FCS calls for apprenticeship scheme for the business radio industry

This year’s Federation of Communication Services Business Radio event outlined proposals for a business radio apprenticeship, as well as hearing reports from Ofcom, digital radio manufacturers, B-APCO and others. James Atkinson reports

FCS calls for apprenticeship scheme for the business radio industry

In this report:

1 Chris Pateman, CEO, FCS reviews 2013 and looks at the challenges ahead 

2 Ray Snowdon, PDS Group, on the proposed business radio apprenticeship scheme

3 David Read, business development director, Affini, on meeting the changing needs of traditional business radio users

4 Chris Cant, product and solution specialist, Tait Communications on the advantages of digital radio

5 Tim Clark, director radio product & accessories, Motorola Solutions on installing a DMR system at Wimbledon Tennis Club

6 Jonathan Bunce, marketing officer, Simoco, on the benefits of DMR Tier III trunking systems

7 Sam Hunt, director, Maxxwave on PMR wide area networks in the UK

8 Ofcom on licence compliance and spectrum policy

9 Sue Lampard, president, British APCO on finding common ground with the FCS


FCS view of the business radio industry

Introducing the Federation of Communication Services’ (FCS) Business Radio 2103 event on 14 November 2013, Chris Pateman, CEO, FCS (pictured above) called on the industry to help develop a business radio apprenticeship, which can be delivered in the workplace and still attract taxpayer funding.

He argued that an apprenticeship scheme is needed because the industry is facing a ‘demographic time bomb’ of aging radio engineers and radio site installers and new blood is needed to keep the industry going (for more on the proposed apprenticeship scheme, see below).

Earlier this year, the FCS launched its FCS1331 Code of Practice designed to set a quality benchmark for radio site engineering in the UK. It provides a best practice guide from start to finish for any radio installation, including licence applications and help with tender documents. For more information on FCS1331click here.

Reviewing the year, Pateman noted that the latest spectrum auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz and been sold to ‘the usual suspects’ (mobile operators and BT) leaving nothing for future use, particularly broadband applications, by public safety organisations, business critical industries or the business radio community in general.

Pateman referred to the Government’s current Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), which aims to replace the public safety Airwave narrowband TETRA two-way radio service with some form of broadband network.

He pointed out that it is not just the emergency services that would like access to broadband services, noting that the UK’s railways, ports, airports and utilities ‘have much in common’ in terms of wanting reliable, secure communications. But he added that this need extends to even more industries. ‘The electronic payments industry need low latency, resilience, security and reliable connectivity as well,’ he pointed out.

He continued: ‘The Government persists with its “no reserved spectrum for CNI” policy and has given a clear direction to abandon Airwave. It has adopted a Gadarene “it will all be alright on the night” commitment to LTE for the emergency services’ future communication requirements running on commercial networks.’

Pateman argued that placing emergency services’ communications in the hands of commercial operators is a risky decision. ‘O2 withdraws from the B2B broadband space, so every router with every customer needs to be reconfigured. This is what happens when you put your trust in commercial mobile operators. It is not their fault; they are pandering to shareholders and corporate needs, not customers.’

Turning to European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes’ proposals for a ‘Connected Continent’, Pateman observed: ‘The EU is thinking it knows better than us and therefore we should give them the right to impose platforms on us and “empower the Commission” - for example, the presumption that four or five pan-European mobile operators would be good for Europe, like the US and China. No it wouldn’t – we want a vibrant and competitive mobile market.’


Proposed Business Radio Apprenticeship Scheme

Ray Snowdon from apprenticeship consultancy PDS Group outlined how business radio apprenticeships might work in the UK and help head off the demographic time bomb described by FCS CEO Chris Pateman above.

He began by asking: ‘How many young people (or even teachers) know any of the brands in the PMR industry? It is a niche industry. So the challenge for business radio is: how does it inspire and engage future generations to take this industry forward?’

He said that the proposed business radio apprenticeship scheme needs to be based in the workplace and designed around the needs of the employer – the college of knowledge, as he described it. The question is: can the industry craft an offer that will attract young people?

