Business radio 2012
The latest digital radios and some new thinking about PMR enlivened the FCS’s annual event for people in the mobile radio business. Richard Lambley reports
Supported by increased industry sponsorship, this year’s FCS Business Radio event attracted a record attendance by mobile radio suppliers. As in previous years, the day began with presentations on a variety of current mobile radio topics, followed by round-table workshop sessions for various specialized interests. All around were exhibition stands featuring many of the big names in mobile radio, demonstrating their latest products and services. For 2012, a highlight was the appearance of DMR Tier III trunked radio products from several leading suppliers.
Heading the programme of speakers was Chris Pateman, who took over as chief executive of the federation back in June. “I am the new Jacqui Brookes”, he explained, modestly, in a salute to his predecessor.
Running through some current activities at the FCS – including progress with its FITAS accreditation programme for installation technicians, and concerns such as the Communications Act, a new EU regulatory framework and the revised WEEE Directive – he quickly came to Ofcom’s imminent 4G auctions and the wider challenge of securing a continued supply of spectrum to sustain growth in mobile radio.
Here he took issue with the consultants Analsys Mason, who had assessed the value of the radio spectrum to the UK economy in a report for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, newly published. “It is incredibly detailed”, he commented. “It runs to about 120 pages and it’s an interesting snapshot not only of where the industry is but also of the kind of thinking which is being fed to policymakers.”
On the screen he showed a table from the report, in which various categories of spectrum use were listed by their ‘net present value’. Mobile phones were at the top, at £273 billion. “Here’s PMR at the bottom”, he said; “£19.2 billion. You’d think that was pretty cool, they’d be interested in that.”
Nevertheless, in the Executive Summary he found these incendiary words: “Spectrum is a finite resource, similar to property”. “Well, that’s fine then”, Mr Pateman responded, with rhetorical irony. “We’ll just go out and build some more spectrum and we won’t have any congestion problems, will we?
“Spectrum is absolutely not a finite resource similar to property”, he protested, passionately. “Spectrum is a finite resource which is not remotely similar to property. But this is the kind of stuff that policymakers think; this is the kind of stuff that drives this auction mentality. This is the kind of stuff that we, as an industry, need to understand is what is being put in front of policymakers.”
Acknowledging the difficulty of putting figures on the value of radio to the nation in making the trains run and keeping the airports open, Mr Pateman said: “When you start running the figures, they quickly become so huge that you don’t think that anyone would take them seriously”. And he inquired: “What is the value to the UK economy if suddenly we can no longer import oil? Or we cannot actually switch power from remote stations?”
But in the DCMS paper, no less than 58 per cent of the value of the entire spectrum was credited to the public mobile phone networks alone. “If you don’t agree with that, let’s try and today find ways in which we can put policy issues together to articulate an alternative case”, he finished. “Among the workshop sessions this afternoon there will be an FCS table and we’re going to be spending some time talking about the work of the Business Radio Council and the ways in which we try to draw these inputs from the industry and articulate them into policy cases. We need as broad an input from the industry as we possibly can.”
Next to speak was Dr Nigel Brown of the Cabinet Office, who focused on the way in which government is dealing with critical national infrastructure and the emergency services. “I’m going to put that in the context of what’s happening in the US, in Europe and how we do things in the UK, because I believe that it will help and assist you and members of FCS in selling products and services into our critical infrastructure”, he told delegates.
Dr Brown identified a number of other bodies bearing responsibility for civil resilience, including the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) and two Government departments, Business, Innovation and Skills (the old DTI), and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which has custody of the Communications Act 2003 and is Whitehall’s interface with the regulator, Ofcom. “I just want to raise the point here that, contrary to expectations, there is no reserve of spectrum for what we refer to as critical infrastructure owners”, he said. “Normal business relationships apply.” Nonetheless, a cross-Whitehall public safety spectrum policy group existed to help bodies such as the police, fire and ambulance “to come to terms with their spectrum requirements”.
