Best practice for in-vehicle radio equipment installations

An update to FCS1362, the code of practice for in-vehicle radio equipment installation, was announced at the recent FCS Comms Installer event. Sam Fenwick reports

This year’s FCS Comms Installer and the schemes the Federation of Communication Services (FCS) runs to ensure best practice for in-vehicle radio equipment installations have taken on new importance due to the scale of the task awaiting the installer community with the transition of the emergency services to the Emergency Services Network (ESN). With 45,000 vehicles needing to be fitted with new equipment and with the quality of the installations having a greater impact on the performance of in-vehicle radio devices, due to the use of MiMo (multiple-input and multiple-output) technology, there has never been a greater need for the industry’s engineers and technicians to be well trained and up to date with the latest developments in in-vehicle radio technology.

At the event, which took place at the Heart of England conference centre, FCS announced that it has for the first time in two and a half years updated FCS1362, the industry code of practice for the installation of radio frequency equipment in road vehicles. The new version (FCS1362:2016) is now available from the FCS FITAS website ( benchmark-for-vehicle-installati).

Speaking at the event, John Thomson, FCS non-executive director and technical sales & support manager at Panorama Antennas, said FCS has included more guidance on how to work safely with electric and hybrid vehicles, focusing on working with high-voltage and high-energy batteries. A section has been added to give some information about the requirements for MiMo antennas, which will be installed in vehicles by the emergency services to allow 4G devices to function.

He explained that the rise in the popularity of auxiliary-type products has meant that it has become usual for installers to provide additional power cabling, and it is important that they make sure they use the right-sized cable with sufficient current capacity to power the device. To address this issue, a table of cable size against current rating has been added to FCS1362:2016.

Thomson added that the performance of in-vehicle 4G devices is heavily dependent on the antenna configuration because it uses MiMo, making it a critical area for installation best practice. The updated document covers the key areas, such as isolation between the antennas and correlation.

Thomson highlighted the importance of FCS1362 in the context of ESN. “Because now we’re adding new devices, when we first talked to ESMCP – apart from the fact that they thought the vehicles took 30 minutes to convert (we’ve had to adjust their views on that) – they were quite sure that they were going to take Airwave out and install ESN as a one-hit job,” he said. “The reality is that certainly for the first half of transition, we’re going to be in a situation where we have dual-mode working, so we’re going to be adding another type of radio device to the vehicle.”

Chris Pateman, CEO of the FCS, spoke briefly about ESN: “We are concerned that the value of the mobile networks to the emergency services has been mis-sold, if I’m blunt. I think people have been suckered into the idea of streaming data to the exclusion of the necessity of mission-critical voice. What does data actually need to do? If you’re running an ambulance and you’re sending life signs back to the guys at the operating theatre as they’re prepping up for the vehicle to arrive, does it actually matter if those things are only refreshed every 10 seconds?”

He added that this discussion is not just a matter for ESN, and a similar discussion has been going on within the FCS community about the Internet of Things. Pateman raised the issue of back-up power generation for ESN and the issue that the Tier II organisations working with the emergency services will have to make their transition to ESN from existing funds. He also reminded the audience of the sheer scale of the ESN programme, in terms of “what needs to be done physically within the infrastructure of the UK”. Pateman highlighted uncertainty around the nature of the equipment that will be installed across the vehicle fleets of the emergency services.

Chris Pateman, CEO of the FCS discussed ESN, eCall and RM956 at the event; credit: Duncan Soar

“It is embedded in the [ESN] procurement that FCS1362 is the standard for installation, but there was also a commitment given verbally at a supplier meeting that everything would have to be FITAS – there would be an expectation that only FITAS-accredited installers would be undertaking the work,” he added.

Thomson said FCS has added guidance on multiple antenna installations for in-vehicle installations and explained that one of the important aspects is achieving the best possible isolation between the antennas to prevent interactions between them or desensing between the different radio systems.

“FCS1362 is a living document so we won’t rest on [the 2016] version. We’ve had some feedback that some installers wanted the size of the document reduced. That is a major project [as] there’s a lot of information,” he said. “We could have a project if we can get a working team together to look at [this] and it may [also] be useful that we could format it in such a way that it is easier to use either online or living on a tablet or something like that.

