Taking part in this year's show were 380 exhibiting companies, among them the TCCA members spearheading a TETRA push into North America. Richard Lambley reports

Taking part in this year’s show were 380 exhibiting companies, among them the TCCA members spearheading a TETRA push into North America. Richard Lambley reports

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TETRA in North America: Both old and new

The first TETRA manufacturer to make inroads in North America was Teltronic (now a part of the Sepura Group), through its New York-based subsidiary PowerTrunk. “Our customer base is now considerable,” said José Martín, chief executive of PowerTrunk, on his stand in the IWCE exhibition hall. “The first deployment happened in 2012 in Canada with BC Hydro, and in the US in 2013 with New Jersey Transit. In 2016 we have many customers, most of them major end users.

“We are still in the early stages of our development in North America, but what is important is that our customers are top-class and so very visible in the region. We did not start with small users – we are going to the big ones.

“The most recent development was the award of the New York City Transit [contract] for our bus radio system, awarded on February 24. It’s for almost 7,000 buses, a control centre and many side activities and equipment. We go through a system integrator, Parsons Transportation Group.

“I know they were considering TETRA long ago – even 11 years ago they were interested – but the technology was not available in the US. At some point they learned that we had type acceptance certificates for TETRA in the US, and I think that made them seriously consider the option of going with TETRA.

“So TETRA in North America is at the same time old and new. It is old because it is a mature technology – the first deployments were 18 years ago – but at the same time it’s an innovation because it is only recently available. Many people believe it is something new, a real breakthrough. But in the rest of the world
it is quite normal. Everybody uses TETRA.

“There are many misconceptions and ungrounded ideas about what you can do with TETRA, or not, and we are addressing that. But we are having significant success and we expect that our business will keep growing.”
But what difference has it made to PowerTrunk, being a part of Sepura now? “I think that’s very positive for us because both companies are quite complementary,” Martín answers. “Teltronic, which is PowerTrunk’s parent company, is very strong for systems, and Sepura is very strong
for terminal equipment. So you put both things together and it means that we are reinforced. It is a very positive step for us.”

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“Hytera has done a lot of work in North America,” said director of marketing Vivian Pan from the company’s North America office in Florida. “We are trying to enter different industries, the verticals.”

Building confidence

Very nearly the biggest stand was that of Chinese company Hytera. Alongside its well-established TETRA product family, Hytera showed its new DMR Pro trunking infrastructure – a DMR Tier III-compliant range offering a solution for critical communications users who (for example) cannot obtain suitable frequencies for TETRA or require a different combination of transmission range and user density.

One of Hytera’s themes at the show was its efforts expanding TETRA in the North American market. “There are some specific industries, for example transportation and utilities,” said director of marketing Vivian Pan. “Hytera has grown a lot in the past eight years in the US and Canada, and yet there’s still a lot more to be done.”

Hytera has been investing in establishing distribution channels and building confidence among users. “It definitely takes time, especially for an end user who doesn’t have a lot of industry knowledge,” said Pan. “That’s when the users start to build trust, a connection, or at least to build an interest.

An advantage is that Hytera can offer competitive pricing because it owns its manufacturing facilities. “We have a R&D team of more than 800 people, and now there are more people specifically for LTE. So with all this, I think once we have passed the hurdle of end users knowing our name they will start really wanting to use Hytera products and solutions more and more.

“That’s why at a show like IWCE, CCW or other international shows we want to have a presence. We want to make sure Hytera is there, we want to give a message to the industry that we want to grow.”

Serious about doing business

"I think this is a very important show for us,” said Phil Kidner, chief executive of the TETRA and Critical Communications Association. “It’s the biggest PMR show in the world, and if we are serious about doing business in the US we have to be here.

“A lot of people are talking about how important the contract with New York City Transit is going to be, and everybody is interested in that. They see that almost as a game-changer. Now there are TETRA installations being successfully used all around the US and Canada. So no longer should it be regarded as ‘that European technology’. Potential users in the US and Canada can go and see what their peers are doing.”

Should some of the TCCA’s other manufacturing members now try to enter the North American market? “It’s been a long, drawn-out, difficult process, but 40 per cent of the global market is here so they should be part of this, undoubtedly,” replied Kidner.

“All credit to Sepura-PowerTrunk, because it has been driving it, there’s no doubt about that. But I think that its success... will encourage others to come here as well.

“I think what we need to do is continue with the education process because even though we know there’s a lot out there we’re not necessarily getting that message across. We’re not telling enough people that this is what TETRA can do, that it is available now, and that it has been implemented here. We need to do a lot of that.”

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"You can very easily leverage the power of the data features of TETRA," said Mentura co-founder Sami Honkaniemi

Hooking up with smart devices

Finnish company Mentura, a developer of management tools for critical communications systems, was focusing on TETRA projects in the US and on the emerging FirstNet agenda. “What we are showing here is conversion tools for running your operations and managing the networks,” said co-founder Sami Honkaniemi. “There will be parallel use of TETRA with different technologies and we don’t know how long that will last, but we want to help our customers manage the transition from where we are to the future.

