Budapest proved to be a hit with exhibitors and visitors alike as the host city for the 2011 TETRA World Congress. The Asian contingent was thin on the ground, but that was compensated for by the large numbers of East European visitors eager to find out what benefits TETRA networks could bring them.
All the exhibitors Wireless talked to said visitor numbers were more than healthy, while the volume and quality of enquiries was good. Phil Godfrey, chairman of the TETRA Association, commented: ‘This is certainly one of the most vibrant Congress events and there is a real buzz this year. The record number of attendees demonstrates that the TETRA industry is buoyant even in these difficult economic times and our market growth remains remarkably resilient.’
Tough economic climate
The latest figures from the TETRA Association support that view. It reports that record volumes of TETRA devices were shipped in 2010. The Association also says that infrastructure has grown by 6% in terms of new deployments and by over 8% when significant network expansions are included.
Those figures seem to be borne out by the exhibitors Wireless spoke to at the Congress, virtually all of whom said business was good despite the tough global economic climate, with the Middle East, Asia and even Africa for some, proving to be rapidly expanding markets.
That said, a common theme among exhibitors was the need to respond to customer requests for help in reducing the cost of running TETRA networks. A number of solutions were on show, including base stations with greatly reduced power consumption, repeaters using software-defined radio for hardware-free upgrades and multi-functional antennas.
But the biggest question on everyone’s lips was over next generation technology: what will succeed or complement TETRA in the future, particularly when it comes to providing more sophisticated data applications and hi-res video? And indeed, the Congress’ plenary session was largely devoted to this question.
Talking to various exhibitors at the Congress, it is clear that there are a variety of views as to what will come next and how best to get there. Everyone agrees that if hi-res video becomes a mission critical application, then some kind of broadband platform will be required. Whether the future requires two separate but interoperable platforms for voice and high-speed data or a single platform is up for debate. Equally vexed is the issue of whether the broadband platform should be on private public safety spectrum or whether commercial networks can be used.
Alcatel-Lucent’s executive VP of public sector markets Matthieu Coutière is in no doubt that public safety organisations will move onto LTE for voice and data applications. ‘LTE has been created for the mass market so it can obviously do voice. But policeman are happy with TETRA voice terminals, it’s proven, so they are worried about having to rely on a new technology like LTE,’ he says.
Tom Quirke, Motorola Solutions VP and general manager, global TETRA organisation, begs to differ. In his view, TETRA has built up so many vital features that the LTE standard would have to bend out of all shape to accommodate the necessary mission critical voice requirements. In addition, commercial mobile operators are not set up to meet emergency service priorities.
Instead, Quirke argues private spectrum needs to be found for broadband services and then integrated with a TETRA or P25 voice service. ‘Everything slaves off the mission critical voice network, which is TETRA, so you need a very tight integration with the broadband network into the mission critical voice network,’ he says.
Andrea Biraghi, senior VP and deputy director for the professional communication systems business unit at SELEX Elsag, seems to agree.
‘New needs are emerging from customers, especially the requirement to transmit large amounts of data.
The TETRA standard is not suitable for this. So we need to solve the problem and investigate how we do this.
‘We’ve heard a lot of possibilities, such as LTE or WiMAX, that could be added to TETRA. But I think TETRA remains the best solution for intrinsically safe, mission critical voice transmission. Other standards such as LTE can be added for transmitting large amounts of data. This is good because it can solve the problem without too great a cost to the customer, as it is not too complicated to put these two technologies together to solve the issue,’ says Biraghi.
Returning to the theme of cost saving, Biraghi makes an interesting suggestion as to how governments can save money on public safety communications. ‘At SELEX we think that maybe the solution can be the integration of two different standards for voice: TETRA in dense urban areas and DMR in rural areas. Maybe the combination of these two standards could allow us to make networks that are compatible with investment budgets, which are available now from governments.
'For us, one of the big challenges will be the dual use of DMR and TETRA. We are a leader in both technologies, so it is the interoperability between the two systems that needs to be solved.’
Biraghi is dubious that all the applications available to mobile smartphones, including the ability to stream hi-res video on large display screens, can be crammed into a single ruggedised device capable of meeting the demands of police and firemen. Thales clearly doesn’t agree, as it launched its WiMAX-based ruggedised push to talk device at the Congress (see p30).
Others at the Congress were also keen to try and identify the way the technology was moving. Jyrki Koski, CEO of repeater manufacturer Creowave, was singing the virtues of software-defined radio (SDR), as a way of preparing for the future.
‘SDR provides flexibility for end users,’ says Koski. ‘Operators can future proof themselves by using our repeaters and if they need to change the frequency they use to meet the requirements of new technology we can provide new software without the need to replace the hardware. So, they can invest now with the confidence that they will not have to second guess how the industry will evolve technologically speaking.’
DAMM showcased its latest indoor base station, the BS411, as well as demonstrating its ability to install an advanced TETRA communications system in just 30 minutes, from unpacking the hardware components to installation and getting the full communications system up and running.
ETSA, which manufactures amplifiers, repeaters, passive equipments and instrumentation tools, was promoting two new products on the Congress: its 2W UHF frequency programmable transmitter - PMOD510001; and its associated receiver, the programmable TETRA Portable System – PMOD510007. Both products can be used to create mapping of TETRA networks. The receiver can also be used as a standalone tool for taking measurements and investigating the coverage issues. Its sensitivity goes down to 120dBm and up to -30dBm. It is intended to measure an RF level and the SNR between this level and the RF noise floor.
Finally, Sepura was showing off its new ATEX STP8X handset (see p36) as well as promoting its Radio Manager 2 – the upgrade of its radio programming and management tool. The new interface makes navigation quicker and is designed with a look and feel of a PC. The new application programming interface enables a wide variety of third party applications, such as asset databa