PMR a ‘fundamental prerequisite for UK economy’, says FCS

Wireless editor James Atkinson reports from the Federation of Communication Services Business Radio Event, which aimed to provide attendees with a view of how the sector is developing

PMR a ‘fundamental prerequisite for UK economy’, says FCS

Attendees at this year’s Federation of Communication Services (FCS) Business Radio Event held at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire on 13 November 2014, where given a ‘big picture’ view of how the business radio market is developing.

Opening the day, Chris Pateman, chief executive, FCS said: ‘The business radio communications market has changed and is changing and we need to create a transparent open marketplace for our members to succeed. We need to talk to more than just Ofcom; we need to be talking to people at the highest levels of Government.’

Pateman went on to say that PMR is a fundamental prerequisite for the success of the UK economy and that the FCS is pushing out in a more open and engaged process with everyone involved in the policy making process.

He noted that many more applications such as smart meters and Internet of Things applications all need radio frequency communications, pushing up demand for a limited asset. He said that the FCS has long been concerned about the availability of spectrum and that the industry needs to be aware that some in Government are just interested in selling it off.

‘We work closely with the spectrum guys from Ofcom, and it is a privilege to work with them and I pay tribute to them, at least they understand what spectrum is all about,’ said Pateman.

He made the point that despite being a member of the relevant cross-parliamentary body for the Internet and communications, it is difficult to get the industry’s views across when there are many other members. ‘It is hard to get traction,’ he said.

The FCS is a member of the UK’s Digital Policy Alliance, which keeps it informed as to what is happening in Europe, but Pateman pointed out that by the time EU policy becomes law it is usually two to five years too late to influence that policy. ‘Nonetheless, we try and take the burden off members for these things so you can concentrate on running your business,’ said Pateman.

Speaking of the FCS deliverables for 2013/14, Pateman highlighted the launch of the Business Radio Apprenticeships, but said that while there had been interest from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, he was disappointed that not a single UK company had taken it up. 

He said that PHP (Private Healthcare Partnership) had approached the FCS to see if it could develop a product to help make companies more attractive and more ‘sticky’ – by providing private healthcare: basic dentist, base healthcare, osteopathy and so. Pateman said the offer is out there for FCS members to consider.

Turning to the campaign to prevent any change of use for the UHF 2 band, Pateman said robust feedback to Ofcom has ‘stabilised the situation in the UK, but that does not mean rest of Europe will follow suit. We don’t want our European colleagues to make that decision for us on its usage’.

He also questioned how easy it will be to refit 40,000 emergency vehicles, replacing TETRA radios with 4G devices, under the Government’s Emergency Services Network contract. He also noted that while a consensus has been established on the use of 4G LTE for mission critical voice within the communications industry, that view is not shared by Government.

Finally, he pointed out that the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this year was the first major mandated use of the FCS1331 Code of Practice for radio site installation. ‘The CS accreditation and Code is starting to be used by the public sector,’ he observed.


Keynote Speech - Professor Jim Norton, Chair of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum

The keynote speech was delivered by Professor Jim Norton, Chair of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum (SPF) on the theme of ‘recognising the value of professional radio communications’.

Norton explained that the SPF was set up by Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, to provide Government with an industry sounding board to complement Ofcom.

‘We’ve listened to all the sectors and realised there were a lot of silos, most of which are not interested in the others. We realised business radio was doing a lot of important things which the others did not know or care about, so spreading knowledge of what it does is important,’ said Norton.

Norton said he was trying to generate a simple, clear language to make it easy for non-communication specialists to understand the industry better. ‘It is not just about communicating the economic value, but the social value which is particularly important for areas of business radio,’ he noted.

‘We want to change the political weather with a new language that helps get Government to understand the value of spectrum,’ continued Norton, who said that the SPF would love more manufacturer participation on the steering group, particularly someone from the business radio community.

The SPF steering group has three work clusters:

  • Cluster 1: apps and sector needs
  • Cluster 2: spectrum release and access mechanisms
  • Cluster 3: social value of spectrum.

Norton said that demonstrating the social value of spectrum was, ‘very challenging, but you can’t make a decision about the proposed Emergency Services Network, airports, ports and so on without understanding its social value and implications’.

The aim is to publish a report entitled: UK Spectrum Usage & Demand, which Norton said would say that UK business radio is a diverse, fragmented, reliable, and undervalued sector that makes an exceptional contribution to social value.

He added: ‘The beauty of business radio is how it has continued to evolve and give the competition (cellular, Wi-Fi, etc) a real run for its money.’ He noted that while mission critical LTE may eventually replace two-way radio standards, the standard for it will not be ready until LTE Release 13, due out in 2018. 

‘You still have time to evolve before the mission critical LTE standard is established,’ Norton reassured FCS members attending the event.

Summing up, Norton said: ‘In the next 17 years I don’t expect to see either satellite or broadband IP do more than partially displace terrestrial digital TV broadcasting. Neither do I expect to see cellular services (including 5G) fully displace business radio – both will evolve exploiting new markets and applications.’


Other speakers included Chris D’Aguiar, VP Commercial at Sepura, who spoke about the key choices facing customers in today’s world when it comes to investing in communication systems.

He said customers have four key decision metrics when choosing what communication system to use. They look for a safe investment and one that will provide them with continuity over the 5 to 15 year product life cycle.

D’Aguiar added that they want a solution that will enable them to reduce capital outlay, and operational and maintenance costs. Finally, the want continuous improvement, or more bang for their buck, such as applications.

