With the recession having seen many businesses scrap or put on hold new plans for wireless deployment, those within the enterprise market are being forced to sweat their assets for a year or two more.
Indeed, according to Ian Lockyer, marketing manager of Icom UK, this extension of the product lifecycle has led to a surge in demand for the technical and engineering services that the industry supplies.
‘Another impact of the recession,’ he says, ‘is the growth in the sale of second hand analogue radio equipment at the bottom end of the marketplace.’
On the plus side of things, there has been solid growth in digital radio sales and system products. As Lockyer reminds us, while recessions may come and go, organisations will always demand answers to pressing business issues around health and safety, staffing and communications.
‘I believe that there will be strong growth in digital sales as business customers see the benefits that digital provides,’ he adds.
For the time being though, Lockyer says Icom intends to honour its commitment to analogue and has been attempting to help customers by providing analogue radios that are digital upgradeable so that business customers have the option to upgrade when it suits them at a later date.
Like many others, Icom has big plans for digital, and as a founder member of the Digital Private Mobile Radio Memorandum of Understanding (dPMR MOU) group that created the digital protocol, it has been instrumental in its research and development.
Upon its original entry into the digital two-way market, the company’s offering was branded as IDAS (Icom Digital Advanced System).
‘Essentially,’ says Lockyer, ‘this was NXDN, a Common Air Interface (CAI) technical protocol for mobile communications developed jointly by Icom Incorporated and Kenwood Corporation.’
So, in order to promote the NXDN protocol in North and South America that would subsequently be rolled out globally, the NXDN Forum was created.
As Lockyer explains, the subtle differences between the way in which NXDN works and what the European market is accustomed to led Icom to develop dPMR for the European market.
‘We see this running alongside the NXDN product range that we have at the moment,’ he adds.
Lockyer says that dPMR is virtually identical to NXDN save its cousins’ North American nuances and is divided into four product categories: dPMR446, Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3. based on the sophistication of customer needs.
Right now, Lockyer says that Icom is currently the only manufacturer to have a digital licence-free product on the market for simple peer-to-peer operation, so if a company is looking for simple, yet secure digital communications – such as a school or golf course – then dPMR446 is the answer for them.
‘If, however, a customer based in areas such as on building sites, within a shopping centre, hotels or sports centre requires a licensed, more powerful alternative where repeaters are not required, then dPMR Tier 1 offers simple, back-to-back, easily implemented radio functionality for such local area coverage,’ he adds.
Lockyer explains that dPMR Tier 2, the standard licensed PMR version that includes all base station and repeater functionality allowing interfaces via gateways, will be popular for those business and industrial users or local government services where a normal repeater coverage area is adequate.
‘dPMR Tier 3, which is on its way, will offer multi-site complex systems suited to large business, industry or government services where wide area multi-site, multi-channel, trunked repeaters are required,’ he adds.
By offering dPMR as well as NXDN, Lockyer believes customers get more choice over existing common hardware and this in turn opens up more potential segments for the company and its dealers.
‘dPMR uses the same hardware as current IDAS radios, which means that all Icom IDAS equipment currently available is upgradeable to dPMR,’ he adds. ‘The dPMR range is virtually identical featuring handhelds, mobiles and repeaters, all of which are capable of providing the same digital benefits of digital and analogue mixed mode operation, 6.25KHz spectrum efficient channel spacing, outstanding audio, superb noise cancelling properties and secure communication.’
With the new dPMR variant offering all the existing benefits of IDAS NXDN radio, including clear digital audio, more channels and less interference, Lockyer says it will offer a more traditional European style interface. And, of course, with all current Icom IDAS NXDN digital models being upgradeable to dPMR, he believes costs should be identical.
Yet even with the current noise and activity being made within the dPMR space, Lockyer believes there is still a real need for those within the community to actively go out, educate, push and raise market awareness.
‘We need to promote the benefits to encourage change and drive more demand,’ he says.
While this will involve much work on the ground, in the way of advertising and activity on the web, Lockyer believes that the most important part of the process will be how companies such as Icom UK get the dPMR message over to dealers.
‘The dealer equation is massively important to us,’ he adds. ‘Icom UK has been trading for over 30 years and we still have customers who were there at the beginning. We know that without them, we would not be where we are today.’
However, once the message is out there and the market better educated, Lockyer says that digital will start to take over.
‘Quite simply, when business customers get used to the idea and nuances of digital radio, they will never look back at analogue,’ he adds.
In addition, Lockyer feels that by wrapping this up with its system products, security management systems and guard tour systems, Icom and its IDAS portfolio remains well positioned to provide solutions for those businesses who want to improve both productivity and health and safety, such as opening up opportunities in the facilities management, education and security markets.
Lockyer is well aware of the changing nature of the marketplace, and while he believes we will stillsee local dealers providing important local services, he feels the market over the past few years has been characterised by consolidation in both size and expertise.
This, he says, has left new companies spread across the UK providing an increasing range of services while also being capable of specialising in the design of sophisticated digital radio systems. And with dPMR now incorporated into its IDAS range, he sees good things ahead for Icom within the commercial digital sector.
‘As well as being able to provide radio solutions for customers in the maritime, avionic, amateur radio and consumer marketplaces, we now have a comprehensive range of models that include digital products from digital 446, dual analogue and digital models right up to digital security management systems, digital trunking and complex IP-based virtual radios,’ he adds.