Converged solutions

TTG CEO Mike Norfield tells Wireless editor James Atkinson what the Telecommunications Group, and in particular its PMR business Simoco, can offer customers, and what sets it apart from its competitors

Converged solutions

TTG (Team Telecom Group) has been on the acquisition trail recently, particularly on the consultancy side, but CEO Mike Norfield says that the Group now has the skill sets it needs to offer a comprehensive product and service portfolio to its customers. The focus is now on leveraging the skills in each business to the benefit of those customers.

TTG now comprises three businesses: Affini – a specialist integrator of infrastructure technology and mobile communications with a particular strength in aviation; Indigo Telecom Group – a support services company specialising in the planning, design, building and maintenance of carrier-class telecommunications networks; and Simoco Group – the professional mobile radio (PMR) communications specialist with a 60 year heritage stemming from its Pye Telecommunications and Philips days.

The acquisition of C&C Technology and Red-M added a wider upstream consultancy expertise to the Air Radio systems integration offering. ‘This is key for us,’ says Norfield. ‘When you look at the drivers for us, technical advantage is one of them; the ability to converge technologies is another; but our key strength is that we do a lot of things, not just in PMR, but in cellular, PABX and other technologies, for a lot of customers across a wide geographic area.’

‘What that means is, if a customer has an issue that needs solving, such as how do we communicate better at airports, we have sister companies operating in that area, who can explain exactly what the customer’s concerns, needs and issues are, and help the other TTG businesses align themselves to provide the right solution.’

Unique architecture

Providing the right technology solution to meet the customer’s needs is paramount in the TTG approach, along with combining all the Group areas of expertise to reduce customers’ total cost of ownership. Focusing on standards based, interoperable and software upgradable systems is a key competitive strength for the group. 

Simoco and Affini have invested considerable R&D effort in finding ways to deliver this. One solution is the Affini Cloud, of which more later, while the other is the development of an all-IP platform and distributed architecture for Simoco Group’s PMR products. 

‘If you look at the design of our DMR radio system and later our P25 system, it is an all-IP infrastructure,’ says Norfield. ‘This in itself is not unique, but we have combined the benefits of this approach with a uniquely distributed architecture in which the management functions of the radio system are implemented in software and distributed,’ he says. ‘This makes our systems easier to implement, more resilient and much more cost effective than other systems on the market today.’

Simoco’s view is that its technology has got to fit with the customer’s existing communications systems and processes, so that when a client buys its products it is not forced to replace or upgrade its existing infrastructure. That keeps the customer’s total cost of ownership down.

Customise

Norfield points to Simoco’s work with Western Power Distribution in the UK as an example. It was able to take a huge amount of cost out of WPD’s infrastructure, because Simoco’s Xfin system is IP and could hook on to WPD’s existing IP network. 

‘That meant we didn’t need land lines, point-to-point links, switching equipment, trunk control, site control or line controllers and that took out a huge amount of cost,’ says Norfield.

The ability to provide customised solutions for individual clients off the back of its standard platform is another key aspect of Simoco’s approach to the market. In utilities, for example, Simoco is able to replace existing SCADA network technology by putting in rural modems for data over a customer’s existing PMR network. ‘Why put another layer in there, if you can transmit data over your existing voice network?’ says Norfield.

Technology convergence and interoperability between different technologies is one of the big themes in the wireless market today, and this is where TTG’s Affini Cloud solution comes in. 

‘It is a true IP-based technology held in the Affini Cloud and it is our intellectual property,’ says Norfield. ‘It gives us not just the opportunity to provide advanced applications across a DMR customer’s system, for example, but it will also provide a full interoperable standard across different technologies. 

‘It won’t matter if you are using TETRA, DMR, dPMR or P25, as you can connect all of your users together. But we take it wider to cover cellular and PABX. Many customers use that kind of technology far more often than PMR,’ he points out. 

‘So, it is not just about PMR,’ he emphasises. ‘It is about the convergence of different technologies. We are really focused on convergence, because this is the future and it reduces the customer’s cost of ownership.’

Digital migration

The Affini Cloud also provides a migration path from current technologies to digital. A customer can continue to use an MPT1327 analogue system, but communicate with new wireless standards. This allows him or her to manage the migration to digital standards at his own pace and at one that suits his budget. 

Simoco’s analogue, P25 and DMR is all its own technology, although it does use OEMs for its TETRA range, largely for historical reasons (the TETRA part of Simoco became Sepura at the time Team Telecom took over the company in 2002). 

Like a number of manufacturers, Simoco sat on the fence over whether to opt for dPMR or DMR, but in the end felt that DMR’s TDMA technology and the potential for re-using existing 12.5KHz frequency allocations, lent itself to being less disruptive for users of existing systems and a better fit for other technologies in the future.

‘DMR is an open ETSI standard and I think the best standard and that is the way we are going,’ says Norfield firmly. He speculates that DMR is more likely to reach a critical mass among customers than dPMR and that may make the latter’s future more difficult to sustain.

Norfield is confident that many analogue users will convert to digital over the next few years, be that DMR, dPMR, P25 or even TETRA in certain areas. ‘We’ve hedged our bets on DMR becoming a big replacement for the analogue market, specifically in the Tier III trunked market, where big systems will need trunked capability because of spectrum constraints,’ he says.

All of Simoco’s DMR Tier II equipment is designed to be software upgradable to DMR Tier III. ‘We thought it was so important to provide a migration path from Tier II to Tier III, so that customers who have invested in Tier II radios, but who then grow their networks into larger systems, can keep their radios and we will upgrade them to Tier III,’ says Norfield, adding that Simoco’s DMR Tier III range will launch later in 2013.

Expansion

The launch of the Xd DMR II range in November 2012 also coincided with all the global PMR businesses coming under the Simoco brand. This now comprises Simoco America; Simoco EMEA; and Simoco Australasia. 

If new acquisitions are not on the cards at the moment, geographic expansion most certainly is. America is a particular focus at the moment, along with the Middle East and surprisingly Georgia, where a new office is opening up on the back of work done for the country’s telecoms regulator.

Summing up, Norfield says: ‘We are back and we are all about delivering the best customer service, the lowest cost of ownership, and the best technology. This is where we differentiate ourselves: we take a much more commercial view of what our customers’ needs are.’

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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