Snowdon said that an apprenticeship needs to be framed around the requirement to learn the necessary skills, but also the ability to be able to practice what you are being taught. Key aspects of the framework include: personal learning and thinking skills; competency qualification; and knowledge qualification, among others.

The apprenticeship needs to flip the traditional classroom way of teaching, said Snowdon. Children now pull down knowledge, rather than have it pushed at them. For apprentices, one of the best ways to learn is from experienced colleagues on the job, he noted.

‘So for telecoms, we have predominantly designed apprenticeships around on-line delivery,’ explained Snowdon. This comprises:

  • Technical training
  • On the job learning
  • On site assessment every six weeks.

PDS Group will assist companies to recruit apprentices. Snowdon added: ‘It is a different world recruiting 16-19 year olds.’

He concluded by saying that the apprenticeship needs to be set up so that it becomes a springboard to a career by galvanizing a young person’s interest. He also said that it needs to be cost effective for the employer and be able to start whenever it suits the business in a roll on/roll off manner.


Affini on adapting to meet the changing needs of traditional business radio users

David Read, business development director at Affini, part of the TTG (Team Telecom Group) gave a keynote address on how his company has had to adapt to meet the changing demands of business radio users.

He explained that Affini’s customers were looking for integrated, reliable unified communication systems that gave them access to the Internet and social media and enabled real-time decision making.

Affini’s background is largely in push-to-talk radio for, in particular, customers at airports, but as Read pointed out the rest of the world is moving to IP technology and Cloud models. In addition, customer workforces are becoming increasingly mobile.

‘There are approximately 1.7 billion mobile workers worldwide and about 20m PTT devices. That’s a barrier, as they can’t access broadband applications and services on traditional PTT technology.

‘So, there is a need for more than just reliable voice. There is a need for a platform that can access real-time information from multiple devices and systems (both new and legacy). But customers still want the benefits of PTT and access to broadband services,’ said Read.

The original core of Affini was AirRadio, which provided managed services by owning and operating 20-plus narrowband PMR, trunked networks. But increasingly those customers wanted access not just to the broadband mobile world, but they also required integration with their IT systems.

‘They wanted field and product applications that drove better performance, more COTS products and equipment, more integration with back office systems and support for a company IT strategy that allowed them to build scale,’ said Read

The company bought C&C Technology Consulting, which specialised in IT strategy and architectures, data centres and desktop solutions. This helped us better understand and define the future needs of business radio customers,’ said Read.

It then acquired Red-M, a wireless consulting business with both cellular and PMR technical know-how. The three companies combined in 2013 to become Affini.

Read said: ‘We can now organically address customer needs as a specialist systems integrator.’

He summarised the changing market that led to a changing business strategy for Affini, as follows:

  • 2003-2009: Analogue PMR and PTT
  • 2009-2011: IP-enabled core and mobile devices
  • 2012-2013: WAN and apps integration
  • 2014-2015: Connected intelligence – telemetry, audio analytics, social media, integrated feed, full WAN connectivity, BYOD etc.

‘Customer environments today are a collection of systems, apps, network infrastructures and devices with little interoperability and integration between them,’ Read pointed out.

To address this Affini’s new value proposition is centred around connected technology: the capability to enable the delivery of real-time communications to radio and mobile devices utilising real-time information feeds from business systems and apps via radio, mobile and telephony.

‘Within our key aviation context, this allows us to leverage core knowledge to provide a seamless integration of communication systems to address a landscape of multi-tenanted and landlord environment at airports,’ summarised Read.

He added that Affini is now targeting new markets such as energy, transportation, healthcare, public safety, Government, public safety, security and public venues.


Tait on the advantages of DMR digital radio systems

Christine Cant, product and solution specialist at Tait Communications, argued: ‘There is something for everyone with DMR. There are a lot more vendors now. It is not just a European standard, but one that has been adopted globally and is being used by many verticals and markets.

‘The standard lends itself very well to integration, as there is a lot of convergence with other technologies. You get more data and less latency, and where DMR cannot address that directly, it can work with other technologies to do so,’ she said.

