Modular radio management systems for RoIP

TestAdvance Pty Ltd

By Ralph Becker, Managing Consultant, Testadvance
Monday, 23 February, 2015

A modular RMS platform gives operators much greater control and opportunities.

The principle purpose of radio communications is the timely exchange of relevant and useful information. The value radio communications provide to the organisation is determined by how well they meet that purpose - yet no two organisations or businesses are the same. For example, a public services provider has different goals and strategies than a mining company. Unsurprisingly, they implement and operate radio communications differently. Organisations must also consider implications of growth, change and risk.

We can summarise the above in three key criteria:

1. Clearly define context and constraints, requirements and objectives (technical and organisational).

2. Design and implement a ‘system’ that meets current requirements and at good cost benefit.

3. Quantify how changing or future needs will be met (technical and organisational).

In other words, the overriding goal for an organisation must be to implement a radio network or system that fits its unique needs, objectives and constraints. As these evolve, so too must the radio network or system be able to evolve. Yet versatility and fit must be balanced against cost efficiencies and availability.

A modular radio management system (RMS) based on radio over IP (RoIP) provides the ‘best of both worlds’. It combines cost-effective, proven devices (nodes), ubiquitous transport (channels) and purpose-built ‘platform modules’. The ability to configure and reconfigure modules, nodes and channels provides versatility and ensures long-term adaptability. Indeed, an excellent level of ‘fit’ can be achieved with minimum engineering.

Stakeholders have from the outset a high level of confidence in the system’s ability to meet requirements within a clearly defined and predictable cost framework. Organisations can manage change within the system architecture and without having to re-engineer requirements, better mitigating risks and furthering security of investment and long-term ROA.

Schematic diagram showing an overview of a modular radio management system architecture

Overview of a modular radio management system architecture.

Why a modular RoIP platform?

Modularity has been successfully applied in a wide range of fields, from furniture to space exploration. The challenge lies in balancing capability and adaptability, and of course cost benefit. Good ‘fit’ traditionally involved costly custom design and implementation. Most radio networks and systems today are built using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and software. COTS solutions are cost effective and have some inherent modularity. Their disadvantage is that commercially available products are designed for a wide range of needs and interests. How they fit a specific organisation’s needs and objectives is always a compromise.

Yet making compromises here limits how well radio communications can be aligned with the functions of the organisation they need to support. To overcome this dilemma, organisations typically look to implement a radio ‘platform’, for example a common system for command or dispatch. Arguably few platforms provide the flexibility and adaptability needed for an organisation to build a system that fits their specific needs and objectives, budgets and timelines.

Similarly, few commercial radio platforms support seamless integration across radio formats and manufacturers. Indeed, we need to take care not to mistake ‘configurable’ for ‘modular’. Configurability is the ability to select from existing capabilities and features. Modularity goes much further.

A radio system or platform can be said to be modular where:

  • Functionality as a whole is deconstructed into discrete functions assigned to individual modules.
  • The functional system as a whole can be re-created by reassembling these modules.

A modular radio platform or system combines cost-effective COTS equipment, particularly radios and console devices, within a highly flexible and adaptable ‘integration platform’. How equipment is added and combined can be changed across applications and over time.

Schematic diagram showing the positioning of a modular RMS/RoIP platform

Positioning of a modular RMS/RoIP platform.

Key benefits

Building on a RoIP backbone provides excellent integration, versatility and cost efficiencies. Clearly defined RMS modules connect COTS radio and console equipment (nodes) via common IP networks. Constraints that unnecessarily limit a customer’s ability to build an integrated system are removed. Organisations are given greater control over how to configure and implement radio communications using both existing and new assets.

Indeed, an organisation can implement a radio system that meets current and future needs without having to predict all possible future requirements.

Using a modular RMS, organisations can build up complex radio systems and networks starting from the most basic configuration - a single RoIP interface/radio node and one console. Engineers can design and implement subsystems concurrently. Areas that are uncertain, eg, custom applications, can be isolated and addressed separately without delaying the system build or upgrade. Existing installations can be enhanced, extended and reconfigured. Assets can be re-used and costs and returns are clearly defined. Budgeting and development cycles are shorter and uncertainty and risks are lower.

A simple example of a modular system is a wardrobe system. It may comprise a standardised frame, doors in different sizes and finishes and various internal ‘modules’. The system architecture governs how these are assembled. Specific design rules define the individual modules. Capabilities are realised within tried and proven modules. Clear design rules govern how modules can be configured, changed, added and augmented without needing to change the system architecture. Functional integration is largely seamless.

For example, RoIP channels can be added and reconfigured. Different radio formats can be integrated, eg, to integrate airband (HF) and trunked (eg, TETRA) radio communications. Radio subsystems can be configured for different IT networks and geographies, for example to integrate remote locations. Consoles can integrate different communication channels such as IP phones for a single point of access. System tools such as voice or status logs can be used side by side with the customer’s own systems and applications.

And all the above can be implemented when and where ‘it makes sense’. The result is a highly integrated, ie, ‘fitting’, two-way radio platform. It combines the fit of a custom-designed system with the ease and cost-efficiency of off-the-shelf components.

‘Know-how’ without prescription

Distributed intelligence is a key design principle of a truly modular RMS. No central platform software or application is required - each node, RoIP interface unit (RIU) and console can operate independently. Such an RMS platform allocates capability and ‘machine intelligence’ purposefully across the modules of the system. Substantial ‘know-how’ is built in to the system - technological expertise (radio standards, RF and protocols, devices and interfaces), but also knowledge and experience across a variety of ‘real-life’ applications.

Arguably one of the greatest benefits of a modular RoIP system is that it is highly efficient in incorporating learnings from operations, a prerequisite for continual optimisation. This can be as simple as reorganising nodes and resources to optimise workflows or as complex as realising targeted and hence cost-effective interoperability across formats and geographies - all while maintaining current operations.

Both external ‘drivers’ such as technology developments or developments in end-customer use models and internal drivers such as efficiency initiatives are readily accommodated. As intelligence is distributed in a modular system, meeting these new needs does not require comprehensive changes or upgrades - often all that is needed is updating the firmware of the relevant modules.

Sustaining long-term value

A truly modular RMS platform is designed such that its individual modules can interoperate under a wide range of circumstances. As the architecture is based on design rules rather than specific functional requirements, changes and enhancements do not require comprehensive requirements engineering. Instead, engineers can focus on making changes or additions that further their and the organisation’s objectives. A ‘build requirement’ can be as simple as adding a radio or as complex as designing a custom application. Yet even complex enhancements follow the same ‘plug & play’ approach, minimising risk and maximising fit and hence ROI and ROA.

Schematic diagram showing how to build a ‘best fit’ RoIP-based radio management system

Building a ‘best fit’ RoIP-based radio management system.

As capabilities are added in increments, costs can be managed in ‘increments of capability’. Budgeting and cost-benefit analysis are clear and straightforward. Overheads are minimised and organisations can plan and execute to clearly quantified budgets and schedules. Organisations can adapt radio communications and systems while maximising the usable lifetime of assets.

A modular RMS platform provides many functions, features and benefits. Yet arguably most important is that it gives organisations much greater control and opportunity to meet their unique priorities and objectives.

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