How to control your airwave costs

Andrew Walker, head of applications development at Syntech Systems Ltd, shows how you can use readily available data to help plan your communications strategy, set budgets and control costs

How to control your airwave costs

With the Budget cuts about to bite – hard – intelligent management and planning are going to be vital in the ongoing struggle to maintain or increase existing service levels while reducing costs.

As far as the charge for the Airwave service is concerned, most organisations are operating at a simple level of process maturity, a level often characterised as ‘competent people and heroics’, although sometimes rather more harshly as ‘processes unpredictable, poorly controlled and reactive’ (cf Capability Maturity Model Integration – CMMI).

In practice, today organisations may be comparing monthly traffic reports from the Airwave Service Management Terminal (SMT) or looking at the equivalent calculation from the Airwave Call Detail Records (CDRs), but they probably aren’t doing much more.

Recent work undertaken here at Syntech shows that it is possible to analyse an organisation’s use of Airwave to reveal how, when and where costs are being incurred, and provide a detailed breakdown of those costs. Armed with this knowledge, it is possible to make a communications plan showing expected levels of spend. It is possible to set budgets.

It is also possible to monitor actual behaviour against this plan, and identify and deal with the variations through training or control. These techniques allow an organisation to operate at a much higher level of process maturity, characterised as ‘continuous process improvement’. More importantly, they allow an organisation to control costs, improve efficiency, and (most importantly) save money.

Airwave charging structure

The part of the Bill that can most easily be controlled or reduced is Additional Traffic. (See sidebar, “Airwave Charges p38”). ‘Additional Traffic’ charges for the capacity an organisation needs. Airwave has an obligation to deliver a specified Grade of Service, so when an organisation starts to demand (through use) more capacity than is currently available, Airwave has to provide it.

The more capacity an organisation uses, the more it pays.

The goal therefore is to reduce Additional Traffic as much as possible within the boundaries of normal operational use. During extensive analysis of one police service’s traffic patterns, a number of different cost reduction strategies were considered, including attacking the Busy Hour directly, the use of Status Messages, and the use of Point to Point calls. The most productive strategy concerned the use of Talkgroups.

Understand your Talkgroups

Most Airwave traffic is carried by Talkgroups. Talkgroups are used to keep many people informed. These people will be geographically separated. Each Base Site that carries the Talkgroup will contribute to the Talkgroup traffic.

Some Talkgroups are ‘functional’; intended for use by people carrying out a specific function, for example, Roads Policing or Tactical Firearms. Some Talkgroups are ‘geographic’, intended for use by people working in a particular geographic area. In either case, the more sites the Talkgroup
uses during a call, the more traffic it will generate.

Sophisticated analytical techniques reveal how many sites a Talkgroup is carried on during each block of four contiguous fifteen minute periods. The results are surprising. Both the spread and variation can be far larger than expected. This is where unexpected additional traffic is being generated, and it’s not easy to spot using ‘traditional’ methods. Apparently, well behaved Talkgroups have been shown to occupy 50% more sites than expected on a regular basis.

These techniques also identify so-called ‘Passive Listening’ (when a site carries a Talkgroup, but is not used to create a call or actively participate in one).

So, what can you do with this new knowledge? Develop a model based on what you expect your major Talkgroups to be doing. Identify the sites to carry geographic Talkgroups. Budget for the number of sites to carry functional Talkgroups.

The model can then use any previous year’s traffic to show how your numbers affect the Additional Traffic, and what the cost difference is. Now you can assess the impact of your plan, and further refine it.

Continuous process improvement

These techniques mean that you are able to split the Additional Traffic into two component parts, budgeted and unbudgeted.

Budgeted Additional Traffic is the logical cost of your communications plan. When you change it, you will be able to assess the savings or additional costs involved.

Unbudgeted traffic is the logical cost of Talkgroups not behaving according to plan. The causes for this can be identified and addressed on a month by month basis.

Remember, the Additional Traffic your organisation produces this year will set next year’s Airwave bill. You should be actively monitoring your traffic each month, noting changes, and responding accordingly. This is most important during any organisational changes which affect the communications plan.

Remember that the Peak is based on a 90-day rolling average. You may have time to react to changing circumstances, but the clock is ticking…

Airwave charges: How the Airwave Bill is structured

For most organisations, the Airwave Bill covers the three key service areas described in the original contract

• The Core Service provides a guaranteed level of radio coverage, an allowance for radio traffic up to a certain amount and other key services.

• Menu Exclusive Services cover additional features that an organisation may have from Airwave, including extra radio coverage and capacity, and Additional Traffic charges.

• Menu Competitive Services cover additional features that an organisation may have from Airwave or others, including handheld terminals and control room equipment.

Andrew has been involved in the design and construction of test systems and the analysis of communications data for over 10 years in the TETRA arena. He has experience of working with many organisations, both in the UK and overseas.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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