‘Business radio is an industry that understands change is happening and is responding to it,’ claimed Chris Pateman, CEO, FCS at the opening of the organisation’s Business Radio Event 2015 (19 November 2015) at Chateau Impney in Droitwich Spa. ‘We do ourselves down a bit and are off the radar with Government a bit too much, but without us there is no industry.’
He said that 2015 had been a year of progress, but hard work. As regards the review of the UHF 2 band he said that Ofcom is aligned with the FCS’s position. ‘I’m delighted to see the way Ofcom responded to the united response of business radio industry’s concerns over the UHF 2 band.’
Among the items being looked at are Continental interference issues in the south of England and the opportunity to have three users on a shared band rather than the current two to provide more capacity from limited spectrum resources.
Turning to DAB (digital audio broadcasting) Pateman commented: ‘It is disappointing that Ed Vaizey (Minister of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries) has not committed to a date to switch off the analogue radio signal, move to digital and free up the spectrum.’
He also expressed disappointment that the Government’s apparent commitment to use the FCS1362 Accreditation scheme for radio installations on the new Emergency Services Network project seems to have disappeared as the year progressed.
Pateman also reiterated the FCS’s opposition to the proposed BT and EE merger, which looks like getting the nod through from UK competition authorities. ‘If you don’t think having the UK’s largest fixed telephony provider merging with the UK’s largest mobile operator, with one of them being the UK’s PSAP and the other due to run the new emergency services communications network, is not the biggest threat to our whole industry then I don’t know what is.
‘The CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) telling us there is no problem with it is ridiculous; we are in the middle of a last push back against this.’
He added that the business radio industry is now a very rich and converging marketplace with the same kinds of solutions being delivered across different platforms. ‘But you cannot just stick a DAB radio into a metal vehicle and stick an antenna on the outside and expect it to work well – you need experts to do this.’
Applications and Business Radio
Tom Mockridge, 3rd Party Developer Programme Director at Motorola Solutions, gave the opening presentation addressing the growing importance of applications for the business radio industry.
Looking at the applications space generally, he said: ‘It is complicated. It is changing fast and in significant ways for our industry, and to survive and flourish in this changing environment you need to be able to respond.’
He noted that the traditional LMR business case is to sell and maintain radio hardware, but he warned that people outside LMR have a different view, which is: your business will be rolled over and finished off by the broadband industry. He quoted a top software company CEO, who recently said: ‘Now we know the LMR industry is dead, what are you going to do?’
Identifying what LMR does, he pointed to three main types of communications:
• Low bandwidth data – low res photos
• High bandwidth data – principally video
• Voice PTT – the bedrock of the radio industry since 1920s.
Looking at what needs to be compared when considering PTT (push-to-talk) communications for LMR and Broadband, he defined three main areas:
• Technology: always there, PTT latency, group management, 1 to 1 coverage, prioritisation
• Standards: multi vendor; interoperable, mature standards, agreed frequency bands
• Deployment: customised coverage, redundancy, capacity in unpredictable locations, site hardening and power backup, control over downtime.
The standards body 3GPP is working to introduce these kinds of LMR voice capabilities into the LTE standard. Some have made into the latest LTE Release 12, others may get into Release 13, but Mockridge said, ‘these are not ready yet’ commercially.
‘But we cannot ignore broadband,’ he said. ‘It will impact this industry. So, what does it mean for our business? Will LMR all migrate to LTE? NO it will not. For a significant period of time it will be a mixed world of LMR and increasing functionality coming from broadband networks coming in.’
He argued that the LMR industry needs to plan and think about a world of co-existence where communications continue to evolve and become increasing complex. In his view, the industry is really about providing workgroup communications: voice radio PTT + broadband PTT + multi-device PTT, but also incorporating narrowband, broadband and video data.
He advised the industry to follow the money. ‘There are huge amounts of investment going into enhancing intelligence; creating data lakes and tools to analyse that data for predictive and preventative use. We are moving from a world of reactive mid-event communications to pre-, mid- and post-event analysis and communications. This is an additional layer of complexity we will have to tackle as an industry.’
Mockridge said that this comes with a richer set of enablers on top, including: technologies such as BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) for short range data; Cloud technology to enable software developers to roll out and scale applications at a far greater rate than was possible before; and a range of other smart devices like glasses.
All of which creates a world with an increased diversity of networks and complexity. Mockridge then pointed out that there are many, many verticals all with different application needs. ‘We have identified 63 at least and you could break them down even further, for example, electricity, which can be divided into distribution and generation, wind farm and nuclear energy.’
The point being that: ‘No company can possibly address this complexity and variety of sub-markets, so you need to partner, especially at the middleware layer to provide a cross network platform to meet the demands of a complex world.
‘LMR and broadband networks feed into common functions and intelligence and combine all their location data, for example. There is a huge space for the middleware layer that provides basic intelligence sitting above the network,’ said Mockridge.
In his view, business radio is moving from hardware to software centricity. In 2015, it has become a software driven world, but the revenue is still largely generated by hardware. By 2025 he argues that software revenue will be a much higher proportion of total LMR vendor revenues.
