Motorola Solutions bridges the narrow and broadband divide

Motorola is seeking to exploit its years of expertise in providing critical communications solutions as customers migrate to new technologies, but that does not mean it is abandoning its heritage, as Jeff Spaeth explains to James Atkinson

Motorola Solutions bridges the narrow and broadband divide

Motorola Solution recently showcased a new future virtual command centre concept using eye-interaction technology aimed at investigating whether virtual and augmented reality can help to improve the safety of first responders and the quality of an agency’s response. It also unveiled its ADVISOR TPG2200 TETRA two-way pager and the new MTP6650 high tier TETRA portable radio.

It is a good illustration of where the company sits right now with one foot in its traditional professional mobile radio (PMR) heritage, and the other in newer technologies such as 4G LTE broadband - and finding ways to seamlessly interact between the two.

Speaking to Wireless at PMRExpo in Cologne in November 2016, Jeff Spaeth, Corporate VP & General Manager - Systems & Software Enablement, Motorola Solutions, explains the thinking behind the various launches. ‘In general the headline is that the radio business continues to move forward. We are projecting to be back to growth in Q4 2016.

‘The PMR market saw a big acceleration with the arrival of digital radio, which created a lot of churn, but that has levelled off in the last two years. That has now stabilised, so the death of LMR (Land Mobile Radio) continues to be delayed.’

That said, while the company remains loyal to its LMR roots, one of Motorola’s key areas of focus over the last couple of years has been to facilitate the ability to interoperate between narrowband and broadband technology.

Lowering the barrier to adoption
‘We have to lower the barriers to make it easier to adopt combined technologies. For some markets this as a value proposition is a bit ahead of the game, but in others it is not,’ says Spaeth.

This readiness or not depends in part on what the legacy technology of the country is. Countries or operators that deployed Motorola’s iDEN push-to-talk over cellular solution, such as Southern Link in USA and Bravo in Saudi Arabia will use Motorola’s WAVE 7000 platform, which enables narrowband radios to talk to cellular phones.

‘So customers used to PTT over cellular, who have had that exposure to the technology, are ready for it. For them it is just more of an extension to what they are used to, for others that is not the case, so each market is a bit different,’ explains Spaeth.

‘We need to educate other parts of the market about this ability to interoperate between the two technologies and others,’ he continues. ‘But if they only want to use an LMR system, then that’s great. The danger is if the discussion or debate about moving to broadband becomes management by sound bite, where you just get a simplistic reduction to: “LMR is dead – you have to go cellular”.’

It is not an either or choice
Spaeth stresses the necessity of getting a more nuanced message out into the market which argues there are still many advantages to having LMR solutions, but customers can also have broadband cellular systems as well. It is not a case having to move to cellular, or of being forced to make a choice between the two. Customers can have both and they can talk to each other using both.

‘That is why we are investing a lot in making it easy to combine the two, so if you are using cellular we can make it feel like a radio experience if that is what you are used to and like. It becomes a seamless extension between the two and not a separate bolt on to LMR,’ observes Spaeth.

‘Conversely, other people would rather talk to the radio guys using a smartphone style of communicating. Those people, who before only had the choice of a radio to be able to talk to staff, can now do so using a smartphone. Or if you move out of radio coverage or are in another country, you now have the ability to tune into the radio network and keep up to date with what’s going on.’

Spaeth adds: ‘Our guys need to understand the message and be able to explain the use cases and move that knowledge down to the resellers. It is all about getting people up to speed, but it will take some time.’

The advantages of being able to access both technologies are considerable. Spaeth cites an example in the US where snowplough drivers are equipped with a P25 two-way radio system.

But when they need to call in extra help from drivers who are not on the P25 network, they can use the WAVE system to set up a temporary extension to cellular networks for those other drivers who are just there to help out for a few days.

Migrate at a speed that suits
He also points to Munich Airport, which recently refreshed its TETRA network, but added in WAVE too. ‘As the customer’s refresh cycle comes up they can upgrade their LMR system and then add broadband links, even though they may only have a few licenses at first.’

Spaeth argues that customers can start small and build up their migration to broadband, thereby enabling them to experiment and learn. ‘Coverage will differ with broadband, so they need to see how it compares with LMR. The industry will make adjustments and that is how it evolves.’

He points out that LMR is very good at work group communications, not because it is revolutionary, but because it has decades of development behind it. New features are being added all the time to build up decades of iterative processes.

‘Broadband is only just beginning to go through this process,’ notes Spaeth. ‘So taking a hybrid network approach de-risks things - at least during the transition phase. Some will take an aggressive approach to migration, others will take it more slowly. The bigger networks like FirstNet in the US and ESN in the UK will help spread the word.

‘Our job as industry is to provide flexible options as every vertical and geography will be a bit different. These new technologies will affect the market but they won’t take over.

‘This is an exciting time for us. We have the LMR heritage, but we also have the broadband capability and the trusted advisor role. We are the glue that holds it all together, because we understand the critical communications operational use cases, which the cellular world does not,’ says Spaeth.

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