Now for another look at DMR

Pacific Wireless Communications Pty Ltd
By David Cox, operations director, Pacific Wireless Communications
Wednesday, 20 July, 2011

The recent DMR discussion has prompted much-welcomed response from the market and from New Zealand in particular stimulating further debate to how applicable will the various executions of DMR be to the Australian market.

The aim of the original article was not to diminish the true user beneficial aspirations and objectives of DMR globally but rather to challenge its claimed ‘digital messiah’ positioning from an Australian mature-market perspective.

As we all know, Australian professional radio users are educated buyers with a sharp sense for real operational needs, true competition and value and so questioning the premise can only be good business sense.

As with all evolving technology, it is inevitable that DMR will lose lucidness for users on what version, interpretation or wide-area implementation is actually being offered and what that means for future add-on purchases.

Features standard on today’s MPT1327 systems such as GPS, multisite and data are now defined as ‘enhanced services’ and could be uniquely implemented by each designer.

Like a herd of Trojan equines, these developing DMR systems will be delivered to users seeking open-standard flexibility, only to find the systems are proprietary and no longer open for competitive sourcing.

We doubt this facet of DMR, when tested, will stand up as robustly against P25 and TETRA, which are well-proved and mature open standards.

As most people know, the market leader owns almost all IP involved with the DMR standard and, as such, must sell/license to anyone wishing to manufacture DMR products at a fair and reasonable price under the ETSI agreement.

Naturally, this excludes optional proprietary enhancements, which may get interlaced and woven into their ‘open’ portfolio offering.

Since the original article, the sole other DMR entrant is still struggling to exit the starting gates while other purported developers are yet to publish a brochure. This competitive void will further enable the incumbent to establish its hold on the market.

So tardy DMR entrants may struggle to define a real market for their plain Jane DMR wares in Australia and may feel they have no choice but to then ‘uprev’ their feature set to compete.

Refusing to ‘read the writing on the wall’, eager DMR product managers will scramble to re-enforce the business case dollars for continued investment with a revised focus on mission-critical and highly sophisticated users, especially as these top-end users have historically shown a willingness to pay a higher price for advanced features.

The core ‘market’ problem, however, is that these particular users have already very mature, highly advanced digital and competitive system choices today with TETRA and P25 and/or are locked into all-of-government GRNs.

While Australia’s very mature government and industrial users have long adopted digital directions with TETRA and P25 technologies for their essential communication needs, the next major shift for some of these users will most certainly include LTE or a hybrid of all these systems. It is hardly realistic to expect proprietary strains and orphan DMR technologies to replace these well-indentured systems in Australia.

So where are the real volume low/mid tier market opportunities for digital radio in Australia?

We believe the great market opportunity for volume remains in churning and migrating baseline analog radio users to digital technologies - cost effectively. The fact is, most users don’t want to pay a dollar more for technology road maps and unique systems applications.

The challenge will be for those radio manufacturers looking for volume sales to meet the market at the price points where most competitive analog products are currently positioned and even better.

Users with two to 100 radios considered baseline business are not interested in road maps and migration stories - just value and performance.

Some DMR’s old-school thinking is out of touch with new-school buyers.

DMR proponents need to recognise that they may very well be cut off at the pass between TETRA/P25 pushing down and value-for-money digital radios, like dPMR, aggressively pushing up.

In bids for as few as a 1000 units you don’t need to search too hard to find the leading-brand TETRA portables being offered for under AU$600, while a few well-placed emails will reveal there is a swathe of vendors planning to launch 6.25 kHz dPMR radios ranging from the simplest analog replacement for a hundred dollars while those featuring everything DMR’s current showcase offer, for around AU$250-500 to Australian dealer channels.

If that wasn’t enough, we have the recent opening of the US market to TETRA, so expect to see the prices for this technology move even lower globally, leaving no obvious ‘sweet spot’ to recover huge DMR development costs.

Unquestioned is DMR suitability for well-established markets in Britain, Europe and elsewhere. While TETRA has dominated the public-safety market in these areas and achieved amazing volume levels, it has technical limitations in operating in the lower segments of the radio spectrum where huge installed bases of industrial and governmental users reside.

These mid-tier markets are up for contention and the well-supported, but aging, MPT1327 trunked segment is also ripe for upgrade. Plump markets that are highly suitable for digital trunked solutions.

Meanwhile, the low tier market remains ever strong for simple analog solutions but will invariably gravitate towards lower tier and new value for money digital alternatives such as dPMR*.

However, Australia is differently positioned spectrum wise than highly dense Western Europe.

We have, thankfully, a progressive ACMA that is actively re-farming spectrum, providing easy accessibility to every digital radio technology, enabling true choice, competition and solution alternatives in every market segment.

DMR is sure to have its share of wins globally and within Australia but the local market will choose carefully with its digital dollar in the low/mid tier market and steer towards value and not just respond mindlessly to a catch phrase.

Perhaps it is different in NZ?

*dPMR is an 6.25 kHz FDMA digital solution that allows simplex (one-to-one) operation similar to analog while also being capable of delivering all the digital bells and whistles including multisite trunking.

The key difference between the two technologies is DMR allows you to split 12.5 kHz into two traffic channels on the one site - doubling your capacity but not your range, whereas dPMR allows you to split into two channels located at two different sites - doubling your capacity but also possibly doubling your range.

NXDN is a Kenwood/Icom specific implementation of dPMR.

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