‘Software players will be much more noticeable. It will happen in the public safety sector first, then utilities and then drift down to other sectors. What does this mean for the UK?’ asked Mockridge.
He believed that narrow band spectrum will be needed and that if anything narrow band data will increase, so we need to use it more efficiently. There will be broadband requirements too, but he warned the industry must not let the LTE world take the spectrum needed for narrow band, as some are already arguing.
‘Partnerships will be necessary for companies to flourish in this new world,’ Mockridge summed up, ‘and we will see new players in the market, principally from the software and IT industries using the radio platforms to drive new functionalities.’
Growing together with the customer
GS Kok, senior vice president at Hytera, made the point that in 2015 digital sales outstripped analogue sales for his company for the first time. ‘What matters is what we believe in,’ he said.
‘Our customers are influenced by us. If we think digital will help their business by making them more effective and more productive, and DMR is very efficient as it allows more people on the same channel and comes with more features, they will respond.’
Addressing the industry concern about LTE broadband replacing LMR, he said: ‘LTE Release 13 is only just touching on PTT and it takes two years before any manufacturer comes up with a product. First the standard has to be reviewed, then prototypes have to developed and tested, and only after that do products become commercially available.’
He pointed out that: ‘There is so much you can do with digital radio, which you couldn’t do with analogue. There is nothing now that does not rely on software in some way and data helps you be more efficient.
‘But it will take time to get to a broadband world and in the interim period we will see lots of options around. Customers need to tell us what they want: data, solution, hardware, software, tablets. Whatever it is we will do it and we will grow together,’ he said.
Ofcom’s Paul Jarvis and Kevin Delaney provided an update of the regulator’s activities with the UHF 2 (420-470MHz) Strategic Review and identified the constraints the industry and it as a regulator faces.
‘There are many constraints such as how to co-ordinate use within the UK and with other countries like Ireland. We cannot move maritime as that is harmonised across the world. We will need 20 years at least to sort any change.’
The current programme is:
• 2016 – Consultation
• 2017 – Statement on UHF 1 420-450 MHz and UHF 2 450 to 470 MHz
• 2022 – Revision of UHF?
Steven Martin, spectrum engineering officer at Ofcom, gave an enlightening view of what a day in the life of a spectrum engineer looks like, explaining that the most common sources of interference were GSM ‘boosters’ bought off the internet, which actually jam base stations. Others include: wide band interference of TV signals; light bulbs; pirate radio; and cordless DECT phones, especially those bought from USA as they clash with UK mobile phone signals.
Evolving to Unified Networks
Jamie Bishop, marketing manager, E&ME, Tait Communications, suggested that future communications will take the form of a number of different networks and technologies combined, which will provide superior value and performance for customers.
‘A unified network of networks is what we see for the near-time future, but it will be perhaps 5, 10 to 15 years before we move across to a single technology. Applications are driving demand, but narrowband can provide many, if not most critical applications such as man down, personnel monitoring, LBS/AVL, sensor device/networks, remote control and so on,’ said Bishop.
He argued that cost optimised narrowband digital radio standards such as DMR can handle all voice applications and some data ones, as well as providing almost constant coverage and the ability to predict capacity. For most users the choice is about balancing coverage vs. capacity. The question mark hanging over broadband LTE is whether it can provide enough business critical services all of the time.
One New Zealand utility Tait has worked with has a two-site DMR network with some additional LTE coverage to help it monitor electricity lines. But Bishop pointed out that in many countries, including the UK, it is very difficult if not impossible to get access to spectrum for private LTE networks.
LMR provides geographic coverage to 96% of an area, but has the limitation of being a narrowband technology. Cellular and Wi-Fi technologies provide broadband, which may cover as much as 96% of the population, but its actual geographic coverage can be as low as 44%. ‘Coverage black spots are a safety risk and a threat to staff and operational effectiveness,’ said Bishop.
Resilience is also a major issue. PMR networks often have back-up generators to keep radio networks working, while cellular/Wi-Fi networks often go down in storm events. Capacity limitations also need to be addressed, as radio networks have limited licensed channels, which can become congested during emergency events, while on cellular/Wi-Fi systems consumer traffic congests the network, preventing access for critical communications.
‘We therefore need to unify these two (or more) types of networks and take advantage of the capabilities of each,’ argued Bishop. ‘We need solutions that integrate both LMR and cellular networks. We then need intelligence built into the LME network and user device to automatically choose the best network available to connect users.
‘We also need to provide seamless roaming from network to network with no loss of communications by deploying a PTT smartphone app for users without a radio, along with ruggedised devices to enable simple, fast PTT access to the cellular network.’
In Bishop’s view unified networks increase coverage and reduce black spots. They also increase capacity, meaning front line staff no longer have to wait for access to the networks and it is easier to balance the loads on and between networks.
Summing up, Bishop said that this kind of unified communications provides improved coverage, better resiliency, increased capacity and can be seen as follows:
• LTE: primary data, backup voice
• LMR: back up data, primary voice
• Wi-Fi: extended data and voice.
