Tait wins contract to upgrade TfL’s bus fleet to DMR Tier III
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:
Copyright: Transport for London

Tait Communications and Transport for London (TfL) today (23 March) signed a contract for the replacement of London’s bus radio system with a new digital mobile DMR Tier III radio system.

The agreement will see Tait Communications manufacture and replace both the communications infrastructure providing coverage across Greater London and the terminal equipment on London’s fleet of almost 10,000 buses.

New Zealand-headquartered Tait has designed the upgraded system to be both resilient and future-proof, with multiple fall-back features. The on-bus equipment is based on Tait’s UnifyVehicle platform, which gives users access to multiple carrier standards in addition to mobile radio (i.e. next-generation cellular and Wi-Fi), and the ability to run customised data applications to improve operational efficiency, and the service provided to travellers.

Simon Reed, TfL’s head of technology and data: surface transport, said: “We are pleased, that after a comprehensive procurement process, we have chosen Tait as our partner for the provision of voice radio services for surface transport.

“We have been careful to choose a solution that provides a low risk transition from the existing analogue technology, and also integrates well with the future vision of TfL with open standards based DMR technology and ease of integration with an accredited ITxPT (IT for public transport) supplier.”

TfL’s bus network consists of more than 650 contracted bus routes served by more than 9,500 vehicles (compared to the roughly 7,000 buses the original MPT1327 analogue radio network was designed to serve) with a network of more than 19,000 bus stops.

During a press briefing, Reed explained that the main reason why TfL began the search for a replacement of its two-way radio system was that the increase in the bus fleet combined with changes in the way London’s roads are used had created a situation where the system’s capability was insufficient and creating frustrated demand (call queueing).

He added that as part of the tender process, TfL did look at LTE, but concluded that as it would have to rely on a commercial network without the pre-emption and priority features that the emergency services will have when they migrate over to the Emergency Services Network, this was not an option. Jamie Bishop, Tait's marketing and business development director EMEA, added that the units Tait will supply will be upgradeable to LTE and that this will make sense at a later date once additional functionality becomes available, such as the features that will be introduced in 5G, including vehicle to vehicle communications (V2V) ,

Reed added that once the TfL surface users have migrated over to the DMR Tier III network, TfL will look to consolidate the wireless systems running on the buses, as currently a number of different systems including AVL (automatic vehicle location) are each running over separate networks. Around this point, TfL will also investigate the use of the system to make London’s buses more accessible to the public, for instance by using push notifications delivered over Bluetooth Low Energy to help customers quickly identify which bus they need when confronted by a row of them.

Following a technical validation phase, TfL and Tait are planning to rollout the new radio system through an in-frequency approach. According to Bishop, as Tait’s new infrastructure can support both MPT1327 and DMR Tier III, the new base stations can replace the old ones without the change impacting on the MPT1327 mobile terminals on the buses, and then the users can then migrate across to the DMR mobile radios.

Andrew Gill, managing director of Tait Europe Middle East and Africa, highlighted the capacity gains that TfL will experience from migrating from analogue to digital (DMR’s ability to support two timeslots on a 12.5 KHz channel means that it has double the spectral efficiency of analogue radio).

Gill also said the company has a long history supplying TfL and is proud to have been selected to work with them to meet the network’s future communications needs.

He added that: “This model of procurement, one that allows for discussion and co-operative working between the customer and supplier, can foster wider competition and true long-term value for money. Tait’s Unify Vehicle digital platform that underpins this new solution creates the ability for TfL and Tait to partner in a long-term development relationship that will respond to TfL’s future and changing needs with agility and increased collaboration.

“In more than 20 years in this industry, this has been one of the toughest and most robust processes I’ve worked on,” Gill said. “At its core was TfL’s wish to foster a spirit of collaborative working with key suppliers and it’s this spirit which has allowed a mid-sized company to compete successfully against much larger competition.

“The decision to select Tait Communications means this crucial transport network will now move to an innovative, cost-effective solution that will assist Transport for London to continue improving its service to the public and be a model for other public transport providers. For Tait, this contract is reflective of our expanding UK-based business, with a growing team of experienced engineers and project managers, and new apprentices to ensure we keep growing and developing talent in the UK.”

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