TETRA vs Cellular: key elements to consider when planning a mission-critical network
When production, safety and operational managers start planning activity on a new site, they know they will need a secure communications platform to connect their teams across all the site and enable efficient working practice.
The next step is which technology platform to use. As ever there are numerous solutions to choose from, and it is important to choose one that best suits your specific needs.
What are the key critical communications issues?
It is critical to ensure interoperability between devices, radio terminals and control room functionality. Open standards and associated interoperability between TETRA vendors deliver an open market for devices, and other services across the network, maintaining competitiveness, driving innovation and ensuring continuity of supply and choice from a diverse ecosystem of suppliers across the network.
Compliance with industry standards and solid interoperability between components of the system and devices will ensure quality, reliability and choice, and hence each type of user will be able to choose a solution fit for their purpose.
Cellular or TETRA — which best fits specific user groups?
TETRA networks are specialist networks delivering mission-critical communications services, with specific feature sets that have evolved and improved over time. These requirements are based on extensive user interactions, across various sectors understanding how people interface with technology whilst undertaking their role.
TETRA networks are designed to provide a high level of inherent resilience and redundancy in their architectures. The networks are dimensioned to provide a specific grade of service at peak load to the user groups they serve; if peak demand is overreached, calls are queued, rather than dropped.
The choice between cellular and TETRA is based upon user needs. Different networks offer different benefits to the mission-critical user. No doubt in time cellular networks will evolve, become hardened and mature in the same way that TETRA has done, and broadband will then become the single operational network. However, for now, broadband is not able to take on all the attributes required to provide the lifeline of mission-critical voice communications.
In addition, the TETRA devices are designed for use in mission-critical situations, with a rugged design capable of many years’ service in hostile and abusive environments and must perform at their rated specification reliably every time they are used over their lifetime.
Typical requirements for mission-critical users
The network must provide reliable communications, always available in all circumstances. Quality of service and performance KPIs must be sustained to ensure successful operations, both within the network coverage and when the network is not available. Direct mode operation is a key operating requirement for most mission-critical users who need to be able to rely on communications however the network status changes, planned or unexpected.
The devices must be sufficiently robust to keep working in adverse weather conditions — whether hot, cold or wet — or adverse environmental conditions; for example, in dusty, salty or dirty locations. The devices must also be tough enough to stand repeated cycles of deployment with varied users and withstand heavy kicks, drops and intensive use.
Audio must be intelligible, loud and clear so that information and instructions are heard first time, every time. This includes whilst operating in noisy, dangerous or busy environments. This intelligibility must be supported by a portfolio of mission-critical quality proven, accessories allowing users to use devices in a manner that supports their daily operational needs; for example, eyes-free usage and being easy to access using gloves and other protective equipment.
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