Technology trends in critical communications
Thursday, 14 September, 2017
Motorola Solutions invests in vital technologies to meet critical communications users’ ever-evolving needs.
As the critical communications industry continues to evolve, Motorola Solutions is investing in voice and data technologies to drive innovation and enable better operational outcomes for its public safety and enterprise customers. To find out more, we spoke with Iain Clarke, Corporate Vice President and General Manager for Motorola Solutions Asia Pacific.
CC: What are the big challenges facing the industry today?
IC: It’s an interesting time of change for the industry. Professional mobile radio (PMR) technologies continue to provide the essential backbone for mission- and business-critical communications. This is reflected in the size of the installed base throughout the Asia Pacific region, which is projected to grow to almost 20 million devices by 2020. At the same time, the market is evolving, with increasing demand for broadband technologies, mobile apps, next-generation command and control, and advanced security solutions.
I think the biggest challenge for our industry is also its biggest opportunity — that is, ensuring there is sufficient scale across all of these technology areas to continue to deliver the best outcomes for our customers. Although the technology landscape is changing, our customers’ needs for the most reliable, secure and robust technologies remain unchanged. Continuing to meet those needs is a great opportunity for the industry and companies including ours.
CC: How is Motorola Solutions preparing for these challenges?
IC: We are balancing our own evolution as a business with remaining flexible to meet our customers’ expectations — regardless of the mix of technologies and platforms they use.
As part of that we continue to invest in our core radio business as well as capabilities to extend the bridge between PMR and broadband. This provides secure radio network access to people working in different roles who don’t typically carry radio handsets. Bridging these two technologies also provides a richer user experience, with more apps to enhance situational awareness.
Globally, Motorola Solutions is investing in a range of specialised software and managed services capabilities through our acquisitions. This includes acquiring Gridstone in Australia to bring new mobile app development capabilities inside our business. Recently, we also announced plans to acquire Airbus DS Communications, a provider of next-generation command centre software in North America; and in March this year, we announced the acquisition of Interexport, a managed and support services provider in Chile.
We are also building a new, global software enterprise to further accelerate software innovation for our public safety and commercial customers. This is being led by Andrew Sinclair, whom we recruited from Microsoft’s Skype division. In addition to driving our software strategy, this group is focused on user experience design, cloud computing, analytics and artificial intelligence solutions.
In the future, you will continue to see us investing in a range of other areas which complement the ongoing management and distribution of intelligence to our customers. This will involve a combination of information sources including voice communication, text, images and video.
CC: What lessons have been learned from extreme events?
IC: When you look at the impacts of natural disasters over the last 45 years, you see that almost 90% of people affected by them worldwide live in the Asia Pacific region.
Natural disasters within this region continue to take a huge toll in terms of lives lost and damage to critical infrastructure. The Nepal earthquake in 2015 and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines are two tragic examples that collectively accounted for more than 14,000 lives.
The severe storms experienced in South Australia over the 2016 New Year period were another event that highlighted how important mission-critical radio communications are for our customers. Those storms were among the worst experienced in the state for 50 years and caused dramatic damage to power supplies and cellular infrastructure. Events like that place a heavy strain on emergency services, which have to respond to a massive upsurge in demand from the public at these times.
When carrier networks go down, mission-critical radio services may often be the only form of communication available. We work extremely hard in the field and at our 24/7 control centres to ensure those services are not disrupted for our customers when they need them most.
In any disaster, emergency services need communications technology which is robust, resilient, can handle surge capacity and perform in times of stress. In the aftermath of a disaster, you also need to be able to rapidly restore and deploy temporary communications to support recovery operations.
Motorola Solutions’ legacy in technology innovation has delivered products and services that are robust and can perform in the most extreme circumstances. We will continue to provide this level of resiliency in new solutions we develop for our customers.
CC: How do customers’ needs influence your technology development?
IC: For many years we have followed and applied an approach known as High Velocity Human Factors to develop our technology. Basically, that means we create technology that will be easier for first responders to use when they are under immense stress — for example, completing a rescue operation inside a burning building.
We also participate in ‘ride alongs’ to better understand how our customers interact with technology, and we work with the wider software industry to deliver ‘hackathons’ to rapidly develop new technologies. We will continue to apply these approaches to innovation as we increase our investments and capabilities as a software-focused business.
One example of our future R&D investments was displayed at Critical Communications World in Hong Kong earlier this year. We showcased a future concept called the ‘Future Fire Commander’ which brings together mixed reality, sensors, video feeds and other information to add software capabilities to a foundation of mission-critical voice technology.
It’s designed to keep fire incident commanders and firefighters safe and connected at the scene of an incident. Today, incident commanders have to work with manual systems and record notes by hand to form a mental image of their fire crews because they often can’t see where they are.
The increasing availability of broadband technology can help to ease the mental strain on people in these roles. Video and other intelligence sources can be used to form a more complete, visual picture of what’s happening at the scene — enabling faster and more accurate decisions to be made in critical situations and improved results in terms of protecting lives and property.
No-one can accurately predict exactly which technologies will be most needed in the future. That’s why we will continue to immerse ourselves in the customer user experience and invest our R&D resources in a combination of traditional technologies and future capabilities that can help us to anticipate our customers’ needs as they continue to change.
We owe it to them to continue designing and developing solutions that will enable them to overcome their most complex challenges so they can work more safely and productively than ever before.
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