“We need to ensure that FCS1362 is a relevant document and that it gives appropriate guidance – that’s the key thing about it.”

Thomson said the in-vehicle installer community can help improve FCS1362 by notifying FCS of any areas where improvements could be made or if they spot any inaccuracies. He added that FCS would always welcome more members on the core installer committee.

Pateman discussed the growing use of FCS1362 outside the UK. “FCS1362 has been translated into German. At the end of last year it was adopted by the ARCA Australian Radio Industry Association. In a month or so Jason [McComb, FCS Installer Training and Accreditation Scheme (FITAS) manager] will be going out to the UAE to [provide] training there. Everything we can do to internationalise the standard is good news for us and helps to build that brand and the understanding that FCS1362 is the way to go.”

“[FITAS] is the only course that covers FCS1362. It is an ongoing course, there’s no need to retrain on the same course every three years. After the three years, if there is an update, which there is now, all the FITAS engineers that are on-scheme, that have been through their course, will be given an update on what’s new inside FCS1362 – it will all be delivered by webinar,” says McComb.

“It’s cost-sensitive. It is only a small amount a month. We’ve tried to keep it that way so a subcontractor can look at the fee and easily lose it in two to four installs a day.

“...We have had a big increase in membership because of ESN in 2015, ” he says. McComb told me after the event that at the end of 2015 FITAS had 165 members in total and that so far it has accumulated another 68, taking the total to 233. He added that FCS is expecting another 150 or so members to join the scheme due to “the addition of a tracking company who wish us to be their training partner.”

He discussed some of the changes to FITAS, such as the addition of more information on multiplexing and MiMo and how to make electric and hybrid vehicles safe to work on. FCS has taken capacitors, inductors and fuse resistor coding out of the scheme as they are no longer relevant, and put a lot more emphasis on batteries and cables.

FCS is also phasing out home study by the end of the year for the scheme, due to the observation that most engineers are audio/ kinaesthetic learners, preferring presentations or hands-on learning. McComb also explained that all updates to the course such as those required due to the changes to FCS1362 will be done via webinars.

He said FCS has added sections on communications networks and antenna theory and consolidated the material on installations into one section at the end of the course. Another change is that the two manuals have been consolidated into one. For the first time, FITAS will include continuous professional development (CPD) and it, together with examinations, will all be handled online, with the results being delivered instantly over email.

“The CPD is included. We will automatically update sections and deliver our modules as part of the scheme... After the two-day entry course, everything is delivered and tested remotely by webinar."

FITAS learning objectives:

  • The electrical principles that relate to vehicle electrical circuits
  • Vehicle electrical components
  • Automotive electrical circuits
  • Communications networks
  • Antenna theory

Designed around the FCS1362 Code of Practice

FITAS has modules for the following:

  • Digital Radio UK (Tick mark)
  • Blue Light Module (update required due to FCS1362 update)
  • Canbus Advanced
  • Hybrid/Electric Vehicles Advanced

It is also working on the following modules:

  • DVR/Side sensors, alarms for FORS/ Crossrail, Clocs
  • Manufacturer-based modules
  • Customer service
  • Succession training
  • Auditing

Further modules will include other aspects of auto electrical work

“We are working on how we can keep delivering the examination remotely but still keep the invigilator system in place. You will still need to be invigilated while being tested, we are going to keep that. We haven’t quite worked that out yet but we are working on it,” McComb said.

Public sector procurement: Getting in on the action Pateman touched on the importance of RM956 to the in-vehicle comms installer community. RM956 is the official public framework for vehicle conversions and is run by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS). According to Pateman it covers “among other things, sticking any kind of electronic [device] into any public services vehicle”. He explained that it is aimed at providing best practice and reducing duplication of effort in procurement across the public sector by giving public sector organisations a catalogue of vetted suppliers, together with streamlined terms and conditions. Adherence to FCS1362 is already the default requirement within the framework for electrical installations. The framework is in force until September 2017 and there are only nine suppliers in the framework for electrical installations (supply and fit).

