Wireless comms predictions for 2019
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

With 2018 now in the rearview mirror and with 2019 still (relatively) newborn, Land Mobile has rounded up some of the industry’s predictions for the year ahead

While much of this issue has focused on the past, over these two pages we’ll turn to the future. As has become an industry tradition, many well-known figures have made their predictions for what 2019 will bring, for two-way radio and the telecoms industry.

Tim Cull, head of business radio at the Federation of Communication Services (FCS), expects that “2019 will see the start of a regulatory focus on data air traffic”, with a focus on “accommodating new and important operational needs while not messing up the essential communications that already exist. The problem is that there isn’t enough radio spectrum in the allocated bands to support the existing communications to the required resilience and also accommodate a vast increase in operational data traffic. Ofcom correctly believes that now is the time to address this before it gets completely out of hand.”

Cull also notes that 2018 saw a very significant increase in business radio solutions being placed into light-licensed radio spectrum. This may well have been a natural response to the difficulties of getting technically assigned licences early in the year (and also for the latter part of 2017) and the making available of more light-licensed radio channels. However, while “light-licensing is a very attractive solution to many business radio needs and definitely has a great future”, he notes that “there are a lot of users who really do need their radio spectrum protected to the greatest extent possible; especially these days with customer demands for more legal certainty”. So, with the move of the sharing number to three and the removal of the licensing difficulties (in all but a very few cases), he predicts that 2019 will see growth in technically assigned licences.

Staying on the theme of spectrum, Ian Lockyer, Icom UK’s marketing manager, says: “The ugly head of spectrum shortage in larger cities will also be an issue with solutions being sought by the industry. Shared channels will continue to be looked at as a solution, but this will only stem the tide in the short term. Licence-holders who may own ‘tradable channels’ may only give them up at a premium. With two-way radio communication being such a valuable asset in achieving business efficiencies, LTE and IP solutions will continue to grow in interest and sales. It’s a good solution for those that want to achieve wider area comms but without the issues of licensing and infrastructure.

“However, resellers beware. Not all LTE products are the same in terms of quality and resilience. Uncertainty will also make radio scheme operators think twice about replacing whole radio systems. They may instead go down the route of enhancing what they already have. So software developers may be busy in 2019 developing applications for current radio systems.

“As the industry continues to provide a one-stop shop of solutions, the IoT (Internet of Things) and DAS [distributed antenna system] products will continue to steadily grow with only the barrier of training and imagination stopping implementation. Passive devices will become even more critical in ensuring enhancement/improvements to current radio schemes.”

Mike Atkins, director at JVC Kenwood UK, believes that 2019 will see the continued development of the traditional PMR market with more smaller users switching from PMR446 to licensed digital technologies, especially DMR and dPMR in conventional systems, while the growth of DMR will be driven by demand for larger, more sophisticated systems with simulcast and trunked capabilities.

The real battle, Atkins believes, will be to restore value to the sector after years of manufacturer price actions. “Resellers have been caught in the savage battles for market share which has driven prices and margins down to a point where they are struggling to invest in their businesses. I can see 2019 being the year in which they say enough is enough and start looking at better ways to restore profitability by giving customers the solutions and support they need rather than shifting boxes for pennies.”

Sam Ogles, Syndico’s sales and marketing executive, says: “The PMR industry has taken a firm step towards using public networks in the past year, evidenced by the growth of the UK’s PoC [PTT over Cellular] market and introduction of devices which converge DMR and cellular technologies. The feeling among a large proportion of our partners is [that] despite other technological advances, the future of DMR remains very bright. Great emphasis is rightly being placed on critical communications, and we believe that DMR is still the first choice for business-critical systems. It will, however, be interesting to see if, when and to what extent PoC closes the gap.”

But what of 5G?
Turning away from PMR and towards the cellular world, ABI Research expects 5G smartphones will start to become available during the first half of 2019 and predicts that they will reach 49 million shipments this year (around three per cent of the global total) and will rise steadily to account for 43 per cent of the total by 2023.

Paul Carter, CEO of Global Wireless Solutions, highlights the fact that “the rollout of 5G and its promise of ultrafast, super-reliable connectivity will not be an instantaneous process. It will be a gradual shift to 5G that for some time will involve a mesh of 5G and legacy 4G/3G networks; in fact, in 2019, operators will still be deploying 4G sites across the UK as well as turning on advanced LTE features.

“Through extensive focus groups and polling we found that business owners and employees still find voice calling to be the most important function from their mobile experience. The quality and availability of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and VoWi-Fi still need to progress alongside realising ambitions for Vo5G, video streaming and file transfers. Businesses know their future involves mobility, so it’s important for operators to stay on top of things and test and improve networks based on what matters most to enterprises today.”

Heather Broughton, senior director of service provider marketing at NetScout, predicts 5G security will be a major talking point and notes that “in a 5G domain, the attack surface becomes much greater. Consequently, the number of opportunities for malicious players to exploit vulnerabilities increases.” She also believes “we will see the deployment of automated networks driven by software, and controlled by virtual machines and artificial intelligence”.

Look out for more on 5G, following our trip to MWC Barcelona in late February.

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