Tait unveiled its DMR Tier III system in 2012 and this year has introduced its Access single site and Express one to six site solutions. It has also showcased its DMR Tier II solution, which uses a Selex ES base station – and is marketing is quad band digital radios, which are capable of being used on analogue conventional, MPT 1327 analogue trunking, DMR Tier II and Tier III systems.

Tait’s strategy for key applications is to partner with third parties. For dispatch consoles it is working with: Avtec (Scout); Zetron (Max/Acom);  and Omnitronics (Reditalk). For media recording (voice and metadata): Eventide; Exacom; and for AVL and WFM: Clevest; Tallysman.

Other applications include:

  • BioLink: a body worn harness that remotely monitors via Bluetooth the well-being of you infield teams including heart rate, breathing, temperature and body position
  • Flo-link: uses existing DMR networks to provide precise control of devices in real time
  • GridLink: two-way communications for grid automation on electric distribution networks, which supports SCADA protocols and connects to RDUs controlling switches or radios.

Finally, Cant described the company’s Tait Total Connect application, which looks like theGridLink modem and has the ability to intelligently make a choice of what communications pathway you use by analysing what’s available for the user’s particular need –voice or data; critical/non-critical; what data rate is required; bandwidth requirement etc.

It can also be used as a vehicle router and intelligently decides which communication medium to use depending on what the user is trying to do.


Motorola Solutions on installing a DMR system at Wimbledon

Tim Clark, director radio product & accessories, Motorola Solutions (Europe and Africa) said: ‘Digital does the basics better than analogue and brings new capabilities,’ he said. ‘For example, transmit interrupt (even though the user may still have his fingers on the PTT button).

‘It also brings additional functionality: you can scale from small to large systems – single site to nationwide – using the IP backbone. We’ve noticed that more customers are doing this and they are also adopting more value added applications.’

Clark described a Motorola Mototrbo project for the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) at Wimbledon in south London. The mission was to upgrade the radio communications to provide site-wide coverage with 100% availability and a telemetry capability.

Challenges included providing coverage in tunnels and overcoming the high RF noise floor from 2,500 media staff with RF cameras and microphone links and high crowd noise.

Wimbledon has more than 1,000 radio users across 48-talk groups, so a high capacity radio system was needed therefore. The communications solution also had to be able to scale with the plans for future expansion and the tennis court irrigation system needed to be managed remotely using a telemetry system.

Clark explained that the UK’s emergency service radio network operator, Airwave, was the official supplier. Airwave worked with Servicom (the single business partner delivering the solution) which in turn chose a Motorola Mototrbo solution. Ofcom also had a very important role in ensuring the frequencies were available and in cleaning up the RF environment around Wimbledon.

The Mototrbo Capacity Plus trunking solution was selected, which links repeaters via an IP network to provide enough capacity for all the users. During the year, that means approximately 150 radios, but this jumps  up to 1,100 during the main Wimbledon tournament.

Mototrbo DP4000 radios were chosen for the staff, while managers used the smaller SL4000 radio, as did security guards in VIP areas. For the irrigation telemetry, the radios linked into the RF to provide the control over the air.

Eight DR3000 repeaters located at two different sites were deployed, one for redundancy with backup power, which goes up in 90 seconds if the main site goes down. Other features included: RF over fibre to provide coverage across the site; repeater diagnostic and control RDAC.

Radio management features include over the air programming and TRBO net, which enables repeaters to be reconfigured remotely over the air. Clark said that peak loading reached 38,000 calls in one day and there were no dropped calls and no complaints.

Ongoing enhancements include: an alarm management app to be integrated (if the fire alarm goes a message will be paged directly to the radios); a work ticketing app; an indoor and outdoor location tracking app; and the Mototrbo Anywhere solution, which simulates a Mototrbo radio on a mobile device, so staff can keep in touch via the 3G network when off site on their smartphone.


