to be a high priority and that they would be taking quick action, but they would not give us a timetable."
In October, the FCC ruled that five "business band" channels would be offered as license-free channels for MURS (effective in November). The service would allow 2-watt output in the VHF 150MHz band, creating an ideal frequency for FRS users because it would offer a five-mile range without requiring a license (vs. the two-mile range of FRS).
Last fall, Audiovox, Maxon, Midland, Kenwood, RadioShack and Unwired all said that they planned to offer the MURS units, with many expecting their first products would be on display at the CES 2001. But few MURS products appeared at the show.
Ralph Etna, Audiovox VP of consumer goods, said that "MURS is definitely on hold until we have final FCC approval. It's a new technology that has to be completely evaluated by the FCC before it translates into a market product."
Kenwood consumer sales manager Chris Ryg said his company is "still watching it." Unwired president Larry Richenstein said, "We're waiting on it because we do believe it would be a great thing for the mobile radio business if approved. People want the longer range. There's still a licensing issue for people under 18, so MURS would completely eliminate those obstacles and allow longer-range products for everyone. It would be good for the business."
Motorola's objection to MURS, as stated in its petition, Docket 98-182, is that it would lead to a flood of new users on a business-band channel. This would render useless current VHF radios that are used by fast-food chains such as McDonald's, construction sites and other businesses. (Kenwood said its VHF radios are currently used by Target Stores to enable employees to communicate with each other.)
Motorola's petition did not give specific recommendations for the FCC, however, a similar filing by the Personal Radio Steering Group (PRSG), a two-way radio user group based in Ann Arbor, Mich., recommended the FCC maintain the MURS service but regulate the use of repeaters and antennas.
Unwired's Richenstein agreed, in part, with the PRSG. "I see what they are saying and I don't disagree with it," he said. "I was actually surprised with the original ruling at the unlimited use of repeaters and antennas-and that seemed almost going too far. I agree with [the PRSG's] comments that that should be restricted. But at the same time, I am for the concept of MURS."
Motorola and RadioShack however, are pushing for the FCC to completely restrict the five MURS channels to business use.
RadioShack's Campbell said, "We agree with the comments that the frequencies should be reserved for business and industrial use. When Motorola filed its original comments with the FCC back around 1998, that is what it asked for, a license-free service for business and industrial users. There's a huge installed base of business users already there who bought these radios thinking that they would be relatively free of interference."
The original request to make these channels license-free, said Campbell, was due to the fact that "the cost right now for getting a business radio license can be as much as the radios themselves, and they expire every five years so it's a huge burden."
Corwin Moore, PRSG administrative coordinator, said that Motorola has a history of clout with the commission and his group recognizes that "Motorola's is a strong voice at the FCC and that the FCC will take their objections very seriously. In the meantime, we have continuing reports the service is being used by equipment that is on the store shelves and which is being sold on eBay. Most manufacturers have radios that are suitable for this band though not dedicated to it, including Motorola, Regency and another half-dozen manufacturers."
RadioShack said its sales of radios that tap into the MURS frequencies have not increased since November because most people are unaware of the rules changes.
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