Digital professional radio market continues to expand

PMR users are increasingly migrating to cost optimised digital radio technologies as a wider choice of vendors, standards and applications, combined with lower prices, encourages them to make the move, James Atkinson reports

Digital professional radio market continues to expand

The installed base of analogue and digital land mobile radio (LMR) terminals totalled around 43 million worldwide at the end of 2013, according to IHS Technology. The figure is expected to rise to around 46 million by 2018.

IHS also predicts that by 2018, around 80% of revenues will be generated by digital technology, rather than analogue. At present, what IHS refers to as cost optimised digital technologies, such as DMR, dPMR/NXDN and PDT (the Police Digital Trunking standard developed in China), make up around 10% of the total LMR installed base.

IHS expects that digital technologies, especially cost optimised ones, will experience significant growth in developing regions and in the commercial sectors, such as transportation and utilities, of developed regions.

IHS also expects DMR Tier 2 products to make up the majority of cost optimised digital technology up to 2018, accounting for around 60% of shipments. ‘There are still more than five million analogue users in Europe and we can expect that number to decline by hundreds of thousands per year,’ says Thomas Lynch, associate director for critical communications at IHS.

‘TETRA is very secure and stable and quite cost competitive now,’ he offers, ‘but the decision on whether to adopt it depends on the size of the network and functionality required. But DMR is increasing in capability and is now starting to provide large trunking systems, ATEX and covert devices and accessories – the sort of specialist areas where TETRA has been a success.’

‘Each of the technologies, DMR, dPMR/NXDN and PDT, continue to grow, so it is a positive message,’ he says. ‘There are some regional variations depending on licensing regimes, existing deployments and the availability of spectrum, but we think there is plenty of room for everyone at the moment,’ says Lynch.

That said, he notes that there are still more shipments of professional analogue terminals in Europe than any other type of device, so there is plenty for vendors to go at. Perhaps a sign of the times is indicated by Motorola Solutions’ decision to no longer support analogue from February 2015. Wireless spoke to seven major digital radio manufacturers to get their views on the cost optimised technology PMR market.

Kenwood
Mike Atkins, managing director, Kenwood European Headquarters (Communications), says the migration to digital is happening. ‘We are definitely reducing the amount of analogue we sell, although we sit at the systems high-end, which is the slowest to go, as any change-over takes more thought and planning.

‘Mid-tier analogue sales are virtually at a standstill (10-20 users) and are mostly being replaced by DMR, where the two channels for one is a big attraction, along with some dPMR and NXDN sales,’ he says.

However, Atkins says the analogue low-end, in particular PMR 446 licence free, is still experiencing quite strong sales. ‘But we introduced a dPMR 446 product a few months ago, which is taking some of that market. Overall, PMR 446 remains a very big market.’

Kenwood has created a unique market position for itself as a provider of no less than four radio standards: P25, NXDN (under its Nexedge brand), and more recently dPMR and DMR. The strategy is that the company can offer exactly the right digital solution for a particular customer.

‘We absolutely stand by the belief that all the standards can co-exist and that there is a market for each,’ says Atkins. ‘We don’t want customers buying something that doesn’t work for them.

‘Apps are now essential,’ he continues. ‘A lot of dealers will go out to sell, not a radio system, but a staff management function. GPS tracking is the biggest seller, along with screen-based system management.’

Atkins says its next launch will be an extension to Nexedge to cater for very large systems. ‘It will have a lot of new features and is quite close to being launched, as are Kenwood dual technology terminals, which will be our way to overcome some of the technology barriers out there,’ he reveals.

Icom
Kenwood’s fellow Japanese vendor Icom is the other main NXDN manufacturer, which it sells under its IDAS brand (its dPMR range also uses the IDAS name). Bob Stockley, managing director of Icom UK, says the market seems to be having a burst of activity at the moment.

‘We have seen new business especially in the high-end and mid-tier range of digital products,’ he says. ‘The digital migration is really happening and we’ve had the largest migration to digital in the UK compared with any of our colleagues in the rest of Europe.’

Stockley attributes one of the main drivers for this as being the better voice quality of digital, which is largely maintained to the edge of the cell. ‘Unlike analogue, which gets patchy, it either works or it doesn’t. But it is the packages of IP-based apps and systems that are encouraging customers to look at their in-house communication systems – mapping, tracking and other applications.’

DMR has done well, Stockley acknowledges, but he believes there is room for dPMR. ‘We like to think of ourselves as a big small company. What we are good at is providing tailor-made, in-house solutions for our clients. Icom has done well in Europe and the Middle East with deals for power stations and prisons, for example.

‘We have a lot of loyal legacy customers who have mostly got NXDN systems, which we still offer, but as dPMR became a European standard we mostly sell IDAS dPMR these days,’ says Stockley.

