A fitting end to an eventful year
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

Sam Fenwick reports from PMRExpo, the recent Ofcom BRIG meeting and FCS Business Radio 2017

PMRExpo certainly didn’t disappoint, with both its conference and exhibition (pictured right) giving some valuable insights into the biggest trends in the PMR market.

Tony Gray, chief executive of The Critical Communications Association (TCCA), gave a talk on the transition from narrowband to broadband. He highlighted ETSI’s rule of thumb that it takes two years for a 3GPP Release to make its way into devices, and predicted we might see Release 13 devices in Q1 2018 and Release 14 devices in mid-2019. He expressed his amazement that the focus of the critical communications standardisation work for LTE was initially on Mission Critical Push to Talk (MCPTT) and explained this was driven by the requirements of some countries that are looking to adopt LTE for public safety early, such as the UK (ESN) and US (FirstNet).

Speaking of ESN, he said there is a lot more openness “to the idea that TETRA, in that case Airwave, will have to carry on for quite some time”. Gray also said ProSe, the device-to-device service for LTE, cannot do as much as Direct Mode Operation (TETRA’s equivalent) and doesn’t have enough range. He added that in a first, a commercial MNO has joined the TCCA, and “any dedicated spectrum is a great bargaining chip” for governments when negotiating with MNOs.

Florence Erpelding, representing AGURRE, a French radio user association, explained it has 11 key economic organisations in the transport and energy sectors. She highlighted the possibility that Arcep (the French equivalent of Ofcom) might grant some PMR users access to the 2 x 8MHz allocated to public safety in the 700MHz band, but while this chunk of spectrum has favourable propagation characteristics, it is not available in urban areas and doesn’t offer enough capacity to fully accommodate video and data. Erpelding then turned to the 400MHz band, noting the introduction of broadband PMR networks could only happen after reorganisation of the narrowband usage. However, in June, Arcep announced it wanted to begin allocating spectrum in the 2.6GHz TDD (2570-2620MHz) band this year “to satisfy the urgent needs” of professional mobile radio services. This band can provide sufficient capacity for high-speed data and video.

Christian Régnier, communication solution manager at Air France, discussed a trial at Charles de Gaulle Airport (performed with the aid of Ericsson) that used a private LTE network in 2.6GHz TDD, the idea being to move from a TETRA network (obsolete in 2020) and a Wi-Fi network for data to a single converged network. He noted that Wi-Fi in this environment, given the amount of metal around, is “really a nightmare”. The private LTE trial has involved a lot of radio coverage tests and the creation of private media groups for each flight to allow videos and photos of its progress to be shared between the flight team. Régnier added the best approach was to have an antenna in front of each plane in the park and that the 20MHz of spectrum provided for the trial was sufficient. Some staff said that their tablets were generating less heat when working on LTE than Wi-Fi and the devices’ batteries were lasting longer.

Tom Johnson, chairman of the DMR Association’s Technical Working Group, said there were two companies at the event that claimed to be association members but were not. He highlighted the addition of three major functions in the latest revision of the Tier III standard published in November – Trunk Station Control Channel Alternative Slot (TSCCAS), Unified Single Block Data (USBD) Polling Service, and Channel Authorisation. Using TSCCAS it is possible to perform 1,000 GPS polls per minute. The Channel Authorisation feature prevents multiple devices from transmitting at the same time (typically in a group call). It is backwards-compatible with earlier versions of polite channel access and applicable to Tier II and Tier III systems.

In the exhibition hall
This year the emphasis was very much on PTT over Cellular (PoC). However, I only saw one stand promoting the use of the OMA PoC standard.

Icom took a dip into the PoC world by putting its IP67 IP501H handset on show – which supports 4G and 3G and offers full duplex communication with PTT operation in addition to individual, group conference and all calls.

On the JVCKENWOOD stand, Jens Toobe, business development manager EMEA with responsibility for government and regulatory affairs, showed me sample PoC devices, which the company will use to engage with customers, given that end-users often come with use-cases that manufacturers haven’t thought about. Toobe highlighted JVCKENWOOD’s $10m investment in Sonim back in March, which he said “shows our commitment to LTE, specifically at the moment for the North American markets”, given FirstNet in the US and similar projects in Canada.

Hans-Martin Zimmermann, head of technical solutions support for Airbus’s Secure Land Communications division, walked me through its Taira Virtual Core, which is intended to help those customers with legacy pre-IP TETRA systems migrate to a modern IP-based hybrid TETRA-LTE network. He explained that a customer could put the system next to its legacy equivalent and run them both while migrating users to the new system and then switch off the old E1-based system.

Motorola Solutions had a new take on its mixed reality for incident control/awareness concept. Julian Martin showed a canned sequence of events surrounding a school hostage-taking scenario, which could be viewed on a flat table using the Microsoft Hololens, with the ability to scroll through the timeline and switch to drone-captured footage as required. I got to try the device and was surprised at how natural it was to peer down at the table and see the projection of the school’s layout from different angles, and the degree to which you retain awareness of your surrounding. Martin explained a lot of the value could come from its use as a training aid and allowing those with specialist knowledge to be given awareness of a situation remotely.

The trouble with data…
At the Ofcom Business Radio Interest Group meeting on 10 November, Kevin Delaney, spectrum policy and planning manager at Ofcom, said: “At the last [FM54] meeting, there was a proposal for a Europe-wide version of a simple UK licence. This was taken to WGFM [Working Group Frequency Management] but has now been sent back to FM54 for further work. At the FM54 meeting in September, it became quickly apparent that some administrations don’t have nationally available licences and there was the question of how to get harmonised spectrum across Europe. As you can imagine, it would be a torturous process and take a number of years.

