In the market for…radio maintenance contracts
Written by: Simon Creasey | Published:

What kind of maintenance contract a customer chooses will largely depend on in-house resources and how critical the radio system is to its business operations. Simon Creasey looks at some of the options on offer.

Historically, radio maintenance contracts were a bit of an afterthought and considered a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘need to have’ by end-users buying a two-way system, according to Ola Gwozdz, head of innovation and business development at PMR Products.

“Ad hoc repairs or battery replacements, often purchased from the company offering the cheapest deal at the time, rather than the original supplier, were the norm,” says Gwozdz. But the DMR era marked a shift from simple preventative maintenance contracts to more elaborate servicelevel agreements offering firmware upgrades, unlocking new features and with that new possibilities for vendors and customers.

Today, aftercare is a major consideration for customers who need to carefully choose the level of ongoing support they need for system and hardware maintenance, in addition to repairs and software updates. So, what sort of maintenance options are available to end-users and how do they go about selecting an aftercare agreement package that meets their specific needs?

The obvious starting point for two-way radio users looking for postpurchase peace of mind is manufacturer warranties. These differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but a standard warranty, which would typically exclude things like accessories and batteries, runs for two years and includes software updates in addition to repairs. However, there is usually an option to take an extended warranty that provides more comprehensive coverage over a longer period of time.

For instance, Motorola offers a MOTOTRBO ‘Subscribers Essentials Service’ extended warranty package that has three different levels of service. Over a five-year period, the most basic level includes software updates, technical and service desk support 24/7 for 365 days of the year, with turnaround times of under 10 days. The most advanced package includes all of these things in addition to one-day priority repair, accidental damage repair and collect/ return shipping.

Similar extended warranty packages are available for equipment offered by other manufacturers, such as Hytera, which offers a 24-month standard guarantee on all hardware.

“We also offer extended warranty up to three years for radios and repeaters, but in my experience warrantied items will fail in the first week if they are going to fail at all, so selling a dealer extended warranty feels a little bit like selling insurance that will never be needed,” says Andrew Wilson, managing director at Hytera distributor Syndico. “Of course, we will provide a three-year warranty if the customer is determined, or has a special circumstance, but it goes against Syndico’s core values to sell something to a partner we don’t think they will need.”

For many users, an extended warranty will probably be sufficient to meet their needs, but often customers are looking for a greater level of support, so it may make sense to opt for an extended warranty in addition to a maintenance contract. It is very much a case of horses for courses, with all manner of diff erent service options available from organisations that operate within the radio communication ecosystem.

Wilson says his company views the physical deployment of maintenance contracts as the reseller’s responsibility and a good source of ongoing revenue for them, although he adds that Syndico does sometimes enter into agreements with dealers for particularly technical systems where the company will carry out joint site visits to an enduser with the dealer to offer guidance and support.

“This was particularly relevant some years ago when dealers were still getting to grips with the diff erent programming requirements and product specifications of Hytera equipment, but now that the channel is familiar with Hytera we are asked for this service somewhat less,” says Wilson. “We have seen an uplift in requests for support with PoC installations for the same reasons as above, but we expect that this will now reduce as reseller partners sell more and more of the SYMPOC portfolio and have experience in answering end-users’ frequently asked questions.”

Maintenance contracts may not be a big area of focus for Syndico at the moment, but for companies like DCRS they are a key part of its business offer. DCRS provides three different maintenance contract levels, which cover off things such as annual inspections, unlimited repairs and guaranteed on-site response times. The basic level would typically include an annual service of equipment and the provision of an engineer to carry out on-site repairs.

“The premium level gives them 24-hours-a-day response, seven days a week, year-round with the exception of a couple of days over the Christmas period,” explains Simon Weldon, key account manager at DCRS. “If they have a faulty system, if needs be we will send out an engineer with a replacement radio or unit, bring theirs back, repair it and then swap it back over. With our premium level we try to get anywhere in the country, traffic permitting, within four hours of a fault being actioned.”

Tait Communications off ers a similar package of options, with the most basic maintenance contract essentially seeing the user self-diagnose the problem and then sending the equipment to Tait so that it can undertake fixed-price repairs, all the way through to what Jamie Bishop, general manager, transport sector, describes as a “complete managed service”; this includes 24/7 access to the company’s service desk and customer support engineers.

“We have a 24/7 central service management centre located in New Zealand that runs all of our high-level service management and maintenance contracts,” says Bishop. “In each of our sub-regions we have service managers and service technicians who can go onsite. They hook into the global system managed out of the central service management system, so when we’re monitoring or proactively identifying potential issues that come up, or exist, then they [the sub-region service managers/technicians] respond to that locally.

“The advantage of having everyone hooked into the same system means that potentially the team in the US could support a customer in the UK if they had to because they can gain access to the same information and diagnostics platform that we use globally.”

This degree of cover may be too extensive for some customers who may have much more basic needs. For instance, Weldon says many two-way radio users such as manufacturing businesses, schools or construction sites may be able to wait a few days for issues to be addressed.

“However, with sectors like retail, the prison service, hospitals or something similar, they need to have that service back up and running immediately,” says Weldon. “It all depends on how critical to communications radios are [to an organisation], and this determines what sort of cover is needed and the level of cover.”

It is a view shared by Wilson, who adds: “In simple terms, an airport relying on its radios to keep plane departures on schedule might view its comms as more mission-critical than a school that has a push-to-talk system for dinner ladies to stay in touch with reception. Therefore, it is also likely that an airport would demand a servicelevel agreement which would demand 24-hour instant telephone support with a one-hour call-out time, but a school would not.”

Although maintenance contracts haven’t radically changed that much over the years, the changes that have occurred have largely been driven by advances in technology and structural changes within end-user organisations – particularly in the area of IT.

“It is the third-party applications and amalgamation into IT infrastructures, which introduced much more elaborate support contracts, that required more than a simple ‘turn it off and on again’ response from the radio dealers,” explains Gwozdz.

“Dual redundancy-path systems ensuring business continuity mean that simple preventative maintenance contracts aren’t sufficient any more. The instant remote access with systems diagnostics becomes a standard requirement in any radio tender documentation, often requesting a 24/7 option.”

She adds that the “complexity of modern integrated radio solutions requires not just a simple prevention, but a long-term operational service management, putting a pressure on two-way radio suppliers to upskill their support teams with a relevant IT knowledge. In return, this provides an opportunity for radio dealers to expand their portfolio into more IT/Wi-Fibased solutions to include PoC and 5G technologies.”

The pressure on two-way radio suppliers that Gwozdz refers to is only likely to intensify in the future given that the deployment of comms has increasingly come under the purview of IT departments since the advent of DMR radio.

This shift has at times led to friction, according to Wilson. “Because a DMR radio is an IP product, and is often running a dispatcher software product, we have increasingly seen problems such as IT departments unwilling to give administrator rights to other departments when trying to install things such as dispatcher software.”

He cites the example of bodycam solutions, which have enjoyed an “explosive upturn” in terms of deployment over the past six months. This increased uptake has highlighted issues around permitting administrator rights on systems, says Wilson.

“We recently had to find a solution for a partner which had their bodycam data management software operating on a standalone PC and server within a control room, as the operations team could not gain agreement from the IT department to install the software on the existing infrastructure.”

As the needs of two-way radio users continue to change and evolve, manufacturers and resellers will have to rise to the challenge and provide aftercare service agreements and maintenance contracts that meet these shifting demands.

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