Following a variety of incidents in the UK and abroad – natural disasters, episodes of civil unrest and terrorist incidents, including incidents which never happened but nearly did – resilience was very much on the agenda now, and Dr Brown’s unit was closely concerned in developing resilience plans. However, new thinking had moved its aims away from protecting entire sectors of the infrastructure, such as the communications sector, to concentrate instead on single points of failure.
What counts as critical is determined by the CPNI, which carries out extensive assessments with infrastructure owners, scoring them against risk. “If you are at a Level 3, and above”, he said, “the Government starts to take a lot more interest about that infrastructure.
“If you own critical infrastructure, at that point you get a dedicated security adviser, you get access to specific threat information... you get access to information-sharing clubs.”
Looking ahead, Dr Brown said: “The Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, led by Home Office colleagues [Land Mobile, November issue, 16–17], has got to be one of the most exciting projects around at the moment, especially since my Minister changed that from a simple re-procurement of yet another Tetra system into the delivery of capabilities that the emergency services could call upon. Lots of challenges in there to ensure that those services interoperate, lots of challenges in particular in ensuring that there is appropriate coverage – and, my pet subject, resilience. As we know, the normal public mobile phone systems are not resilient to power outages; no power for about an hour and the batteries go flat, no cellular communications – not what we want if we are responding to emergencies.”
But the M in ESMCP stands for mobile, he pointed out, and mobile won’t work without spectrum. In this area there had been much positioning by various countries and regions to find spectrum for future services – such as the $7 billion FirstNet broadband programme for emergency services in the US and the emerging 700 MHz debate in Europe.
“A lot of issues are being considered by Home Office colleagues at the moment with regard to which spectrum to operate in, how to do it, how to deliver things. I leave you with the point that it could present some interesting challenges the UK, maybe in the 700, because we’ve all just gone through quite a lot of pain of putting our digital TV in that space.”
A big solution
Meanwhile, in general business radio the move to digital is gaining pace with the arrival of trunking capabilities. Christine Cant of Tait took to the platform next to unveil a complete DMR offering developed by her company. “It’s a European standard that is now becoming globally accepted”, she said. “Tier III, which we are talking about today, is now becoming quite exciting because there’s a number of vendors that have developed it and it’s starting to take off.
“It’s a DMR solution, so it’s a combination of some of our products and some other people’s products. So we have our radio equipment and we partner with the dispatch people to provide the dispatch part of the solution and we partner with people to give us AVL applications, connect to PBX, add accessories to our terminals. So the entire solution is a lot bigger than the radio system.”
Among the features she highlighted were –
‘tri-mode’ handportables, which combine DMR with full analogue conventional functionality (including selcall and DTMF) and MPT 1327 trunking. They have internal Bluetooth, GPS, man-down and lone worker functions, IP67 protection and space inside for an RFID tag for in-building tracking. An Atex (IECEx), version is to follow. “The other exciting feature which we can actually demonstrate today is that they will seamlessly roam between MPT 1327 and DMR”, she said. “So you can actually start to migrate site-by-site; the radios can actually migrate without the user having to switch between the two.”
mobile radios with equivalent features, including the same seamless roaming, and a base station with site trunking support. “It is fully SNMP, so therefore we can report on alarms and it connects to our management system easily....The maintenance is now Web-based so you no longer need a tool on your laptop or PC.”
a node controller which handles voice and data switching, call records, alarms; and a network gateway, which provides analogue input for dispatchers and analogue telephone interconnects, but can also integrate audio from digital PABX systems.
network management and reporting. In developing the system, Ms Cant explained, Tait had paid careful attention to the needs of users migrating from analogue – in the system infrastructure, in maintaining compatibility with users’ existing accessories, and in the radios themselves. “We’ve devised our user interface to look like MPT, so in other words there is no change to a user in using their radio between DMR and MPT”, she said “There’s no retraining involved. And that’s also important when there roaming between MPT and DMR – they still dial the same number and essentially they have no idea whether they are on the DMR or an MPT network, apart from maybe the audio sounds a little different.”
