Kenwood unveiled its first DMR radios at PMR Expo 2013 in the shape of the TK-D200 (VHF) and TK-D300 (UHF) hand portable radios. The radios will start shipping in January 2014 and will be followed by DMR Tier II compatible repeaters in the first quarter of the year.
The move fulfils the promise made at last year’s PMR Expo, when Kenwood announced it would be bringing ETSI compliant dPMR radios and DMR systems to the market to join the company’s NEXEDGE (NXDN) and P25 ranges. The ETSI compliant dPMR radios were launched in July 2013.
Speaking to Wireless at the show, Mike Atkins, managing director of Kenwood Europe HQ, Communications Division (pictured below), said: ‘We are starting with two portables, one high tier and one mid with repeaters, but eventually we will end up with a top to bottom family of DMR products.
‘The radios use the same form factor as some of the NEXEDGE range and feature universal plugs, so customers can use existing attachments. We are aiming at the small system market in Europe.’
However, Atkins emphasised that NEXEDGE is still Kenwood’s lead technology. ‘We’ve had it since 2008. We are now on the Version 10 upgrade path and it is a proven technology with more than 700,000 users out there. Some rivals are saying we are launching DMR because NEXEDGE is on the way out. Absolutely not: in fact we are developing it further.’
Atkins revealed that Kenwood will launch a NEXEDGE ATEX hand portable early next year. ‘NEXEDGE is particularly suited to ATEX, you just plug and play, and 6.25Khz is particularly suited to oil rigs for coverage reasons, so we think we’ll grab a large share of this market.’
He added that Kenwood plans to extend the NEXEDGE system platform. ‘There’s a limited number of sites you can have at the moment, but there will be a massive expansion in the number of sites you can have from next year. This has been driven by some of our customers who are looking for national coverage, so you’ll be able to have a large number of sites all linked with full roaming capability.’
The message from Kenwood is that it now has everything, according to Atkins. ‘We can offer customers NXDN, dPMR and DMR, and we have P25 too, of course. No one else has all those four technologies. Yes, we have bitten off quite a big chunk by trying to have all four, but we felt if we didn’t do that we can only shoot at part of the market.’
He continued: ‘We have a very clearly defined strategy to cover all the technologies. NEXEDGE is very strong outside of Europe, but we have dealers that need to have DMR because of where they are. Now we can explain the good and bad of every technology at a pitch, while other manufacturers with one or two technologies will only give customers the good bits.’
Commenting on the ‘battle of the PMR digital radio standards’ and the potential confusion for customers, Atkins said: ‘One of the problems is this technical battle is a phoney war. The story and the reality are two completely different things. It particularly annoys us as NXDN gets blocked because people say it is not an ETSI standard.
‘However, it is an open standard, while some ETSI standards are not interoperable beyond some basic features. What’s been interesting to discover about DMR as we started interoperability testing with other manufacturers, is seeing just how differently the various vendors go about doing things,’ said Atkins.
This is largely because while ETSI lays down what should be in the DMR standard it has not defined how all the features and functions should be executed. Hence, manufacturers have had to come up with their own solutions, while waiting for ETSI and the DMR Association working groups to define a standard way of doing things, such as encryption, for example.
‘Not even dealers are understanding this, let alone customers,’ says Atkins. ‘But many business users are less worried about this kind of technical battle – they just want what works and to have confidence in their chosen system.’
Atkins feels the PMR market has been stodgy for some time, but there are grounds for optimism. ‘Analogue sales have gone down hugely and digital has gone up, but not enough to make the difference over the last few years. However, the economy is improving and we are on the edge of huge contracts now that wouldn’t have been there a year ago – and there are more players in the market.’
Turning to the growth in applications, Atkins said Kenwood Solution Developments has grown the number of apps through the year. Explaining the Kenwood partnership strategy, he says: “We might pick one or two things to develop ourselves; we done our own low cost dispatcher, for example. But we can’t do everything. Others have more sophisticated dispatchers. It has always been this way, but manufacturers are making it more formalised now.’
To illustrate the point, Kenwood had a number of application partners showcasing products on its stand at PMR Expo 2013, including several dispatch systems.
The NexeTalk dispatcher from Phaeton is designed to work with Kenwood NEXEDGE radio systems+ and supports advanced functions, along with AVL and voice recording features.
It is a fully IP-based application that does not require any other hardware, such as control stations or an external USB decoder, as the built in software comes with AMBE+2 vocodor.
It supports trunking systems of any size and should be available for conventional systems by the end of January 2014. Any number of dispatchers can be connected to the radio system. It can be used for fleet management in large trunked systems and channels can be leased to other companies.
The system supports group and selective private calls. Open source maps are used to locate radio users and dynamic/remote regrouping for live re-assignment between call groups is part of the system.
The voice recording feature allows controllers to see all the voice connections from radio to radio and SIP-based calls for VoIP telephony. Both types of call are recorded and available for instant playback. These can be saved as a web link and transferred to hard disk if necessary. The voice log can be held anywhere as it is just an IP address.
