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In the market for... DMR handsets

Date: 30th January 2017
Topic: Monthly Features
Technology: Digital PMR
Manufacturer: Hytera, Kenwood, Motorola Solutions
Tags: DMR, handheld, Simon Creasey, In the market for..., handsets

Simon Creasey explains everything you need to know about purchasing digital mobile radio handsets, their benefits over PMR models, and potential pitfalls

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If you thought DMR handsets were just simple voice tools think again. Over the last few years manufacturers have added a mind-boggling array of different features, functionality and applications to DMR radios. And this is just the beginning – industry experts say that even more innovation is on the cards for DMR handsets in the coming years, which will open the market up to an even wider range of users.

So whether you’re a PMR446 analogue user transitioning to digital or someone that’s never bought a handset before, what do you need to consider before taking the plunge to make sure you buy handsets that are fit for purpose?

The first question most dealers ask when they receive a query from a customer about purchasing DMR handsets is what they are going to use the handsets for and in what sort of environment. “People often come to us with a shopping list, but they don’t necessarily need what they’re asking for,” says Andrew Clark, managing director at solutions provider G6 Global. “For instance, a radio being used by a concierge or a receptionist on the front desk of a hotel is going to have very different requirements than one being used by a security guard or somebody working in a hazardous environment.”

Clark says that because most DMR radios – broadly speaking – perform the same functions, aesthetics have become much more important to customers. “If you’re a concierge in a hotel you don’t want to be picking up a great big brick that looks like it should be attached to an equally great big security guard – you want something that’s more in keeping with the aesthetic you’re operating in; like a PD3 from Hytera, which looks little different to a mobile phone.”

Handset manufacturers like Hytera offer a wide range of models boasting different functionalities to suit a diverse range of environments, says Robert Green, marketing manager at Hytera. He adds that the decision to upgrade to high-end professional DMR radios from analogue will vary from user to user. 

“Some of our customers require additional security and encryption options because of the sensitive nature of their work. Many are looking for integration with existing systems, such as telephony or telemetry, others require pseudo or extended trunking to dynamically maximise the available channel capacity over larger single or multiple sites with many users,” says Green.

Dealers say that DMR radios offer all of these advantages over their analogue rivals, in addition to other benefits such as longer battery life, better voice clarity, SMS messaging, functions like lone worker and man down, plus the ability to link via IP. You also get less interference on DMR handsets, which is a vitally important factor for industry sectors operating in some geographic locations, says Dee Barrett-Davies, managing director at two-way radio experts EARS Communications.

“We’re a London-based company and width frequencies are at a premium where we are, so should privacy be a concern for your business (which in a lot of instances it is) we would go for a DMR product as opposed to a PMR446 product purely because you get twice the capacity from DMR products on frequencies,” says Barrett-Davies. “Also if, for example, you’re a demolition company and you’re on a PMR446 radio – and this has happened – kids can buy those radios and mess about and it can cause major problems, so you really do need the protection of having your own frequency.”

Those are not the only benefits of DMR over analogue. In recent years a number of software applications have been introduced to make the lives of DMR users much easier, such as Hytera’s ‘Smart Dispatch’ – a PC-based radio dispatch application offering voice calls, radio online/offline indication, GPS tracking, geofencing, alarm monitoring and text messaging.

“All events are also logged with voice recording and GPS history,” says Adam Prokopiw, engineering service manager at solutions provider and installer Zycomm. “There are also products available such as the SMC Gateway, which integrates fire alarm systems to the radio network to report [triggered] alarms via text or speech.”

In addition to this growing range of smarter applications, Prokopiw also believes DMR handsets are more robust than analogue PMR446 models. “With [their] advanced production methods DMR radios are extremely robust. Many models are submersible, IP67 – so to one metre for 30 minutes,” he says.

However, Sean Fitzgerald, solutions marketing manager at Motorola Solutions, cautions people against falling into the common trap of confusing the IP rating and robustness.

“The IP rating will tell you if a radio can withstand damage from dust or water, which can be important in some environments,” he explains. “But users wanting radios robust enough to withstand the knocks of everyday use should look for handsets certified to MIL STD 810, which also tests for things like vibration and being dropped.”

For many DMR users it’s likely that the only downtime they will experience is if they somehow manage to break the device, because the reliability of modern equipment is much better than it used to be, according to Mike Atkins, executive officer for JVC Kenwood’s pan-European communications business.

“[DMR] radios don’t go wrong so often, but a lot of handheld units are being used in quite tough environments so they are sometimes going to get damaged, and for that you need good serviceability,” says Atkins. “Most of the dealer channel in the UK is long-established and a lot of dealers’ businesses are based on the level of service they offer. Radio comms is quite a specialist area and you need that expertise because it’s one of the most service-intensive industries there is.”

As with anything in life you get what you pay for, so good aftersale support and maintenance, and handsets that offer more functions and features, are going to cost a lot more than the basic models that have flooded the UK market from the Far East in recent years and are being sold at bargain prices.

“There are a bunch of manufacturers out there, particularly from China, that are coming out with a range of DMR-compatible radios that are ridiculously cheap,” says G6’s Clark. “Having said that I’ve seen a couple of radios and they’re not too shoddy, so for our Iraq market I’m having discussions with some of those Chinese manufacturers because Iraq is very price sensitive.”

Regardless of the model users eventually plump for, manufacturers advise making sure all DMR equipment is sourced from the same supplier so that you can be sure that everything works together. 

“Mixing infrastructure and terminals from different suppliers increases purchasing flexibility, but restricts functionality,” says Motorola’s Fitzgerald. “The DMR standard does not specify all operations – equipment that meets the DMR Association’s interoperability criteria will support basic functionality between equipment from different suppliers, but advanced value-add features are unlikely to interoperate.”

For many users it is these value-added features that attracted them to DMR handsets in the first place, and that’s why manufacturers are investing a lot of time and money into building the next generation of handsets to be feature rich and do a wider range of things.

“They’re not just selling radios to a customer – they’re selling them a solution for managing their business,” says JVC Kenwood’s Atkins. “So you’re not just offering somebody something and saying ‘that’s the way it is, take it or leave it’. You’re offering data and software features that can be moulded to a user’s specific requirements.” It looks as if the days when DMR handsets were just simple voice tools are long gone. 

Dos and don'ts
Do shop around. There are lots of models on the market covering a wide range of forms, functions and price points

Do choose a DMR handset over a PMR446 analogue model if security of frequency is an issue, because analogue

communications can be intercepted and/or interrupted

Do try and source all your DMR equipment from the same supplier because if you mix your infrastructure and terminals this can have a knock-on effect on functionality

Factor in the environment they will need to withstand. The more dust and water, the higher the IP rating needs to be

Don’t just pick the cheapest option. With DMR handsets you get what you pay for. In addition, many of the cheaper handset providers may not be able to offer the level of aftersales support and maintenance you need

Don’t confuse the IP rating and robustness. If you’re working in a hazardous environment or an environment where handsets are likely to be dropped look for radios certified to MIL STD 810

Further reading

If you’re new to the world of two-way radio and are looking to use DMR for the first time, our back issues and the Land Mobile website have a great deal of extra information to help you get up to speed.

Our March 2016 issue ran a “Business Radio 101” piece, which covers the essentials, while in November, we discussed compliance issues, emphasising the need to buy products that meet the appropriate regulations and how to stay on the right side of the law. 

Last month’s “in the market for” covers DMR base stations. While many users might pick a handset and then choose infrastructure from the main manufacturer, if there’s a particular feature that you require, it can make sense to discuss your needs in terms of infrastructure first.


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