We recently interviewed Andy Grimmett, Simoco’s Head of Product Strategy and Chair of the DMRA ahead of IIR Telecoms event, Critical Communications Middle East, 14 – 16 September, Dubai.
IIR: You have been working in radio communications for over 20 years now, and been heavily involved with industry associations and working groups. Critical Communication technology has changed a great deal in that time, and is currently going through an intense period of innovation. What would you say has been the key factor in driving technology forward?
Simoco: When I first became involved with radio, everything was bespoke. We would do a project for a customer and assemble a big project team with lots of developers where we would write software for months, if not years, depending on the size of the project. The project becomes a success but, for the next one, we would reuse very little or none of it because the project was too tailored to the customer.
What has happened over time is that we are seeing a big drive towards to open standards. Customers now have a greater awareness of radio communications technology and, rather than choosing a tailored a solution, they want open standard, off-the-shelf technology that can be integrated together with their own systems.
Another key driver is the fact that we are seeing increased international competition thanks to the digital evolution. As consumers, we don’t think twice about buying goods online. Global communications has opened up the market. The internet has allowed companies anywhere in the world to respond to tenders, which is why international exports now account for a large proportion of Simoco’s turnover.
Likewise, organisations are now asking for digital mobile radio technology. TETRA and P25 have matured for the public safety industry but commercial firms are telling us that they want digital. The cost pressures have seen a drive towards Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) technology. We are seeing an increased use of data in communications and increased pressure on licensed frequencies, which are becoming a scarce resource in some areas – and it’s the latter that is bringing regulatory pressures in our industry, and digital is the enabler for that.
IIR: Each User organisation will have its own specific requirements around what it needs from a Critical Communication network. Is there a core group of requirements that you see consistently across all sectors?
Simoco: While we are seeing an increase in the use of data in communications, voice is still the killer app when critical communications is concerned. In an emergency situation, voice is currently the only trusted method for communicating an urgent message to response teams straight away and regardless of location.
LTE technology as a critical communications tool is gaining awareness but right now all sectors are still talking about voice, and this has advanced over time. Voice has been enhanced with priority calls, emergency calls, and different levels of group calls, which can be complemented with some but less critical data.
Across all sectors, we also regularly see the requirement for open interfaces for industry specific applications. Organisations want to interface their other systems with radio systems, reinforcing the importance of open standard extending beyond radio, and applying standards to external interfaces too.
IIR: Although the majority of radio systems are privately owned and operated, there has been increased interested in the Critical Communications market from Commercial/Public Mobile Network Operators. Beyond a potentially lower subscription cost, what are the unique selling points that an MNO can offer?
Simoco: A MNO can offer customers a shorter term commitment to a communications solution. An OPEX (rather than CAPEX) approach can help customers to manage their budgets and allow them to review their systems each year – rather than commit to a five or ten year plan. It’s also possible to grow or shrink the number of handsets quite easily as the organisation changes.
While MNOs can offer flexibility and what might seem as initial low cost, the downside is that organisations need a very good service level agreement (SLA). As they’d be using a public network, companies won’t have control over it and this will likely raise concerns over reliability and resilience.
IIR: A private network will often be more expensive, but will be designed specifically to meet the User requirement. Does the benefit of this justify the higher level of investment?
Simoco: There is a strong financial case for using a private network if an organisation is going to commit to the system long-term as, although it requires a one-off investment, it eliminates the need to spend money on call charges each month. If a company is going to invest in a private network, which typically has a 10 year life span, it might then put a financial case over seven years to get the justification.
On top of the financial benefit, organisations are guaranteed coverage when they need it most and that the network is reliable, and the infrastructure is sized appropriately so organisations can get acceptable levels of call contention. Being private, the network is also secure and users can select various different levels of encryption techniques. Finally, it’s possible to integrate systems with other sub-systems within the organisation, which is much easier to do than in a public network.
IIR: There has been a lot of debate around the necessity of Open Standards, as groups begin to explore Mobile Broadband. Why are Open Standards crucial, and what is the potential risk of ‘vendor lock in’ when opting for a proprietary solution?
Simoco: An open standard obviously means that an organisation has vendor choice. Once you have open standards, anyone with the resources and knowledge can go and implement that open standard. Being publicly available, there will be more than one vendor selling something so there will be increased competition on pricing. This means that as more vendors bring products and solutions to the market, supply will increase which ultimately gives the customer more choice and may also bring down costs.