NexeTalk also enables the sending and receiving of text messages and supports statuses, which can be customised. It also has a lone worker protection feature: if the controller sees no activity he can send a message telling the user to press the PTT button to confirm he is okay. If there is no action in 30 seconds then a warning message comes up on the dispatcher’s console along with an audio alarm.
The SIP application enables radio to phone; phone to radio; and phone to talk group calls. NexeTalk’s business development manager Eugene Balyabin said: “We are working on a mobile app prototype at the moment, which will list all the radios and their locations on a map on your smartphone. It will allow the sending and receiving of text messages with audio to come later. We’ve done it on Android at the moment and iOS to follow.’
Italy’s PXL demonstrated its InteROX unified communications system, which is designed to present a unified way to store and manage phone calls and PMR communications using a web-based service.
The system uses NAS (network attached storage) architecture, which provides a varied capability for different customers. InteROX is built over the NAS platform. It defines the architecture and components necessary to allow the use of voice, messaging and signalling services typical of professional PMR networks by users of other communications networks and vice versa.
InteROX provides gateway solutions to resolve the interface between specific communication networks and IP based interoperability protocols. It can integrate third parties gateways with the same aim and provides IP-based services to resolve security, access control, transcoding, routing, automation and other aspects related to interoperability.
It also provides applications for control room operators to manage multi-standard communications and interoperability and interoperates with third parties applications using SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) framework.
Solutions exist for NEXEDGE and DMR, TETRA and GSM, PSTN and Satellite, VOIP (SIP and H323) and analogue VHF for aeronautical and marine communications.
PXL president Giovanni Pico explained that the system is designed to make it very easy to search the calls database using date, time, call groups etc and recover any call, which can then be instantly listened to via the web interface.
The system has a acknowledge message application for emergency services with a corresponding visual display on the controller’s console. If a message is sent to a whole call group in the field and each recipient presses ‘yes’ to acknowledge they have seen the message, then the light goes green on the operator’s screen against each member of the call group. If it is red, then it means the message did not get through. The controller can then contact all the red members as one or individually.
Pio said that InteROX is customisable: for example, one client’s main request was for rapidity of access to the operator, and assigned six operators per call group. The system is also integrated with Asterisk (a VoIP system) allowing PMR radio to telephone and mobile phone calls and messaging and vice versa via the InteROX gateway.
Another Kenwood applications partner, B&E antec from Germany, showcased its NX Dongle, which enables position-based automatic channel switching, along with a geofencing function.
NX Dongle uses GPS to allow any Kenwood NXx20 series radio to switch channel based on its position automatically to ensure stable operation within large networks.
By defining a switched area, the device, which plugs easily into the back of a NEXEDGE mobile radio deployed in a vehicle, switches the radio channel automatically as the vehicle enters the new channel zone. The GPS is built into the mobile radio (NX720/820).
The geofencing application enables position logging for conservation of evidence – it proves where the vehicle has been and when. It will also send an alarm to the controller should the vehicle leave its predefined route or area of operation.
B&E antec has also developed a modem in response to requests from some of its energy distribution clients to provide a portable NEXEDGE M2M application. This can be used on both analogue and digital networks and for both fixed and mobile installations (with a portable power supply). The modem is IP65 water resistant and there is a GSM gateway option available.
Germany’s Schmidt Funktechnik displayed its dispatch, lone worker and indoor location applications. The lone worker application is particularly suited to the likes of prison officers, for example. The software is built into the radio via its option board slot where a radio transceiver communicates with automatic beacons installed the building.
The radio’s accelerator enables it to detect man-down situations and non-movement and sends an alarm to the controller. The beacons provide the user’s location within the building, enabling help to be sent quickly to the right place.
The company’s voice dispatcher was also on show – it comes complete with location mapping of radios, history of the last event and voice recorder facilities, which can be stored on a PC.
Kolibri Systems from the Netherlands was also showcasing a dispatch and tracking system. Kolibri business consultant Gjalt van der Veen, said: ‘We offer all the usual dispatching features such as group and selective calling and a lot of tracking applications integrated onto maps. Where we stand out is that our platform is configurable to each customer’s needs.
‘Take maps, for example,’ he continues. ‘If the customer needs a specific map we can connect the existing map and put enterprise logic into it, i.e. we add in the customers particular work processes. We’ll look at their people and assess their sophistication – do they just want to press a button, or do they want something more complex? We can programme in danger areas using geofencing and provide the controller with an unauthorised access warning.’
Kolibri offers fully flexible, bespoke systems, which are vendor neutral, so they will work with any radio system. It can integrate SIP PSTN telephony, but also add features such as telephone queuing, call back and station alerts if required.
Three models of the software are available: Standard – which can be tweaked a bit; Custom – the standard version customised to a larger extent; and Specials – a fully bespoke solution.
The system is also ‘really scalable’, according to van der Veen. ‘You can run anything from 25 radios off a laptop to the entire port of Rotterdam using our system.’