A recent launch from Icom is its IP Advanced Radio System, which offers a push to talk radio operating over unlicensed Wi-Fi bands, which also provides full duplex calling with a headset.

‘It’s out there now,’ says Stockley, ‘but it is still early days yet. The big thing for us is to keep developing systems and looking at where we can move into using IP technology that can incorporate digital PMR products.’

Sepura
Sepura is the new boy in the cost optimised digital radio market, having spent most of its existence supplying mission critical TETRA equipment. ‘We’ve toyed with the idea of entering the DMR market for the past four or five years,’ says Barber, head of product strategy at Sepura.

‘We wondered whether it was the right standard to commit to – would it be the dominant one in that space? – and then we stepped back. We wanted to make sure we went for a standard that was open and multi-vendor, so there was an ecosystem there that drove innovation and gave customers value for money.’

Barber says DMR was the right selection for the company and it released its first DMR Tier 2 offerings last year. In October this year it unveiled its Tier 3 portfolio – a move given added impetus by its acquisition of Fylde Micro earlier in the year.

‘Fylde Micro’s Multi-Lingo controller is unique in that it can support DMR, dPMR and MPT1327 simultaneously. It can translate all the addressing and numbering plans between each technology, so any radio can talk to any other for both voice and data,’ explains Barber. ‘This has opened up DMR Tier 3 for us and given us a significant leg-up into the DMR market.’

Sepura has been working hard to appoint resellers for its new DMR offerings, and Barber reports that the company is already seeing a lot of enquiries for large DMR Tier 3 systems.
‘It’s more a choice between TETRA and DMR Tier 3, and we are seeing interest from countries outside our normal strongholds, such as Africa, Asia, Latin America and Russia. Historically, we are all about mission critical communications, but now with DMR we are also about business critical communications too.’

Tait Communications
New Zealand’s Tait Communications is a long-standing proponent of the DMR standard (along with P25 for high-end mission critical systems) and one that took the unusual step of developing DMR Tier 3 first – largely because it has a lot of big MPT1327 customers who need a trunking solution when they decide to switch to digital.

Jamie Bishop, marketing manager EMEA at Tait, says: ‘Many DMR terminals do not support full analogue legacy functionality, but we developed a common firmware with our analogue portfolio, so there is a heritage there. MPT1327 is poorly supported in terms of legacy, but the ability to move to DMR with a product has increased.’

Like other vendors, he notes that DMR Tier 2 tends to be the favoured digital standard of choice for small to mid-tier customers migrating from analogue. Tait has been making some significant Tier 3 gains, including a multi-million Euro deal with the French Space Agency last year.

It has also scooped the contract to supply DMR Tier 3 infrastructure, and thousands of terminals for Entropia Digital’s wide area DMR network for the UK. This will kick off with a 200-site network across Greater London and gradually expand around the UK.

‘We are now seeing tenders out for large network solutions leaning towards DMR Tier 3,’ says Bishop. ‘People are starting to invest heavily in DMR Tier 3 and the feedback we’ve received is that customers cannot believe how easy it is to implement a Tier 3 system compared with MPT1327 or TETRA, which is much more complex. The simplicity of what is being released is reducing the total cost of ownership.’

Tait sees power companies, oil and gas and transportation as key sectors. It has developed Tait GridLink to improve electricity grid intelligence with real-time centralised monitoring and control of grid assets by bringing the transformers and reclosers into a central SCADA system. Tait’s first intrinsically safe ATEX radio is expected out in December, where it will join Hytera as the only company with a DMR Tier 3 ATEX device.

Simoco
Like Tait, Simoco has concentrated its efforts on P25 for the mission critical market and on the DMR standard for a low-cost digital alternative. It has been selling Tier 2 equipment for a while, and launched its Tier 3 base stations, mobile and hand portables around a year ago using the same IP-based distribution architecture it developed for its Xfin range.

Andy Grimmett, chief technologist, Simoco, comments: ‘Analogue sales are still surprisingly big, but there has been a decline of around 25% over the past 12 months, which has almost exclusively been replaced by DMR. Customers are a mix of new system buyers and existing analogue users making the switch to the next round of technology.’

He adds: ‘They are moving mainly because they can re-use their analogue spectrum and often with MPT1327 users trunked DMR is almost feature for feature what they are used to, so there is minimal training required.’

‘Mind you,’ he continues, ‘we’ve not seen any of our installed Xfin base – a lot of which are utilities – migrate to DMR yet, but that is because they bought those systems for a 10- to 15-year lifespan and the oldest are only six or seven years old so far, so they will not migrate to digital for some time yet.’

Grimmett says Simoco is focusing equal attention on DMR Tier 2 and 3 and is now looking at ‘bits around the radio network and how we align them with key verticals and markets. Customers are asking us how they can get more value out of this radio asset. But DMR is still a narrowband technology, not Wi-Fi, so we have to see what it is sensible to do.’