A vibrant market
Also introducing a DMR range was Simoco. Beginning with a canter down Memory Lane, chief executive Andy Woodhall recalled Simoco’s roots in the old Pye company, which pioneered PMR in the UK seven decades ago. But with the unveiling of its Xd range of DMR products, Simoco is building on this heritage to meet worldwide demand for ‘low-cost’ digital communications.
“Looking down at the stats”, Mr Woodhall said, citing figures from IMS, “it’s telling us that by 2015 low-cost digital is expected to be bigger than Tetra and almost three-quarters the size of P25. And DMR volumes today are already equivalent to Tetra. Low-cost digital terminals will be outselling P25 and Tetra by 2015.
“We can no longer think of ourselves as a stand-alone radio supplier. We have to look at offering integrated solutions and join the new digital era.... Our aim is to deliver solid IPT architecture with switchless distributed infrastructures, full turnkey systems and under our new brand of Simoco Xd, launching and delivering our DMR technologies.”
But he added: “We should all be collectively proud as an industry of our heritage and success, regardless of who you work for. The journey from those early days with Pye has seen PMR move away from complicated, clunky, expensive stand-alone systems to today’s modern IP world, where we are connecting systems. They’re integrated, they are part of a total communications infrastructure and really do support the end-user customer needs.”
Another manufacturer participating in the day’s programme was Motorola Solutions, which introduced the first commercially available Atex DMR handportables.
An outlook on business radio during what he hailed as an exciting time was provided by Jeff Spaeth, vice president and general manager for global radio products and accessories. Despite the success of other technologies such as wireless broadband, the iPad and YouTube, he said, business radio had just enjoyed its best year ever.
Underlying this was a fundamental value proposition which was continuing to grow, but it was important to understand what would persuade customers to choose business radio in the future. “We often talk about instant communications being the value proposition of private mobile radio”, he said. “I would like to suggest that it is more than that, because the push-to-talk capability today exists on a lot of public networks.
“So I would argue that the value proposition of business radio and private mobile radio is based around what I would suggest are the four Cs: and that is coverage, cost, control and capacity.”
Using numerous examples drawn from PMR installations around the world, Mr Spaeth crystallized the significance for users of each of these factors. For coverage, there was a shopping centre in Malaysia (PMR also reached the back rooms and equipment areas). As for cost, there were savings to be won when public utilities or municipalities could send their telemetry or other data over a PMR network they already owned, instead of having to pay for cellular.
For control, Mr Spaeth cited a fleet operator in New Zealand which had recently reverted to PMR – digital PMR – after switching its drivers to mobile phones some years ago. “The move to cellular had brought some benefits but actually it brought more problems than anything”, he explained. “The distraction factor of a touch-screen telephone for the drivers increased the number of accidents the drivers had. It was a distraction for texting their girlfriends, checking things and doing everything but the job but they are paid to do. So the C called Control is all about management’s desire to ensure that they have some level of control over the communications of their workgroup.”
Lastly, capacity – specifically, capacity when you need it. Mr Spaeth said that mission-critical users had an obvious requirement for radio capacity of their own – but some commercial customers had a similar need. As an example, he offered a factory in Canada where a major accident on the highway outside had created a miles-long traffic jam – absorbing all the cellular capacity on which the factory relied for its push-to-talk cellular communications. “For the entire morning shift of manufacturing, there was no radiocommunications in the facility”, he said. “That customer came back to private mobile radio because of the ability to have capacity when they needed it.”