“It does deliver best value if you use it and use it properly. It doesn’t cost you anything to enter it. It goes through the whole pre-qualification process for the suppliers...” said Pateman. He expects that local authorities will come under increasing financial pressure, making it harder for them not to use procurement frameworks such as RM956.

He said: “[RM956] is not a fit-for-purpose product as it currently stands. The CCS recognises this and it doesn’t have any great expectations that local authority buyers are going to come flooding to use it. But you can see the writing on the wall. It is an opportunity to make sure that you are as much as you can be to the top of the procurement list. If people are going to be forced in this direction, at least make sure you are in the specification because, if you aren’t in the framework, you’re not going to get a sniff.”

Pateman noted that it is quite onerous for SMEs to become an awarded supplier, due to the costs and the time-consuming nature of the process, and asked: “Do we need to think in terms of getting some kind of managing agent in, or a consortium?”

Pateman also spoke about the eCall initiative and the opportunity it represents to the installer community. The European Parliament has voted for eCall to be installed in all new vehicles that are sold in Europe from April 2018, to allow the automatic reporting of vehicle accidents to the emergency services.

“The concept is good. The big concern for the emergency services is how many spurious callouts will they get? From our point of view it’s a great opportunity for the aftermarket if we can sell it,” Pateman said. “The figures, depending on who you talk to, [suggest that] 700-1,500 lives a year across Europe would be saved by this technology.

“If the Government and the EU are focusing on the car manufacturers, no-one is focusing on the aftermarket. [If that’s the case] we own the route to 30 million vehicles. The downside of that is we have to make the market for those 30 million vehicle drivers to want to buy retrofit eCall units.”

He concluded: “We’ve started feeling our way towards ways in which the market could be developed and driven by the installer community. I can put in your hands a British- made eCall unit for retrofit and it will come to you for less than £50. I think selling this out as a piece-of-mind solution to the public – anyone who knows anyone who has been involved in an accident – I don’t think that’s a tough sell for £200-£250.”

Digital radio
Sam Bonham of Digital Radio UK commented that broadcast radio is in robust health, with more than 90 per cent of listeners tuning in every single week.

“For the radio industry the car is really important because more than 20 per cent of our total listening takes place in the car,” he said. Currently, 44 per cent of all radio listening is on a digital platform, and a rise to 50 per cent is part of the Government’s criteria for ordering the switchover to digital broadcast. Digital Radio UK thinks this will be reached by the end of 2017. Another key requirement is for DAB to have the same coverage as FM (97 per cent national, 90 per cent local by population), and Bonham said the aim is for this to occur in October, with the rollout being performed by Arqiva, and the threshold “definitely” being passed at the end of the year.

Sam Bonham, Digital Radio UK, talking about digital broadcast radio and its implications for in-vehicle installers; credit: Duncan Soar

He added that digital radio sales are solid – flat but not going down – and stressed the importance for installers to be able to talk about the broadcast content available through DAB radio with consumers.

Bonham also made the point that more than 80 per cent of new cars on the road have DAB radios as standard. However, he said that if the switchover happened in 2020, there would still be an aftermarket of around 15 million cars. “There’s still an opportunity there. Halfords and the franchise dealers can’t take all of that. Kwik Fit, the AA and Green Flag haven’t got into this market yet.

“You guys [in-vehicle radio comms installers] know what you’re doing, you know how to fit this and you’ve got the ability to scale up. Even if you’re not at a point now where you’re thinking ‘I’m going to start investing in promotions and about how I can take advantage of this now’, you should be thinking about it in the future.”

Bonham added that Digital Radio UK is focusing on the tick mark, a consumer-facing logo for car adaptors and products, and for installer services, which says to the consumer: “I the product or the installer know what I’m doing. In the context of the switchover [to digital] I can get you though that switchover and I will work where I should work – where there is coverage for the DAB radio or product.”

Pateman closed the day’s proceedings by reiterating the importance of FCS1362 and FITAS to FCS. “I hope you get a sense of direction here. This has always been a hugely serious enterprise for us,” he said. “We are increasingly striving to ensure that the professionalism of the installer industry is fully recognised and represented and reflected by the products in the marketplace.

“It has taken us a long time to move towards CPD. It’s been something that’s been on the stocks for three years. But we’re here and starting now.”