LTE PoC takes hold in NZ
Recent market entrant LTE NZ is riding the wave of interest in PTT-over-cellular services.
LTE NZ manages a national PTT-over-cellular network, utilising the Vodafone and Spark platforms, and has just celebrated its first anniversary. According to the company’s Managing Director, Simon Green, “There’s been a lack of competition in the New Zealand market for national PTT services, mainly due to both the huge infrastructure investment required and the need for accessible sites across the country.
“We’re aiming to reverse the trend of LMR customers migrating to cell phones due to a lack of options in the market, by providing the right kind of product that provides PTT style of use with the coverage of cellular networks,” he added.
There are essentially two types of LTE networks — the public shared voice and data networks such as Vodafone and Spark operate, and the closed, dedicated LTE PTT networks that are being built in places such as the UK and USA. “Whilst there are SIMs that will give users priority access to shared networks, these are extremely limited and only available to government organisations, so they aren’t really an option for critical services such as air and sea ports,” said Green. “For these requirements, a privately owned network is needed, which essentially means having to build your own cellular network for your own use.”
According to Green, LTE provides great advantages over lower-tier digital radio systems such as DMR, and has features as good as P25 and TETRA. “As long as the private network is built with the same redundancies in place as any other mission-critical project, it makes an excellent option … and over the coming years critical LTE networks will become quite common,” he said.
LTE NZ is currently launching a dual-mode LTE/DMR radio to support both LTE and LMR technologies. Green says there are large parts of New Zealand that do not and never will have cellular coverage, meaning traditional LMR is the only practical solution. “The forestry industry is a great example for the requirement of this type of technology mix,” he said. “Use the LMR technology when you need access to the private network and then switch to LTE when you need to drive on the main roads. Both technologies operating seamlessly side by side.”
As data speeds increase with 5G on the horizon, Green sees more use for video communications being likely. In the same way that traditional telephony saw the emergence of VoIP before Skype came along and took it to the next level, Green sees mobile communications going the same way.
There are essentially two ways that LTE PTT is utilised at the moment. A lot of suppliers are looking to provide an app-based service running on a smart device with a PTT button on the side. “This gives you great options to add a lot of other services, but on the flip side it can be quite complicated to use and you end up paying twice for the service — once for the data and then again for a subscription to the app,” said Green.
LTE NZ has taken a different approach. The products supported on its network look and operate in exactly the same way as traditional LMR radio, they just use data on a cellular network to send the digital voice. “For the operator, it works exactly the same way as a traditional LMR device, so there’s no need to retrain on a different system and no complicated smart device to work out,” said Green. “You just press the button to talk and turn the channel knob to change channel.”
Green says that the company’s first year has been one giant and very steep learning curve, with some standout lessons learned along the way. “For example, don’t give customers the ability to delete devices off your network or you’ll find yourself spending your entire Sunday reloading their devices back onto the network,” he said.
At first, LTE NZ was reliant on the radio manufacturers providing the network management system on their servers. While this was a very convenient and cost-effective way to operate, the company soon found out that it introduced terrible operational problems.
“If anything needed to be done or fixed, you were dependent on their timescales,” said Green. “Most manufacturers operate a good few hours behind us in New Zealand, so when we’re trying to fix issues at 8 am, they’re not around for another five or six hours, leaving us in the lurch. Also, LTE PTT tends to run into problems if network delays get too big.”
Setting up its own servers not only gave the company control on how it maintains and supports its system, it removed the latency issues involved in running through a cloud or overseas server.
“The biggest high for us came when we signed up our first thousand subscribers,” said Green. “While it’s totally arbitrary, there was something about that number that made it feel like we had made our mark on the industry and had to be taken seriously.”
Looking ahead, Green says one of the most exciting new features of LTE NZ’s system is the ability to turn the mobile radio into a Wi-Fi hub. “We’ve only recently started investigating the opportunities this creates, but having the ability to act as a portal for multiple connected devices is very exciting,” he said. “We’re always open to new ideas, so if anyone out there has any suggestions, we’d love to hear from you.”
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