The shift to open standards

Zetron Australasia Pty Ltd
By Ranjan Bhagat, Zetron
Thursday, 26 November, 2009

Although radio communications systems have traditionally been standalone, voice-centric platforms, the convergence of voice and data and the need for improved spectrum efficiency are driving a worldwide shift towards feature-rich, integrated voice and data digital radio technologies.

In addition, an increasing need for organisations such as public-safety and law-enforcement agencies and utilities and transport companies to communicate across different radio types is driving an increased demand for systems that support interoperability.

As a result, we are seeing ongoing development of digital trunking open standards, such as P25, TETRA or DMR.

Although these changes are positive, they can also be overwhelming. It can be helpful to understand the prevailing market trends in a user’s area of operation.

Although most of the global radio base worldwide is still analog, this is changing. A review of global digital-trunking markets reveals the following trends.

TETRA, originally developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), has a growing dominance in Europe. TETRA is also leading other digital trunking protocols in the Middle East.

In the US, there is a shift in public safety communications away from proprietary analog to digital open-standard systems, such as those that support P25. As these standards evolve, there is an increasing number of open-standard systems being deployed.

Some South American countries are beginning to adopt P25 for public safety, with Brazil leading this trend.

In both Australia and New Zealand, most public safety agencies are based on P25. Although TETRA is gaining traction in Australian commercial markets, local spectrum constraints continue to limit TETRA’s growth.

Asia is a wide-open market but with vast differences in radio technologies.

Although the use of analog technologies persists in rural areas, larger cities in countries such as China, Korea and Malaysia are moving towards TETRA for city/government radio networks (GRN).

In China and India, the market for existing analog trunking technologies still prevails. But in India, great potential also exists for TETRA, P25 and DMR.

Smaller Asian countries are also showing mixed trends. TETRA is growing in these countries, but the pace of migration from analog to digital is inhibited by economic constraints.

Although recent contract awards in the Asia-Pacific region indicate that public safety, military, oil and gas, aviation and airports are early adopters of digital technology, existing conventional technologies are likely to persist for some time.

Despite the differences in technology worldwide, there are basic questions that users can ask to evaluate radio technologies they are considering. This is a first step towards ensuring that the technologies they eventually choose will meet their needs now and well into the future.

The following 10 questions can be used to conduct an initial assessment of most systems:

  1. What is the total cost of ownership?
  2. Does the system support open standards?
  3. Will the technology meet current and future business needs?
  4. Does the system provide adequate interoperability between different communication systems?
  5. Does the system support disaster recovery and business continuity with features such as redundant architecture and intersite connectivity?
  6. How well does the technology integrate with other applications?
  7. How essential is voice security?
  8. Can the user be assured of ongoing, good local support?
  9. How well does the technology fit with the user’s IP network?
  10. If the user is non-English speaking, is the system’s user interface available in the user’s native language?

A thorough, more-extensive evaluation is still necessary to determine whether a particular technology will best meet a user’s needs.

The possibilities for radio technologies throughout the world are indeed undergoing a transformation. The worldwide trend is towards systems that provide improved functionality, flexibility and scalability; easier integration with other equipment; and better interoperability across radio types.

With the vast improvements these new technologies and standards offer, the user will clearly be the winner.

About the Author: Ranjan Bhagat is currently Zetron Australasia's general manager and vice-president in Brisbane. The company is part of a global company providing communication solutions for the command and control dispatch markets in Australian and Asia-Pacific markets.

He has extensive experience in the communications industry and began his career at Zetron in Redmond, US, in 2001.

Before joining Zetron, he had over 12 years' experience in senior technology and business leadership positions in voice and data networking and telecommunication systems. Ranjan has BSEE and MSEE degrees from Washington State University, US.

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