Simoco on the benefits of DMR Tier III trunking systems

Jonathan Bunce, marketing officer, Simoco outlined the benefits of DMR Tier III Trunking systems, explaining that customers need to do more – such as integrate communications, business processes, voice and data services, but with less, so systems need to be simpler, cheaper and easier to operate.

He identified the core benefits of DMR Tier III as:

  • Spectrum efficiency
  • Resilience – loss of a channel doesn’t mean loss of the system
  • Capacity – especially cost per capacity – will allow users to operate more efficiently and assign capacity more easily
  • Fast call set up for one to many calls: broadcast, dynamic groups, prioritisation, operational subsystem.

The wider benefits include:

  • Subscriber management (stun, kill and revive, lost or stolen radios remotely)
  • Radio usage data (audit trail) - where are customers using the radio, when, how, what are they using – information collected now – business su???
  • More than just voice – use of data
  • IP integration.

Bunce then explained what this means for the end user of a DMR Tier III system, as follows:

  • Available - resources must be there when they are required
  • Reliable – traditionally this meant redundant switches etc – increases cost and operational expense
  • Cost effective
  • Flexible – can it adapt to changing needs, changing nature of users, can a site be added without adding another switch or altering the architecture?
  • Connected – does it use a standard protocol to interact; does it allow the radio network to be a subsystem that connects to wider networks
  • And invisible! Most people are unaware of the infrastructure behind the device – why should PMR radio users be any different?

DMR offers many of the above benefits at a fraction of the cost of high end systems such as TETRA and P25, from which it took a lot of learning. Potential pitfalls, according to Bunce, include how to reduce points of vulnerability, as single points of failure are not tolerable. Support costs such as training and spares need to be considered and manufacturer lock-in due to proprietary elements needs to be avoided.

In addition, if the radio network is being integrated into other business systems then aspects such as building management, remote switching and working safely need to be looked at. If data transfer is being required then how that is handled with the low data rates available on narrowband networks, also needs examination.

Bunce explained that after considering all this, when Simoco decided to develop its DMR system it focused on:

  • Minimise network components: distributed architecture; integrated site controller and switching (less equipment to have to train people or hold spares)
  • Make the system scalable – in coverage, capacity and cost
  • Keep it simple: full open standards compliance including interfaces
  • Reduce commercial risk – all supplied, end-to-end system
  • Make it future proof
  • One base station takes the role of site controller with others acting as backup and take over controllers. The site controller elements are integrated into the base station and cover the redundancy and resilience issues.

Bunce added: ‘We didn’t want a hardware switch or regional node controller, so that is built into base station. It is a virtual node controller with the software integrated into the base station. Central switching is built into the network.

‘The Network is designed for the coverage you want to give to your users – it focuses the network architecture on the end user, rather than the central operator.’

Bunce summarised Simoco’s DMR proposition as:

  • Fully exploits the capabilities of IP networks
  • Scalable, flexible and efficient (no breakpoints in flexibility)
  • Lower overall cost of ownership
  • Fully standard compliant
  • Distributed architecture with no central switch hardware
  • Does not rely on proprietary arrangements
  • Complete DMR trunked solution (Tier II and III).


Maxxwave on PMR wide area networks

Samuel Hunt, director of Maxxwave, looked at whether people still want wide area network (WAN) radio sites in the UK. Maxxwave specialises in radio mast installation, site engineering and mobile radio installation among other skills.

He said: ‘Do people want WAN radio sites still? I think the answer is yes, because mobile operators are concentrating more on data than voice now. However, people are turning away from WANs, because they either can’t get the masts or are no longer allowed to put up their own.’

Maxxwave sells its own range of four kinds of lattice masts from little ones right up to 104m (341ft) – ‘higher than you need to go’. The company can set up WANs and on-site hand portable radio systems, although a distributed aerial system and 100% coverage is needed to get full in-building coverage.

He stressed that Maxxwave insists on proper radio site installation methods. He said that a properly engineered site, goes a reasonably long way and deals with interference and intermodulation issues. One of Maxxwave’s key sites is sited on Highgate Hill in north London and features a 420ft aerial.