Riccardo Manzini, EA business manager with Motorola Solutions, said that manufacturers face both a fast changing environment and a changing ecosystem from cellular, Wi-Fi, digitisation and new competitors such as mobile network operators.

In addition, technologies and applications such as Bluetooth, voice and data, chat/tweet/text, push-to-talk over broadband, the ubiquity of smartphones and 4G LTE, all provide a potential threat to PMR. However, he argued that PMR still provides key services that the above do not in the shape of the 4Cs of PMR:

  • Capacity – when it is needed
  • Cost – no monthly fee
  • Coverage – specific to my need
  • Control – dedicated task tool.

Manzini argued that the PMR industry needs to position business radio on the new communications world citing Motorola’s Mototrbo Anywhere application, which provides PTT services on a smartphone enabling communication between PMR and cellular devices. ‘We need to seamlessly converge different technologies and move from business radio terminology to ‘workgroup communication’ solutions,’ he said.

Richard Stimpson, Head of R&D for Simoco, spoke about interoperability issues and the need to develop and maintain open standards across a number of levels including the air interface, infrastructure, terminals and applications.

He said: ‘Radio systems have a number of mandatory and optional features. Customers need to look at the features that are important to them and ensure the system they are aiming to deploy them on is interoperable.' 

Interoperability verification can be carried out by the customer, the manufacturer, bi-laterally between two (or more) manufacturers, bi-laterally with a review or by a third party independent test house. The DMR Association favours bi-lateral testing with a review by the DMRA to verify interoperability and compatibility with the standard.

Stimpson argued that only be developing open standards can you enable interoperability and by providing that customers are ensured longevity of their PMR systems.

‘The customer needs to get a good return on investment and guarantees that he can get products from different manufacturers that work on his system; it’s private but commercial of the shelf at the same time.’

Jamie Bishop, director of marketing and key clients EMEA, Tait Communications, spoke about the contribution professional business mobile radios can make in a unified communications world. ‘Critical communication users are moving towards a unified approach with narrowband LMR and broadband technologies converging,’ he noted.

However, he said that users had to balancing coverage with capacity requirements. ‘LTE broadband networks may be rolled out, but mobile network operators are not addressing poor coverage areas (including in-building) so that means existing PMR users are not likely to run away from it and move to cellular solutions.’

He also pointed out that just because a customer is looking at low cost digital it doesn’t necessarily mean a capex investment. The Entropia wide area PMR model (as seen in Belgium and the Netherlands) means customers just hire terminals and access the Entropia network for a monthly fee.

‘We have also seen use cases which combine low cost digital narrowband for wide area coverage and some kind of broadband,’ he said. ‘In New Zealand, the utility EA Networks has overlaid LTE onto the DMR system with interconnection between the two to provide seamless roaming, so users can switch as and when necessary. This kind of example provides a test bed for unified solutions,’ said Bishop.

He said that Tait believes major customers will end up with something like this: LTE for primary data and back up voice; LMR for backup data and primary voice; and Wi-Fi for extended data provision and extended voice. ‘We are not a sunset industry,’ he concluded. ‘We are seeing a sunrise for cost optimised digital radio.

GS Kok, senior vice president, Hytera took up the broadband theme by pointing out that the key driver for the evolution of mission critical and business radio is all about data. ‘The key challenges in delivering that are spectrum, standards, budget and funding in both the key verticals of mission critical and non-mission critical,’ he said.

He said that data apps enhance efficiency: a database inquiry app is much more efficient than trying to rely the information by voice, just as a photograph of a missing child is much easier to assimilate than getting a verbal description – and one that can keep being refreshed.

As regards the spectrum challenge, Kok said that if the industry is to move forward to converge narrowband and broadband, then everyone needs to move forward together from governments and regulators and down the supply chain.

‘China is looking at 1.6GHz and 2.6GHz; elsewhere they are looking at 400MHz or 700MHz, which the USA has adopted, so we need definition for this. 

However, he said that for the next five years PMR business is fine with digital PMR being the way forward. Future work is needed to address: voice of LTE and particularly mission critical narrow band VoLTE; network security & resilience;

smooth migration and legacy internet-working; and handset radio architecture and standards. Definitions need to be determined to allow narrowband and broadband voice to co-exist.

‘Mission critical will be the driving force for broadband data adoption, but I strongly believe it is not limited to them; commercial radio users are not immune to data either - it is for the mass. We use technology to improve our lifestyle, not control our lifestyle,’ said Kok, who added that broadband will not play a significant role until 2020 at the earliest.

Stephen Edwards of Kenwood argued that TETRA, P25, NXDN, DMR and dPMR all have their place and that the 6.25kHz channels used by NXDN and dPMR can be advantageous in some circumstances compared with DMR, which provides 2 12.5kHz channels or TETRA, which provides 4 channels, but requires 25kHz bandwidth channels.

In terms of cost optimisation, he illustrated the point by saying that to cover the area within the M25 could be done with just 16 sites used Nexedge (NXDN), while to provide the same coverage using 4G LTE would require around 120 sites – so it provides a cost optimised voice solution, albeit without the broadband data capability of LTE.

The presentations concluded with a talk on the radio and communication technology used by London Buses given by Dr Dimitris Kaltakis, Radio Services Manager at Transport for London. For more on this subject see feature in Wireless at:


The event concluded with a black tie Business Radio Industry Dinner at the Heritage Motor Museum and the presentation of the Gerald David Innovation in Business Radio Award, which went to Panorama Antennas.


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