YOU ARE AT:Archived ArticlesTWO-WAY RADIO ENTREPRENEUR FINDS DRAMA IN 220 MHZ BUSINESS

TWO-WAY RADIO ENTREPRENEUR FINDS DRAMA IN 220 MHZ BUSINESS

When Marc Angell chose to end his career as a television and film director to enter the 220 MHz arena about four years ago, little did he know the drama would continue.

What began as a potentially lucrative investment, turned into years of uncertainty and aggravation for the entrepreneur. But despite the plethora of challenges the industry as a whole has faced, Angell has managed to keep his head above water-even when some bigger players have sunk.

Angell’s company, Angell Communications Inc., owns 10 220 MHz licenses in Spokane, Richland and Moses Lake, Wash., Albuquerque, N.M., Des Moines, Iowa, Fulton, Mich., Jackson, Miss., Omaha, Neb. and Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn. The Marina del Rey, Calif.-based company consists of Angell, two salespeople based in Los Angeles and an engineer. With the help of Roamer One, a group that assists 220 MHz licensees organize, build and manage their systems, the company has been able to complete systems on six of its sites and reach network capacity at its Moses Lake site.

In November, Angell Communications merged with paging company Triden Telecom Inc. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of Triden, Angell Communications has become the second company with 220 MHz systems as assets to go public, opening in November at 25 cents per share and closing last month at $1.37.

But it took five years to get this far. Just after the FCC’s 220 MHz lottery in 1991, a lawsuit was filed against the FCC claiming the lottery procedures the commission used were unfair. The matter would not be resolved until three years later when a group of industry leaders settled with the plaintiff. The suit scared many financial backers away because license holders had to halt construction of their systems without knowing when they would be able to start building again. In August 1994, just a couple of months before the original construction deadline, the FCC extended the deadline to April 4, 1996. But many of the licenses needed to be modified. Since research into the sites was conducted back in 1991, many of them no longer existed or had space available.

“All of us out there raising money were working on very shaky ground not knowing whether we would lose our licenses,” said Angell. “We spent a lot of money and time with the FCC and AMTA (American Mobile Telecommunications Association) lobbying and attracting financing.”

Two of Angell’s sites, one in Omaha and the other in Jackson, needed to be relocated. By November 1995, he had spent $50,000 on equipment and thousands more to lease the two sites, pay for insurance and advertising and set up an office.

About two months ago, the FCC granted relief and called for licensees planning to relocate their base stations to fill out an application by May 1. License holders are allowed to move their sites within 5 kilometers in the city and 8 kilometers in rural areas. Potential operators will then have until Aug. 15 to construct their channels.

In spite of the hurdles, Angell Communications still has big plans for 220 MHz.

“Technology is advancing so rapidly that 220 is finding a niche in voice and data,” Angell said. “It (the industry) is doing so much better than what anyone thought. It has so many possibilities.”

Wireless Internet access, vehicle tracking and wireless monitoring services are a few of those possibilities. The company already has begun to implement its Internet access service which will allow its subscribers to plug their laptop computer into the mobile radio, and access the Internet without interconnect.

Currently, Angell Communications is targeting its two-way radio service at “white-collar workers” such as real estate agents, and charging $25 per month for unlimited airtime. The $850 radio contains a high-speed modem that allows users to send and receive faxes by plugging the radio into a laptop computer.

The company uses Securicor’s Linear Modulation technology on a bandwidth of 5 kilohertz. The result is greater clarity, coverage and privacy than 900 MHz, 800 MHz or even cellular, Angell said.

“You’re going to see 220 as the front runner in two-way radio,” said Angell As the FCC auctions more spectrum and companies begin to form more alliances to create seamless coverage, 220 MHz will take off, he said.

The launch is just several years late.

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