More about 700 MHz and a possible public safety band came in presentation by Paul Jarvis of Ofcom, in a survey of regulatory issues currently affecting business radio. “Obviously there are aspirations and some very good reasons for needing high-speed data to support the blue-light services”, he said. “Over the next 12 months, I think, you will see that we start to have a firm position on what’s going to be right for us. And I believe that we are gearing ourselves up now to be a lot more proactive within the European environment.”
Other countries were also trying to take a lead: for example, Finland, which planned to make 700 MHz available for broadband in 2017. “Clearly, if that’s the case, the PPDR [public protection and disaster relief] people in Europe are going to be looking very closely at that, and clearly it’s a band that is one that we need to be very careful about.”
Next, Ofcom was considering ways of re-using spectrum relinquished by the UK emergency services in their move to Airwave. Some of this, held back for use during the Olympic Games, could now be used to launch more Tetra and narrow-band digital radio systems.
A spectrum release announced earlier, of mid-band channels at 143–156 MHz, is currently being reassessed in the light of a recent consultation. Ofcom received 29 responses to this, suggesting a diversity of uses which ranged from LTE to licence-free systems.
“We’re doing a review of our technical assignment tools”, Mr Jarvis continued. “Right now, we are looking at what the consequence of having mixed technology is on our assignments, and the UK, I believe, is pretty much unique in actually having to assign on a shared basis. What are the consequences of sharing digital and analogue? And does anyone lose out?
“We did consider at one point mandating the transition to digital, but it seems to be happening at a fair pace anyway, so we’ve stepped back from mandating. But we will keep that decision under review.
While digital PMR has been claiming the limelight, there is still plenty of life in analogue, as the FCS audience heard from two speakers from Fleetcomm, an analogue trunked system which provides service across a large part of the UK. “My vision has always been to restore a national network to the UK”, said managing director John Kelly, “not simply for voice communications but to establish a multi-discipline platform of 60-odd sites (and I think you will find later that we go beyond that) that could be used for a wealth of organizations and applications.”
More details of this expanding system came from its chief architect, Sam Hunt, who has been working on it for the past four years. His laconic account was sprinkled with stirring tales of real-life service provision in PMR, such as dizzying mast-climbing adventures in icy weather and high winds.
“The network has been running since the late 1980s”, he said. “It was part of a batch of Band III operators which all appeared the same time – Wavelength, National Band 3, GEC National One, Storno, Freecall – the list goes on”.
Today’s system, still in Band III, is built on the relics of several of these companies, but is modernizing and expanding once again. “Fleetcomm is no different to any of the Tier III offerings except that it has analogue voice, MPT1327 trunking”, Mr Hunt continued. “It’s a fairly mature protocol, very reliable, very robust and it does exactly what it says on the tin.
“And you know when you buy a radio, it will work. There’s no bugs left in it because it’s been out for so long. That’s what’s going for it. What’s not going for it is that it’s analogue voice – but actually a lot of people prefer analogue voice and with digital signal processing of analogue voice, I personally think it’s just as good, if not better.”
Improvements in the network have included changes, deletions and additions to its list of sites, to save running costs and enhance coverage, and the replacement of expensive KiloStream network links with reliable Internet connections. The proven Tait and Fylde trunking infrastructure remains in place.
The latest expansion, Mr Hunt went on, has been driven by a customer needing a national data network, after trying several other systems following the closure of the old RAM Mobile Data network.
“The magic is in the quality of your aerials, having a decent high radio mast and whereabouts your site is located – which is the uniqueness which the Fleetcomm network rents”, he ended.
Atex radios with all the options
New from Motorola at the FCS event were two Atex DMR handportable models, the first to become commercially available. “Atex, Intrinsically Safe, has always been a big market for Motorola”, explained Tim Clark, regional product director. “I think there’s a big pent-up demand for customers waiting for digital, so I’m expecting this to sell well. The first release is UHF, 403–470, and we will be launching the VHF next month.
