The choice between radio technologies is less of a battle and more about equipping organisations with the most suitable wireless capabilities for their needs. After all, the market is big enough for multiple standards to co-exist and vendors are positioning themselves either to specialise in serving specific types of organisation or to create portfolios that can address everybody’s needs.
‘We understand that in this digital crossover, it can be confusing for customers,’ says Ian Lockyer, the marketing manager of Icom UK. ‘There is a broad choice with multiple standards out there such as dPMR, DMR, P25 and multiple brands as well. All the manufacturers are conducting very slick, sophisticated campaigns in an attempt to attract customers from core markets such as education, transport, facilities management, construction and others.
‘I think that customers are getting used to the differences between analogue and digital and would say that the two-way digital product, whether it is dPMR or DMR, has reached the first stage of market maturity,’ says Lockyer.
Mike Atkins, the managing director for communications at Kenwood’s European headquarters, agrees that vendors are targeting specific users with specific technologies. Kenwood itself has been offering Nexedge, its version of NXDN, for more than five years and has found a strong market for that standard in the US. However, Atkins is keen to point out that in Europe the ETSI specification for DMR was being forged at around the time NXDN was being rolled out in the US, so two standards exist.
‘Our strategy is that we’re just about to launch our dPMR version of Nexedge and the DMR version will come next,’ he says. ‘We want to offer all the technologies because they bring different things to each user. We want to give customers what they want rather than force them down a particular technical route. We’re not prioritising Nexedge because it has been hugely successful for us in the US, we recognize different users and different regions have different requirements.’
Lockyer at Icom is adopting a similar strategy. ‘The Icom IDAS umbrella brand currently offers a diverse range of solutions from simple peer-to-peer, licence-free digital [radio] to Tier 2 repeater enabled systems with voice recording, IP dispatch and other functionality,’ he says. ‘We are shortly to introduce multi-site dPMR Mode 3 trunking and have interest from many parties.’
Lockyer says dPMR Mode 3 consists of Icom’s dPMR Mode 3 capable IDAS series radios and repeaters together with Fylde Micro’s MultiLingo controller. ‘The initial Mode 3 capability will be a trunked and networked radio system ranging in size from a single site up to a 16 site multi-site trunking operation, although further enhancements are planned,’ he adds.
‘The Icom/Fylde solution will also be unique in the fact that it will offer an immediate migration path from MPT to dPMR without the requirement of any MPT operation in the IDAS terminals,’ says Lockyer. ‘The Fylde controller will have the capability to encode or decode analogue MPT signals to and from digital dPMR signals and vice versa. This provides the advantage of not requiring a parallel infrastructure set up to allow an MPT and the dPMR digital system to work together.’
Atkins is convinced it is right for multiple standards to be brought to market, even though some would prefer to see a single standard. ‘NXDN has been massively successful in large WAN projects, while in the EU TETRA has for many years been the product for emergency services,’ he says. ‘However, in developing countries TETRA is too expensive to cover wide areas.’
‘We will be offering TETRA and dPMR and DMR and NXDN,’ adds Atkins. ‘A lot of people criticise that and would say there should only be one technology but, just as there are lots of different operating systems on mobile phones, there can be different standards in the radio market. We don’t get hung up about different markets requiring different solutions, but the downside is that there can be some confusion.’
Lockyer at Icom agrees. ‘Some manufacturers seem to assume that there is just one choice for the customer,’ he says. ‘There are so many variants to consider when a customer or dealer makes their two-way radio choice. Those include product characteristics, price, availability, dependability of supply, reputation, corporate culture, trading history and importantly level of service and support. We find that it is the trade customer who normally specifies the radio system and they will normally make their own choice.’
Atkins thinks those that champion a particular approach may do so only because they have developed solutions for only one technology. ‘Some manufacturers, because they’ve only got one technology, further the [single standard] debate but it’s not a road we want to go down – we don’t want to force users down a road that isn’t right for them.’
A mature view of balancing the relative merits of each technology for each deployment is likely to become the norm and dealers will play an important role in educating the market and dispelling any multi-standard confusion. ‘Every technology will have its advantages and disadvantages,’ confirms Lockyer. ‘It is very much down to the dealer to provide the right solution for the customer.’
Atkins also sees the reseller channel as critical in ensuring that customers get the most appropriate equipment. He worries that the number of options available can create confusion in the channel but thinks the vendors can address that. ‘Even resellers can become a little unclear [about the advantages of each technology],’ he says, ‘but choice is something we, as an industry, need to provide.’
Educating the dealers and resellers then becomes just one further step on the path to maturity of the various radio standards. Ultimately, it is the users who will reap the benefits of having access to the technology best suited to their needs.