Looking back at a career in comms: Q&A with Anton Abrahams

Monday, 16 October, 2023

Looking back at a career in comms: Q&A with Anton Abrahams

Following 15 years as a director of the Australasian Critical Communications Forum (ACCF), Anton Abrahams is stepping down from the ACCF board, but will remain involved with the work of the Forum as a member. Here he looks back at the achievements of the ACCF, and what the future holds for the ACCF and for critical communications in the region.

When and how did you first become involved in the critical communications sector?

As a young electronics engineer from the Netherlands, I arrived in Australia in the 1970s. I was first employed by Siemens Australia and in 1978 I was hired by the Philips Telecommunications Manufacturing Centre in Clayton, Victoria, which predominantly was involved in the design and manufacturing of land mobile radio as part of the global Philips company.

At that stage the company exported its LMR products globally and was the centre of excellence in the Philips Concern. Products of notoriety were the first synthesised LMR products, FM900, the FM880 radio links and the introduction of the 40-channel CB UHF FM320 radios.

This started my long career in the critical communications sector, which took me back to Europe in the 1980s to work for the Philips Mobile Radio Management Group (MRMG) in Cambridge, UK, and in APAC based with Philips Singapore. This was followed by a stint as the regional director of Telecom Australia Int’l (Telstra) in South Asia setting up cellular radio networks, first AMPS followed by GSM and VSAT services.

I returned to the PMR sector and supported the creation of Simoco International in the UK in the late nineties with the buyout of Philips global LMR activities, followed by a period at ComNet-Ericsson USA looking after the Australasia region.

What led you to become involved in the work of the ACCF?

I believed in the principle that Philips followed of open standards that continually foster multi-vendor participation and sustain innovation across the entire ecosystem to address evolving user demands whether in consumer or critical industries.

When employed by Philips the company developed and followed open standards such as POCSAG and MPT1327, followed by the TETRA standard in the 1990s.

Even in ComNet-Ericsson, APCO P25 was the Holy Grail to an open standard multi-vendor technology. Standards became my mantra and, as I believe, form a fundamental basis for the technological world we live and operate in.

This led me towards joining the ACCF — which at its earliest stage some 20 years ago promoted TETRA as the pre-eminent solution for critical voice and short data LMR communications — supported by the TETRA MoU Association in Europe, which since then has changed its name to The Critical Communications Association (TCCA).

TETRA could not have become the global success story it is without its basis in standards, as well as the many manufacturers who saw it as an opportunity to grow a market through competition. The same scenario goes for critical broadband standards developed through 3GPP and its many global members, many of them TCCA and ACCF members.

How has the ACCF evolved over the past decade?

The critical communications landscape is undergoing a period of considerable change due to the ongoing adoption of broadband radio by mission-critical users across the world, leading to the global development of standardised critical communications broadband solutions.

TCCA, through ETSI and 3GPP, is helping to steer this development of standardised critical broadband communications technology as the realisation on the part of the verticals that ‘mission critical’ features are likely to become increasingly relevant to them as they continue to leverage broadband going forward. ACCF is supporting this in the Australasia/Oceania region.

As mentioned, standardisation — as well as interoperability testing, certification and stakeholder community collaboration — are processes in which TCCA has huge involvement, going all the way back to the early days of TETRA. TCCA supports ETSI’s interoperability testing for the various Releases of the 3GPP critical broadband standard — for example, with the ETSI MCX Plugtests.

It was inevitable for both TCCA and ACCF to broaden their scope, specifically in response to the aforementioned evolution of the sector from narrowband to broadband in a similar fashion in the development and popularisation of TETRA.

How has the critical communications landscape across the ANZ region changed, and how do you see the future as critical broadband becomes a reality?

The ongoing adoption of broadband radio by mission-critical users across the world has led to the global development and utilisation of standardised critical communications broadband solutions. The Australian critical communications landscape is undergoing a similar considerable change where government, industry and other verticals realise that mission- and business-critical features are becoming increasingly relevant to them as they continue to leverage broadband for their services.

The government PSMB initiatives, the New Zealand NGCC initiatives and the strong interest in private LTE and private 5G in mining and transportation will provide important changes in the way we use critical communication tools.