“There’s the basic non-display version [DP4401] which is probably going to be our highest seller. If you think of the customer who uses these things, it’s oil rigs, it’s people with gloves on, protective clothing, and they don’t want buttons and things; they just want to push a PTT and talk. I think they will benefit from the benefits of digital – the audio quality, the noise reduction, battery life.”
He added that the DMR model will give exceptionally good battery life because it comes with a larger-capacity battery – and at the same time, the RF output is limited to one watt in compliance with the Atex specification.
Other features of the new radios include built-in GPS, for use with tracking applications. “Applications are absolutely essential with digital”, Mr Clark commented. “I would say that the vast majority MotoTrbos we sell are sold with an application of some sort.
“Also, on the application side, the keypad version [DP4801] also has an inbuilt option board so that third parties can write their software on to the radio and add extra functionality.”
Features of the latest generation of Motorola digital radios include ‘intelligent audio’ (“As you move from a quiet environment to a noisier one, and vice versa, the radio is constantly sensing the ambient noise and adjusting the speaker volume accordingly, so you don’t miss calls”, Mr Clark explained) and transmitter interrupt (“In analogue, if I’ve got my finger on the PTT button, nobody can interrupt me; with this, you can use the signalling within the data frames to interrupt and close the call down”.
The unusual ribbed surface and cutaways of their outer shell are designed to avoid static build-up, enabling the radios to meet the Atex specification without needing to be housed in a carry-case.
Covering the territory with DMR
A tour of forthcoming products from one of the most active DMR developers was provided by M K Wong, of the Chinese manufacturer Hytera. “We really believe that open protocols are the future of business radio”, he assured delegates. “We are focusing on DMR products to provide a full series of Tier II, also Tier III. We are focusing on DMR for public safety, transportation and also commercial customers. We provide total solutions.”
Among new DMR products promised in the next few months were –
the X1p, a slimline radio with a full-colour display. This is built to US military standards, is waterproof (IP67) and has 128 and 256-bit AES encryption built in, for high-security users. Other features include a vibrating alert, Bluetooth, man-down functions and two kinds of GPS. It provides dual mode operation – analogue or digital – with high power (UHF four watts, VHF five watts). It can operate for up to 10 hours on the standard 1100 mAh battery. A range of accessories will be offered.
a transportable, 10 W full-function DMR repeater (RD965). This can be operated in a backpack case for mobile applications such as temporary coverage for emergency services. With a microphone plugged in, it can also monitor communications and act as a base station. It is waterproof to IP67, and with a 10 ampere-hour battery it will last for about 10 hours with a 50 per cent duty-cycle. GPS is built in and an interface is provided for customer applications. Rack-mounted, it can also be used for mini-trunking for business. Versions are available now for VHF and UHF.
a rack-mounting DMR “super repeater”, the RD 985S. “All the functions and features are the same as a normal DMR repeater but this repeater can be upgradable from conventional DMR to simulcasting DMR and also DMR trunking”, Mr Wong explained. “You don’t need to change anything, it’s just software upgradable.
trunking-ready Atex handportables, from the first quarter of 2013.
full-duplex Tier III and trunking mobiles.
more DMR Tier III trunking systems. “We have already installed more than 40 [DMR Tier III trunking] systems worldwide in more than 15 countries”, Mr Wong said. “Outside China we have 20 systems already installed in 14 countries – in total, about 42 base stations and 120 carriers.” Coming soon is a DMR Tier III mini-trunking system, a single-site two-carrier package which mounts in a 13U cabinet complete with a combining system. Designed with public safety and utility customers in mind, this weighs 53 kg, consumes around 600 W and offers high reliability, with an MTBF exceeding 100 000 hours.
Dispatcher software, including call-taking features, call logging, AVL and mapping.
lastly, the DS 6310 DMR Tier II simulcast system. An 18U cabinet supports two carriers with four logical channels. “This system can support analogue and digital dual-mode operation”, Mr Wong said. “We can have a network management system to do remote software upgrades, and also, of course, we have a dispatching system for it.”