PMR Summit: Teltronic takes TETRA to new territories

Teltronic has scored some notable firsts recently, introducing TETRA to North America, integrating old and new TETRA networks in Malaysia, and using TETRA to support both communications and signalling for rail in Kazakhstan. James Atkinson catches up with José M Martín, chief marketing and sales officer, to find out more

PMR Summit: Teltronic takes TETRA to new territories

Teltronic has been working since February 2012 with the Malaysian firm Sapura Secured Technologies to provide a wide area TETRA network, which is due for completion by the end of the year. The network Teltronic is supplying comprises 112 base stations and three gateways situated in the Kuala Lumpur region, the most populous part of the country. 

José M Martín, Teltronic’s chief marketing and sales officer, explains that three gateways are being used because the network must ensure there is no single point of failure anywhere in the system – the Malaysian government and army are key users. 

‘It’s not just about redundancy,’ he says, ‘it’s also about being able to diversify the traffic to prevent network overload and to enable local traffic management geographically.’

However, the most remarkable aspect of the project is the gateway that Sapura and Teltronic have jointly developed. It allows the older existing TETRA public safety network to work seamlessly with the new TETRA network being supplied by Teltronic and will integrate multi-vendor platforms. 

Unique offering

‘It is the first time this has happened in the market. No one else has done this – it is unique,’ says Martín. 

‘There are a few demos or pilots like this in the world, but there is nothing in any country for emergency purposes at all. That’s why we took the lead and developed an IP-based solution, which can be connected to any other vendor’s infrastructure.’

The gateway solution means the existing TETRA network can be expanded, without incurring a costly upgrade, to ensure it works with the newer technology. In addition, the client is not locked into having to buy from a single vendor when it wants to expand.

The gateway connects to the new Teltronic system via an IP connection, while the existing older TETRA system is connected by a proxy air interface at base station level. The system also retains key TETRA functions such as end-to-end encryption. ‘So not only is the gateway the first of its kind on the market to offer seamless communications, it also supports end-to-end encryption,’ points out Martín.

He reports that Sapura is interested in commercialising the solution, as it has IP in the gateway product, and Martín is hopeful that other similar contracts will follow. 

TETRA in North America

Meanwhile, Teltronic has also been undertaking pioneering TETRA work in the USA and Canada. In North America, the company operates under the PowerTrunk brand and has headquarters in New York. 

The North American market has opened to TETRA following regulatory decisions allowing the standard to be deployed in May 2011. In December 2011, Teltronic signed the first TETRA contract in North American history. It is supplying a full system to BC Hydro, the power authority of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

In the US, PowerTrunk has recently won its first major TETRA contract for a project with the New Jersey Transit Corporation (although the pilot project began in November 2010, making it the very first TETRA project in the US). Alcatel-Lucent is the prime contractor with PowerTrunk subcontracted to supply the TETRA equipment and others undertaking the installation work.

The contract involves supplying a network to meet coverage all over the state of New Jersey, along with onboard equipment for 3,000 buses and 100 trains. 

However, the system is not quite 100% TETRA. Martín explains that to be compliant with North American emission requirements, ‘we have had to adjust one of the parameters that characterise the TETRA modulation. But the radios can still interoperate with every other TETRA radio around the world. 

‘At the moment there is still a strong legal battle,’ continues Martín, ‘because some other companies are trying to stop us and still make out that our representation is not acceptable and therefore, not permitted in the United States. We have won the first battle because our client has already received its licence from the Federal Communications Commission to use our technology.’

Kazakhstan rail voice and signalling solution

Teltronic is also claiming another first in the shape of a deal to use TETRA to support a rail signalling solution based on the European Traffic Control System (ETCS), as well as voice communications in Kazakhstan. The solution is called Radio-based Train Control (RBTC).

The contract involves the provision of TETRA land mobile radio systems for two separate sections of railway, including voice communications via onboard consoles and communications support for the signalling systems based on RBTC.

Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), which runs the national railway company, decided to use ETCS, but wanted to avoid using the normal supporting communications technology for rail – GSM-R, which European countries must use for regulatory reasons.

‘GSM-R is becoming a legacy technology and it is very expensive,’ says Martín. ‘It only works in the 900MHz band where spectrum is hard to get and the call setup time is very long. We proposed replacing GSM-R with TETRA, but of course we faced very strong resistance from the existing GSM-R vendors.’

More efficient

However, KTZ became convinced that TETRA would be more efficient because it works in the lower frequency 400MHz band where the signal propagates further, so it requires half the sites and less infrastructure equipment, thereby reducing the cost. TETRA is also four times more spectrum efficient and the call setup time is much faster than GSM-R.

‘There were doubts about TETRA’s ability to meet the UIC (International Union of Railways) requirements for ETCS, but we have integrated it with the existing products. This is the first time this has happened in the international TETRA market and also in the international ETCS market,’ reports Martín. 

The idea behind it is to make the transport of rail freight much faster across the huge distances that make up Kazakhstan’s geography. ‘They transport a lot of goods from the Chinese border to the Caspian and that distance alone is more than 3,000km. So the trains must be capable of travelling more than 200km per hour,’ points out Martín. 

Teltronic is now exploring the opportunities for using TETRA with other rail clients as a more economical alternative to GSM-R. TETRA is in use for voice communications in rail and metro systems, but it has not been used to run the supporting communications for unmanned train operations, for example. Wi-Fi is often used for this, but it has its limitations.

‘TETRA is much more reliable than Wi-Fi, but we haven’t signed anything yet. However, Kazakhstan is the evidence that TETRA can support the signalling system, as well as voice communications,’ says Martín.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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