Grimmett, who is also chair of the DMR Association’s Technical Working Group (TWG), points to one significant area of DMR development – an apps interface specification (AIS), which allows any app to connect with AIS equipped DMR infrastructure over a standard interface.

‘Many apps are created by small developers, and this interface means their app can be used on any vendor’s equipment, rather than having to develop versions for each manufacturer,’ he says.

He adds: ‘DMR was developed as a low-cost digital standard and we want to keep it that way. But we are finding that there are markets, like public safety, for which it was not originally aimed, and which are looking to deploy it and want quite high-end applications. But if you complicate it the costs will go up, so we need to develop more features to meet market demand, but try to balance that against the need to keep the cost down.’

Hytera
China’s Hytera has been a stalwart supporter of the DMR standard since its inception, although it is also a major player in TETRA and PDT equipment. GS Kok, senior vice president at Hytera, says: ‘Analogue is still going strong and a lot of DMR manufacturers have aimed their products at the professional market, but we have also focused on the commercial users who need products at the right price level.

‘Not enough manufacturers have focused on affordable DMR devices as yet,’ he argues, ‘but we have a range of entry-level products, such as our PD3 and PD5 series, which are priced really nicely to tempt analogue users to move to DMR. We are seeing the results now as this year we are selling more digital radios than analogue for the first time,’ reveals Kok.

‘How fast analogue disappears depends on whether manufacturers fill in the gaps in the price range. For customers who just want a PTT radio it is hard to justify spending $100 on a handset,’ he notes.

Hytera has established a DMR portfolio ranging from entry level, mid-tier PD5 series to high-end PD6 series portables, along with its small, covert-style terminals in the X1 range and a DMR ATEX handset. Only Motorola’s Mototrbo range equals it for the breadth of terminals available.

DMR lags some way behind the more mature TETRA standard for the range of functionality it offers, especially the very new Tier 3. ‘We are looking to improve the standard,’ says Kok, ‘but there is a lot of work to make it all interoperable, so it will take some years before DMR is as feature-rich as TETRA or P25.’

Mission critical LTE functionality is not expected to be incorporated into the 4G standard before 2020. Kok says: ‘It will take time for mission critical LTE products that meet the new standard to reach the market. For me there is another 10 years before the PMR industry changes and another 10 before narrowband technologies disappear. Don’t forget digital radio has been around since 2007 and analogue still retains a big chunk of the market, so PMR won’t die in a hurry.’

Motorola Solutions
Motorola Solutions’ Mototrbo DMR range is the market leader in terms of sales for cost optimised PMR technology. It now has a full low-end to high-end portfolio of terminals and accessories and Tim Clark, director, sales channel products and programmes, Europe and Africa, reports that Mototrbo sales are up 30% over the last year.

Clark sees apps as a key driver for digital adoption. ‘There is still a price premium for moving from analogue to digital, so apps help you build a value proposition around digital. You might sell a radio, but in fact it turns out to be a work process tool with the right apps. Voice is still the killer app, but if you can add value around data and apps that can justify the step up to digital.’

Motorola has not launched a DMR Tier 3 system. ‘We think we have the solutions that go up into the DMR Tier III trunking space with our Mototrbo IP Site Connect, Linked Capacity Plus and Connect Plus solutions, while our TETRA IP Micro for small site solutions and Dimetra IP Compact for medium systems come down into the Mototrbo space,’ explains Clark.

Many people see two-way radio as ‘old’ technology, but Clark believes that customers will continue to want PMR because of ‘the 4Cs’: capacity – available when needed and not subject to the vagaries of cellular operator networks; cost – no monthly fee as with commercial carriers; coverage – which can be directed exactly where it is needed; and control – a PMR network is a dedicated task tool that is controlled by the end user.

Nonetheless, Clark believes the PMR world needs to stay relevant to a market that takes sophisticated smart devices and access to the much higher bandwidths provided by Wi-Fi for granted. Wi-Fi is an expensive solution for wide area coverage, but the narrowband PMR world needs to consider how to evolve its systems to interact with Wi-Fi going forward, he argues.

One response to this is Motorola’s smartphone push-to-talk (PTT) app – Mototrbo Anywhere – which replicates the features of a two-way radio on a smartphone to extend the reach of two-way radio systems beyond the coverage of the Mototrbo system.

Clark says: ‘The implication for us is that software has become much more important and that we have to start talking IT, and we need to bring in IP expertise. In terms of services support, we need to offer a complete package of voice and essential data – both software and hardware. Finally, we need to position PMR in the new communications world, as PMR is part of a wider ecosystem now.’

 

1Comment

  1. Guest
    Guest2nd Jan 2015

    Hi James I think it is the time of DMR it clear that it can cover all what all the users need with less requirement compared with other systems like T...

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