The other big benefit is the long term commitment from the industry. Once you get many organisations bringing products with the same standard to market, it reinforces the long term commitment. If an organisation, for example, buys a system using the open standard but the vendor which provided that system falls onto hard times, the technology is still available from other vendors. As a result, customers will have the long-term assurance that their system will be supported.
The standard also tends to result in faster feature development than anything that is proprietary. We are seeing more and more companies becoming innovative and then putting those features and functions back into the open standard. This all adds to why there is a much lower risk of using an open standard than going down the single proprietary route.
IIR; Will one technology ever truly dominate the market for Critical Voice and Data communications? How important is it that Users have the freedom to individually assess each technology and decide what best suits their needs and limitations?
Simoco: I believe there won’t be one technology that dominates the market. If you buy a one size fits all t-shirt, it will fit most people but it won’t be the right size and shape for everyone.
Different technologies will always exist in a critical communications environment and it’s important that people buying those technologies individually assess each one. Some are clearly not suitable for critical communications, so technology can be narrowed down to a few solutions quite quickly. It’s then a case of analysing what is the best technology to suit the different needs of the customer.
IIR: In 20 years within this industry, you will have seen the birth, and development, of established technologies such as TETRA and DMR. You are now seeing the advent of Critical LTE. What do you think will define the next 20 years of Critical Communications?
Simoco: Private Mobile Radio (PMR) has been slow to develop when compared with commercial cellular technologies. If you look at the likes of iPhones and Android phones, they have developed at such a fast rate and this is purely due to the market being massive and people changing their phones every one or two years. Radio, on the other hand, isn’t a fashion accessory – it’s there to do a job and it’s a tool for organisations to use. The spend on it is therefore a lot smaller when compared with commercial cellular.
With a private mobile network, there is a requirement for customers to invest in the system for ten or more years and this means that they don’t want the technology to change too much. They have invested significant time and cost in implementing a network, so they will want to know that it will work in ten years’ time.
LTE is an interesting development. It was developed for the commercial mobile phone market. It has been developed to deliver high-speed data to deliver real time video. It’s now being offered as a radio solution – primarily for public safety. At the moment, a lot of work is being done to extend the LTE standard to see if it can the meet requirements of critical communications. If successful, it will tick the box that says it can deliver all of the functions and features expected from a radio network.
However, if an organisation is going to put critical communications users onto a public network, how reliable will LTE be in the event of an emergency situation? If, for example, there is a terrorist attack where a terrorist sets off bombs using a mobile phone network, there will undoubtedly be concerns as to how the emergency services can manage critical communications using the same backbone technology. It’s a very interesting time for PMR at the moment. The way LTE is developing, and how successful LTE is going to be, will have a big direction on the future of PMR. But it’s too early to tell yet.
IIR; Simoco will be exhibiting at Critical Communications Middle East, this September. As one of the world’s leading radio communications specialists, why is it important for you to make sure you have a significant presence at the exhibition?
Simoco: Simoco’s attendance at the event marks an exciting time for the company as the Middle East is one of our most profitable areas. Dubai is home to our key partners UCA (ICATS) and Modern Media and, most recently, Simoco was awarded a five-year contract by UCA to deliver an advanced DMR solution to Bahrain Airport.
The recent successes and lucrative partnerships in the Middle East have led to us opening a permanent office in Dubai, headed up by Ghassan El-Housseini who recently joined as business development director for Simoco Middle East, to support the UAE region and our clients.
Furthermore, the exhibition has rebranded and expanded beyond TETRA to something that is more open to other critical communications technology. Simoco is highly supportive of this move from being a single technology show to one that is promoting DMR and P25 to critical communications professionals.
IIR: Are there any groups you are particularly looking to meet in Dubai next month?
Simoco: We are particularly interested in meeting organisations in public safety and security, utilities, natural resources, transport, and government and public infrastructure. We are looking to show them the benefits of DMR and P25 – and how they can support the operational needs of companies – as well as share details of our recent wins including the deal with Bahrain Airport which I mentioned earlier.
IIR: What can visitors expect to see at the Simoco stand in the exhibition? And is there anything they should be getting excited for?
Simoco: Visitors to our stand (#B10) can see how our P25 range can deliver reliable and secure communications in conventional, simulcast and trunked architectures, and we will be showing how P25 simulcast is available in a single box solution.
On the DMR side, visitors can see our full duplex telephony which we have recently developed and we will be demonstrating the technology on our stand.
I will also be presenting on distributed architecture – specifically the advantages which include resilience, reliability and cost benefit at 13.50 on Tuesday 16th September.
Critical Communications Middle East takes place 14 – 16 September. For more information or to register as a delegate or FREE to attend exhibition visitor please click here