Critical communications beyond public safety
Gary Maughan, regional director, UK & Ireland, Sepura addressed the theme of providing critical communications beyond the public safety sector. He said: ‘I still believe radio will provide the basis for mission critical voice, but I do believe there is a place for LTE broadband as an overlay for critical data services either provided by a commercial network or a private network.’
He pointed to the use of TETRA underground and above ground at the CERN facility in Geneva, where Sepura has installed three base stations and array of repeaters in, as well as the ability to interoperate with the French Tetrapol emergency services radio network.
In Spain’s Basque region, Teltronic (now a Sepura company) has deployed some 180 sites since 2008 for use by different organisations. The Bilbao Metro has a 24-base station TETRA system for voice communications, but LTE is being used to transmit camera footage from the front and back of the trains and from inside the carriages using the same leaky feeder cable system in the tunnels.
‘LTE is real in the mobile data world, but there are some real concerns still about it in mission critical voice world,’ concluded Maughan.
Embrace other technologies to enhance LMR
Tim Clark, Telecoms Business Director at Motorola Solutions, reiterated the theme that business radio continues to be relevant and that in fact the installed base is still growing.
‘More and more customers are seeing added value primarily from applications,’ he noted.
He cited the example of Rugeley B Power Station in the UK, a coal-fuelled power station in Staffordshire generating 1,000MW of power. The site features a mix of buildings, railway works, underground tunnels and cooling towers.
‘The owners wanted 100% coverage and looked at different technologies. They chose radio for the control and ownership it gave them and the fact that they could put coverage and capacity where they needed it. But they also wanted something that was future proof,’ said Clark.
Working exclusively through its reseller DCRS, Motorola installed a Linked Capacity Plus Mototrbo low cost, DMR trunking solution, which covered 200 workers in eight talk groups. There were two separate RF sites: the main site and the flue gas desulphurisation site.
The benefits of this system included: instant group communications, 100% availability, emergency calls, lone worker, enhanced capacity, legacy reuse, intelligent audio, transmit interrupt (control can interrupt a call to transmit; don’t have to wait for it to call down).
A second phase included a PC-based control room solution, which interfaces directly into the repeaters and provides a range of applications such as: voice dispatch, job ticketing, alarm & lone worker, text & email, event logs, AES encryption, voice recording, GPS tracking, indoor positioning (beacons) and SIP interface.
A third phase will include Motorola’s WAVE PTT-over broadband solution, which will enable managers and others to communicate with people on site when they are away from the power station using smartphones or other technologies besides two-way radio.
Clark said: ‘Don’t be afraid of LTE – use it – enhance the reach of two-way radio into the wider marketplace. The future is about integrated workgroup communication, so we need to embrace other radio technologies.’
Google’s challenge to the business radio industry
Hugh Dickerson, Senior Section Head – Automotive Google UK, closed the presentations by insisting that the ‘future is very much in the here and now’.
‘Fast change is fuelled by connectivity,’ he said. ‘Around 50% of European homes will have access to 100Mbps connectivity by 2020 and there is a new breed of consumer now: 11% bought online in 2005, but this rose to 75% by 2014.’
He issued a stark warning to the industry: ‘If you don’t grasp this opportunity someone else will. Look at the emerging businesses model disruption. Businesses formed in a garage can be global in a few years – this was impossible even 10 years ago or so. You need to adapt or die.’
He pointed out that there are 8 billion people on the planet, but only around 2 billion of them are on line so far. ‘It is still early, so it is potentially still not too late to be early to market, but time is running out.’
In Dickerson’s view businesses need to take risks and remove the fear of failure. ‘Successful organisations hate failing, so they do not innovate. Some things will not work out, but fail fast and have time to take in the learnings, innovate again and keep moving.’
He cited the example of Google’s automatic driving project, saying that they started with existing car designs, but found they were a constraint. ‘We needed to start from the ground up and design it to be completely fit for purpose (not an incremental change) for driverless cars.’
His second piece of advice was to ‘Wise Up’. ‘You need to make better decisions with data. Much of big data in itself is absolutely worthless. Data makes your briefcase heavy, but insights make you rich. Get information you get from your customers; pull it together, then mine it for insights.’
He pointed to an example from mid-2007, when someone noticed a lot of people were looking online for chicken-huts. Someone noticed that and founded Chicken Huts World, which is now World Stores.
His third piece of advice was to ‘Speed Up’, therefore. ‘You have to keep up with the consumer by doing everything so much quicker; not to compete better with your rivals, but to keep up with your customers who are moving faster than you are.’
Dickerson also suggested that companies need to seek ‘10 x innovation’, as ‘incremental change will not be enough for you to survive. You need to go for what we call moonshots; we aim for the moon in our targets, because if you just set yourself up to be a bit better than last year, you will not progress’.
He summed up: ‘You all have a challenge. You all have new technology. You all have a radical solution that will be great for your customers. Where those three things coincide is the X in your business.
‘You need a culture that allows people to fail from time to time to encourage innovative ideas. If you have data – use it; and whatever it is you do, do it so much faster than you’ve done before to keep up with the consumer.’