‘Twenty five percent of all TETRA systems that have ever been deployed have been deployed in Asia,’ says, Phil Kidner, chairman of the TETRA Association, revealing the industry’s area of biggest growth. ‘If you look at all the metros, airports, public safety and the like, you’ll see it being used extensively,’ he adds.
Indeed, Kidner is keen to remind us that TETRA continues to enjoy success in many markets today. And with South America still competing head-on with the very similar P25 technology, he is viewing the US and Canadian markets with particular interest.
Around 15 months ago the TETRA Association, encouraged by the FCC, applied for a waiver to the analogue masks used in the US. Although it is still awaiting the results of this, Kidner says he remains optimistic that he’ll see a signature on the paper (see News on p10 for the answer).
‘In order to take a standard technology to the US it has to be FCC-approved and they have some rules which were originally based on analogue radio because they date back that far and the TETRA digital standard doesn’t quite fit,’ he adds.
‘It’s so slight where it doesn’t fit that it’s almost imperceptible. This was published on Christmas Eve 2009 for consultation and there were some objections based on fear of interference, but there were no technical objections and we’ve answered all points raised in the public consultation and are hopeful the waiver will happen soon.’
In the meantime, TETRA vendors have been running pilots in the US and Canada.
Back in May 2009 it was announced that BC Hydro, the third-largest electric utility in Canada, would trial a TETRA system, using equipment from Teltronic subsidiary, PowerTrunk,
and the UK’s Sepura.
‘Clearly they look to be compatible with the US so we’re optimistic we’ll get those changes in the same time frame as the [US] waiver,’ adds Kidner. ‘BC Hydro have gone out to tender and we know that TETRA vendors have responded to that tender and are currently evaluating responses to this.’
In the US, PowerTrunk has also teamed with NJ TRANSIT, the largest statewide transportation system in the US, for a TETRA land mobile radio network (LMR) pilot in Newark, New Jersey consisting of a two-site network including PowerTrunk-T base stations, mobiles, hand portables, a line dispatcher and a switch to integrate a legacy VHF system.
NJ TRANSIT provides bus, rail and light rail transit linking major points in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia, and has a fleet of 2,027 buses, 711 trains and 45 light rail vehicles which take passengers on more than 223 million trips each year.
Although the trial network allowed NJ TRANSIT buses to communicate using voice and data, the current network limits available data bandwidth and is not spectrally efficient, according to Kidner. The trial TETRA network provided higher data bandwidth and 6.25kHz voice equivalency that will meet future FCC narrow-banding requirements.
Kidner says that a similar trial has also seen Sepura, Rohde & Schwarz Professional Mobile Radio and Nielson Communications combine for a TETRA demonstration project comprising three IP-connected base stations and more than 30 Sepura TETRA radios, which went live in Green Bay, Wisconsin in January.
As such, he reasons that TETRA looks set to make a big splash in the US when it finally gets the nod. ‘It will make a huge difference because America is a huge market and that will lead to further developments and driving down of costs,’ he adds.
‘Over there, spectrum tends to be a national issue. It’s different in Europe where we’re looking for a harmonised spectrum where we can have interoperability with current systems. In the US there aren’t quite the same drivers. It would probably be individual non-public safety companies implementing TETRA systems and that spectrum would be implemented by the US people.
‘All we want is for users to have the choice,’ he says. ‘That’s our driver really. We have people who still come to us today who say they’re very interested in TETRA, wish they had it in the US but can’t. They ask, “what can we do about it?”’
So far this year, Kidner says the big story has been LTE, not only driven by public systems but also by what’s happening in the US, where it looks like there will be spectrum and money for LTE systems and big communications companies, both with the cellular world and the LAN mobile world getting together to deliver products for them.
‘I see that as leading the way forward and we have to be doing similar here. And of course, for several years in fact now, the TETRA Association has taken the lead in trying to identify spectrum for broadband communication, maybe knowing that TETRA is not going to go in this spectrum, but at least trying to identify it for our existing users,’ he adds.
‘So, whatever the technology is, whether it’s broadband, TETRA or LTE, there will be spectrum available. And so far we’ve failed. I think the European countries need to find some harmonised spectrum one way or another and we’re working hard and trying to do that.’
Even so, Kidner still sees TETRA as having quite a long future simply because there is no other voice communications system that compares with it for critical communications users.
‘I want them to have broadband to meet whatever their broadband requirements are and that’s why we’re working with Etsi to deliver that with TETRA, but that depends on spectrum and finance being available,’ he says. ‘Clearly the future is either broadband TETRA or TETRA interoperating with broadband. That’s the next step in the TETRA evolutionary path.
‘If you talk about professional radio users - blue light at one end and construction at the other - there’s this long continuim and there are lots of technologies targeted at different parts of that spectrum,’ he adds.
Kidner says that while TETRA technology is scalable across the whole professional user side of things and dominated by public safety systems, there is scope for plenty more in terms of applications. ‘We see railways, buses, taxis, metros, utilities, stadia and ports because TETRA is ideally suited for anyone working in groups,’ he adds. ‘There’s huge potential for TETRA outside public safety and of course the other thing to consider is that there are large parts of the world that are likely to want TETRA systems.’