Maxxwave now owns 12 sites around the country, which between them cover most of the UK. ‘We wondered what would happen if we connected all our sites up, so secured national radio channels to do this and did it,’ says Hunt. The result is Maxxwave’s Ambitalk network.

Ambitalk offers a two-tier scheme of £7.50 a month per unit for airtime only, which is aimed at occasional users and a £5 a month tariff if the user meets certain criteria. The network aims to provide full national coverage by Easter 2014 – this may slip to the summer. ‘It will be the largest PMR network in the UK,’ says Hunt.

Wide area radio remains the company’s main focus. Hunt said he used two different suppliers: Skymasts for aerials (as the quality and customer service are very good); and Tait Communications for terminals, as they are ‘proven to perform, consistently, reliably’.


Updates from Ofcom on licences and spectrum policy

A team from UK telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, brought the FCS audience up to date on a number of issues. In terms of licence compliance, Jim McNally, Wireless Telegraphy Act policy manager, Ofcom, said: ‘We are looking to deal with consistent offenders – those that flagrantly and persistently flout the rules. We are not after people trying to run legitimate businesses.’

He reminded dealers that: ‘It is a legal obligation to ensure that any system you put in conforms to the terms and conditions of the licence – so get a copy and schedule of the licence if you aren’t sorting it out for the customer yourself.’

Ofcom is deploying an array of sensors (UK fixed RF sensors and mobile vans) to sample spectrum use and cross reference findings with the licensing database, so it can identify potential unlicensed use/non-conformity. McNally noted: ‘This is a pro-active work stream using field resources, we are not dependent on complaints or interference.’

He added that certain factors are looked at when considering a sanction against an offender including: mitigation (reasonable excuse, demonstration of sincere remorse); aggravation; and the public interest.

He stressed that the purpose of the sanction was to modify behaviour with three levels of penalty: a penalty fine; a formal caution (on record for 5 yrs); and prosecution.

Paul Jarvis of Ofcom’s Business Radio Team explained Ofcom’s review of Assignment Sharing Criteria, which started in October 2013. ‘We are evaluating it to ensure Ofcom criteria for Technical Assigned assignments are still valid.’

He also stressed that the UK needs to shout louder about business radio on the international scene. ‘It is important we show just how important the business radio market is to the UK. It is never in reports of the EC and international radio bodies, but it needs to be back in those international bodies. There is nothing about business radio in the next World Radio Congress meeting in 2015, but it has a valuable contribution to make to UK and the community as a whole.’

Kevin Delaney then brought the audience up to date on the proposed release of 143-156MHz spectrum: a consultation document is out in December 2013. He also outlined the options for the UHF 1 and 2 bands.

UHF 1 is constrained for civil use in geographic locations, while in UHF 2 only about one third of the bandwidth is available for PMR. Options include: re-plan the band; increase the level of sharing; more precise engineering match etc.

‘We are looking at how we assign spectrum, but we rely on the accuracy of the data; we need better data entries on coverage and so on,’ said Delaney.


British APCO on finding common ground with FCS

Sue Lampard, president, British APCO said that B-APCO and FCS have a lot in common as regards the issue of spectrum access and availability. She said that B-APCO is positioning itself as a critical friend, representing the views and interests of the user community, in the Government’s Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP).

ESMCP’s task is to find the next generation communications solution for the UK’s emergency services to replace the current, largely voice only, TETRA Airwave network. Broadband 4G LTE is seen as the most likely successor, which will provide the emergency services with access to a wider range of services such as streaming live video.

‘The key factor is to make sure mission critical voice requirements are included in the ESMCP. ESMCP’s focus is on police, fire and ambulance, but we are also looking at the wider user: for example, how do we get data out to the emergency services and other responders?’ said Lampard.

B-APCO is involved in helping other initiatives designed to tackle this problem including NextGen 999 and MAIT (Multi Agency Incident Transfer).

For the latest updates on ESMCP, NextGen999 and MAIT click on the Wireless feature here: British APCO Autumn 2013 Event Report.

Leave a Comment