The Australian LMR landscape will change but I see critical PMR such as P25, TETRA and DMR featuring in our market for a long time to come, as least as long as it takes for critical broadband to become a mature, well-proven and trusted critical communications technology. LTE is going to bring a lot of benefits to that platform, but the more we look into this, the more I’m convinced that the PMR platform is going to remain for the foreseeable future, and LTE or 5G will build on that.

As Comms Connect takes place this week, why do you think events like this are so valuable in highlighting and promoting the work of the critical communications sector?

This Melbourne event unites mission-critical and business-critical end users with manufacturers and suppliers for three days of inspiration, knowledge and connections and allows visitors to view the latest technology and forge new business relationships with partners from across the globe.

CC Melbourne is a showcase for the latest and greatest in critical comms technology to ensure the security, dependability, reliability and redundancy of networks across many vertical solutions and markets.

It connects the people and technologies charged with ensuring that the most critical communications support governments, utilities, transportation, enterprise, public safety, health care and critical-infrastructure sectors under the most difficult circumstances.

Why are organisations such as ACCF and TCCA important to the sector?

The ACCF and TCCA provide an important global platform for collaboration, information exchange and cooperation. The ACCF and TCCA have more than 150 member organisations globally, comprising governments, public safety, manufacturers and vendors, integrators, operators and users in transportation, utilities and the resources industries.

Our combined membership design, manufacture, build, implement, utilise, analyse, promote, develop and deploy critical communications worldwide.

Our industry is up against the global telecoms community, so we need to punch above our weight to get key functionalities that traditionally embodied mission-critical narrowband PMR technology standards such as TETRA, P25 and DMR embedded in the latest broadband technologies, as well as being in a position to see them commercialised.

Our mission-critical communications industry could indeed be said to be in ‘competition’ with the commercial mobile communications sector that could have been the demise of our traditional LMR industry. After all, there are roughly around 50 million PMR users in the world compared with seven billion cellular users, with stakeholders quite naturally emphasising consumer requirements within the standard because of a (perfectly reasonable) need to maximise profits.

So TCCA had to convince 3GPP that it was worth their while and effort spending time and money to satisfy critical communications end-user requirements — a huge challenge, but TCCA succeeded.

To this end, TCCA became a 3GPP market representation partner for critical communications and formed a members’ Working Group — the Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG) — in which ACCF can participate to help bring critical communications functionality to LTE.

TCCA’s level of involvement with its members and its international Working Groups such as the CCBG includes participation in the global development of LTE 4G and 5G broadband standards by highlighting the needs of business- and mission-critical users. This not only means public safety but also the likes of utilities, transport, resources, health and industry. This is reflected in the latest 3GPP Releases R17, and the yet-to-be-finalised R18.

Furthermore, TCCA stimulates regional representation such as the ACCF, so we can grow our community and — importantly — get a broader range of perspectives from the end users. It’s important that we carry out this work on an international basis, which will also help us with the development of standards in the mission-critical realm and drive global harmonised adoption.

For example, an integral part of ACCF and TCCA is helping users and the supply community establish interworking functionality (between narrowband LMR and LTE), ultimately ending up with a standardised interworking function. That’s going to be a critical area for us over the course of the next 12 months.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to become involved in the work of these organisations — what are the rewards?

Over the past 50 years or so, I have watched wireless technology evolve from 2G to 5G with 6G on the horizon. Hopefully, the decision-makers of tomorrow will make the right technology choices in the time of climate change, natural disasters and the like. For me it’s clear that 50 years is an awfully long time in tech terms, but it’s exciting to see just how much benefit can be achieved through collaboration and cooperation between like-minded individuals and organisations working towards the common good.

Therefore, there is an inevitable need to broaden our scope as TCCA and ACCF in response to the ongoing evolution of our sector. Supporting the industry in awareness, education and training with regards to critical broadband standards is critical. That makes ACCF affiliation with TCCA so important as our link to the rest of the world.

We as a community should not be looking to move completely from PMR, whatever flavour it is — TETRA, P25 or something else — until what is offered to us in critical broadband is proven to at least deliver the cardinal user requirements, and enables us to build lots of other opportunities, technology and functionality on top, heading towards an even brighter future for TCCA, ACCF and the whole critical communications community!

Top image credit: iStock.com/Maks_Lab

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