“There was a related proposal about allowing 5 Watts in PMR466; the UK view was it should remain at 0.5 Watts.
We didn’t see a justification from a reuse perspective for 5 Watts. The moment you start putting 5 Watts in PMR446, the potential for reuse becomes negligible.” He added that PMR446 now has access to 200kHz of spectrum (446.0-446.2MHz), and from 1 January, DMR446 will have access to the same 200kHz.

Ofcom has decommissioned the Wireless Telegraphy Act Register (WTR) and Trading Notification Register (TNR) applications, as the WTR did not meet security requirements. However, the WTR data is still available as a .csv file on the Ofcom website.

Tim Cull, FCS’s head of business radio, discussed the new Ofcom Telecommunications Action Group (TAG) Data Sharing Subgroup, which he has convened, and will present a report to Ofcom in Q1 2018. It will assess the potential issues created by the use of data applications in the Business Radio spectrum, such as the potential for these to impact channel sharing, the safety risk this might cause, and the ability of current spectrum management arrangements to mitigate their impact. The group later met for the first time during FCS Business Radio 2017.

Rob Compton, owner of Comptons, highlighted the large number of cranes on the London skyline, adding that some of the devices on them “meet the IR [Interface Requirements] because they only transmit for 10 per cent of the time, but is anyone else going to get a transmission in there? That’s 100 per cent channel occupancy effectively. If you listened on the LPD [low-power device] frequencies on UHF, there’s nothing spare now; your customers are going to say ‘it doesn’t work, we’ve got interference’. This is going to be a problem.”

Cull noted: “Interference works in both directions. If you have a data system on a shared channel, it also needs to be able to tolerate being interfered with by a different user from time to time, for example a voice user. There are a surprisingly large number of data systems where no such accommodation is made, because they’ve been designed with other markets in mind where there is no concept of sharing.”

The discussion then turned to IoT hype. “Generally, the technologies around today use licence-exempt spectrum and they’re somewhat awful in their implementations,” said John Regnault, VHF manager at the Radio Society of Great Britain. “I have a horrible suspicion that you may see that coming up from the ground into the more professional business world where people have expectations of the kit that will sit on the end of something else like that.”

One attendee highlighted the high expectations that have been created by buzzwords such as M2M, IoT and 5G, adding the “reality of it is going to be quite different. It is quite difficult when very large organisations are in a position to get the ear of senior executives, and then as engineers we have to unpick why the dream that has been sold to them by someone who is on that bandwagon isn’t quite going to [be delivered or meet] expectations. There just needs to be a bit of a reality check.”

During a fact-finding discussion on PoC, which was prompted by an article in Land Mobile, Tim Allerton, CEO of Push to Talk International, said he considers his company’s PoC service to be mission-critical, adding that it has experienced only 12 hours’ downtime in 10 years. He emphasised the importance of compliance with the OMA PoC standard and the use of devices with fixed IP sims, and warned that “not every IP68 device is truly IP68... we always say ‘show me the IP68 certificate’...”

FCS Business Radio 2017
FCS’s annual Business Radio event experienced a change of format this year, with the co-location of the new Vehicle Technology Installer Event and giving the main area fully to exhibitors. Chris Pateman, outgoing CEO of the FCS (retired at the time of going to press), highlighted the launch of its 5-Level Resilience Assessment Scheme, which is designed to aid businesses in the procurement of resilient communications systems.

During the conference programme, Motorola Solutions’ product manager – unified communications, Dan Faulkner, Andrew Gill, CEO of Tait Europe and Chris Cant, product manager (systems and solutions) at Hytera Communications UK, each gave a presentation on the trend towards greater convergence between PMR and cellular devices and networks. While the individual details varied (with Faulkner highlighting Motorola’s Wave PTT platform, Gill Tait’s Unify Voice and Unify Vehicle solutions and Cant discussing Hytera’s recent multimode terminal and the LTE infrastructure it launched at this year’s CCW), the overall story was similar, suggesting that, as with PMR, it will be difficult for manufacturers to differentiate themselves via technology alone.

FCS Business Radio 2017 had a new format, with the main hall dedicated to its exhibition

Stuart Revell, external engagement manager at the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), discussed the role 5G can play in the UK economy and the country’s own R&D efforts in this area. “5G is interesting because [it] brings three domains together – critical control systems, and the mobile and IT worlds. That’s very challenging because generally people only know about one of them. One of the challenges is we’re trying to merge systems, it’s not just a mobile evolution, it is something very different.”

Paul Wilkes, business services manager for the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS), said some fleet operators are looking to replace their vehicles’ mirrors with cameras, and one motivation for doing this is that a system that allows drivers to look in one place could result in faster reaction times. However, this requires operators to ensure that vehicles don’t go out on the road without working cameras and creates a large maintenance requirement.

Jesper Blom, Hytera’s Nordic support engineer, showed me Smart Mobile Device Management Lite, a free tool that allows radios, in particular the Multi-Mode Advanced Radio, to be quickly programmed over Wi-Fi, limited to one device at a time. The full version doesn’t have this limitation, and the capacity depends on the number of radio licences possessed by the company using it.

During the gala dinner, Cull said the Gerald David Award, which did not take place this year, will be updated in 2018 with an expanded scope to allow a “vastly greater proportion of the FCS Business Radio membership to more easily participate”.

All three events highlighted in their own way just how much progress our industry has made over the past year. It is a credit to everyone involved that the sector is tackling change head-on, rather than hoping it will go away.

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