“So we have here positioning, AVL, fleet management, everything that is both TETRA and is multi-network hybrid. We have here real-time video sharing using smartphones between the control room and the mobiles of the team. TETRA is there in the background and still used for voice, but there are a lot of new smart devices coming and we are integrating those to be part of the operation. So our customers can do more.

“We combine the network management functions with the operational and tactical needs. When you are managing your network, you need to know who you can communicate with, where are they are and what kind of communication is available. So we’re bringing that to the same maps: you can have coverage maps for TETRA and for LTE and for commercial networks all on the same maps with AVL. We have tools for situational awareness and we are bringing network information and communications device management to be part of that situation.

“And of course this information about network and communication quality is something that we collect all the time as part of the operation.”

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Bill Fredrickson, director of LMR systems for Selex ES in North America

A platform for integrating TETRA

TETRA exhibits on the stand of Selex ES, a division of Italy’s Leonardo-Finmeccanica group, included a dual-carrier base station node. “It’s a compact unit that has all the smarts in it as a node for communicating with multiple sites, in a very nice compact package,” enthused Bill Fredrickson, director of business development for LMR systems at the company’s US base. “It’s good to bring to a trade show!”

Nearby were several mobiles and handportables, including the Puma T3 handportable; the next-generation Puma T4, which combines TETRA and LTE radios behind an Android touchscreen; and a next-generation TEDS-enabled vehicle radio, the ElettraSuite VS4000. This will also be available with
built-in Wi-Fi.

“People have a need for using voice communications, but they also want to download information on a broadband basis into a patrol car, into a vehicle or whatever it is,” commented Fredrickson. “So you go to a hotspot and you can pick up and download stuff.

“What people like about TETRA is that you get the 4:1 TDMA. It’s a well-proven technology, it’s been out there and used in a lot of different applications, whether it be mining, utility, public safety – it’s proven itself across all those. It has a lot of options. What is kind of unique about ours is we have a situation where customers are made up of multiple organisations. They don’t want to have islands of communications. They like to buy one infrastructure but then let the people operate independently.”

To unite such islands of communication Selex ES offers its Communications Services Platform (CSP). “It’s just a computer running software,” Fredrickson explained. “But what we are demonstrating here is we have a VoIP desk phone on somebody’s desk that can talk to the TETRA system and it can also talk to a DMR or the P25 system. Certainly we’ve got it integrated with our technology, but it doesn’t have to be ours; we can work with other manufacturers too. The only tricky part would be their willingness to work with us to allow their system to work with our CSP. It’s easy for us to get agreement amongst ourselves, but when you go to someone else sometimes a competitor isn’t as motivated.

“The CSP will do subscriber management, it will do all those types of things that you need to do from one platform to another. Part of the application we see for that in the United States is FirstNet. Folks are going to have their island of technology, whether it’s TETRA or P25 or DMR or analogue. They are going to want to use the LTE FirstNet, but they want to operate that as a virtual private network. With the CSP they can manage their LTE broadband users and a TETRA system, or whatever their technology is, through one platform. So to them it looks like a VPN for their broadband as well as the narrowband voice.”

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Pierre Minot, president of Etelm, with an LTE eNodeB for private mobile radio

Transportable, adaptable LTE

French TETRA specialist Etelm showed a compact 15-watt LTE base station (eNodeB) optimised for private mobile radio applications. “It’s available in 700 MHz bands for the first version and could be used for tactical purposes or it could be put in a standard rack cabinet,” explained the company’s president Pierre Minot. “It’s not a picocell or femtocell it’s a full cell. And most importantly it’s optimised for long range, not for high density of traffic. Most of the large cells that are now on the market are optimised for public operators – to provide maximum capacity and density – and this optimisation is very bad for long range.

“LTE was mainly developed for point-to-point communications, and for group call the coverage is drastically reduced. You divide the coverage of a standard LTE base station by a minimum of two or three when you are using it with group calls.”

Conventional LTE units are generally coupled to sectored antennas to maximise capacity, he continued. But in professional radio applications where group calls are required this wastes channels, because a group might be scattered across more than one sector. “And so we prefer to use multi-sector for diversity, but we transmit on an omnidirectional antenna,” he said.

Etelm’s eNodeB connects to a conventional multi-vendor LTE core, which also makes it possible to combine a variety of radio technologies into one system. Etelm uses a core that is the size of a small book but has capacity for 2,000 to 3,000 subscribers – sufficient for most PMR systems.

“We connect any base station, broadband or narrowband, to the same LTE core,” Minot continued. “We have developed a TETRA base station version that is directly connected to the LTE core; the same with DMR and the same with analogue too – it’s a new product.” In this way it is possible to implement talkgroups that span all the radio technologies connected to the system.

Author: Tetra Today