Keeping the faith
As TETRA networks continue to roll out around the globe, the standard’s growing user base has driven a healthy demand for new devices. Thankfully, manufacturers seem to be meeting those needs in terms of both quantity and quality, as Tim Guest reports
From sophisticated devices brimming with new technologies and cutting-edge functionality, to those meeting more basic end-user needs, the TETRA handset scene is an area of active innovation, with a healthy and growing manufacturing base and, most importantly, an apparently satisfied end-user base whose needs – critical in many cases – are apparently being met.
And while the European public safety sector continues as the alpha male of the TETRA pack, increasing demand from other sectors, such as transport, utilities and industrial markets, demonstrates that business critical users are increasingly adopting TETRA. The need, therefore, for a healthy terminal reservoir is paramount.
Setting the scene
The TETRA terminal sector was recently described as an exciting and dynamic market that is still seeing strong growth, by lead IMS analyst on terminals and author of its annual TETRA Terminal World Reports, Deryn Evans. With Europe the dominant market for terminals last year, Evans said that shipments to the rest of the world had also seen ‘good’ growth during that period and predicted that future growth in emerging as well as business critical markets would ensure a ‘robust future’ for the standard and, hence, one supposes, the demand for terminals.
In the wake of IMS’s latest TETRA Terminals – World – 2012, published in March, Evans told TETRA Today that in terms of the overall general trends in the TETRA handset sector, “TETRA has seen its most successful year in terms of terminals shipped; there was over nine per cent growth on the number shipped in 2010. While growth is projected over five years, 2011 growth may be high in terms of the level of growth forecast.” An ever-cautious Thomas Lynch from IMS actually put a figure on this during the TWC Dubai in May of around 500 000 handsets shipped in 2011.
Though the European public safety and security market remained the backbone for TETRA shipments, Evans went on to say that in the last year significant developments outside Europe, including the Middle East, Africa, South America and Australasia, had been seen – those Middle Eastern developments highlighted in part at this year’s TETRA World Congress by Sepura, when it presented its one millionth handset after only 10 years in operation to Q-Tel.
While Evans saw this as good news for TETRA overall, highlighting an increased interest in the technology and those trends towards the Middle East, she didn’t feel it amounted to an increasing market share for any single manufacturer.
On developments relating to specific handset types, Evans said that there had been an increased adoption of ATEX devices and that, in 2011, five per cent of all TETRA terminals shipped met ATEX requirements. “There has been increasing success for TETRA ATEX in places that are not traditional TETRA regions”, Evans told TETRA Today. “Due to the increased recognition of the requirement for intrinsically safe equipment, the oil, mining, gas and fire sectors are increasingly adopting TETRA ATEX. So regions that have large oil and gas reserves are opting for TETRA more and more as their technology of choice, when migrating to new radio communications systems.” She now believes it to be the case that “all the major TETRA manufacturers produce and ship ATEX handsets”, confirming her list of players, in simple alphabetical order, as: “Cassidian, Hytera, Motorola, Selex, Sepura, Teltronic, Thales and Unimo”.
Another area seeing specific changes and growth in the use and demand for TETRA terminals is the covert sector, where Evans told TETRA Today that “approximately two per cent of all TETRA users are now using covert [devices].” The IMS analyst projected that more covert user groups will start to migrate to TETRA systems as the market becomes more mature.
Evans also suggested that a major factor in how devices have evolved with increased functionality was a change in their operational usage and wider variety of end-user applications. “End users require more bespoke solutions”, Evans said, “but they still require rugged and compact solutions, unlike the typical commercial cell phone. As with covert and ATEX, terminals with increased functionality seem to be the trend.”
At the TWC Dubai in May, a number of handsets appeared on the scene for the first time, supported by existing equipment which has been the mainstay for TETRA users for some while. About Motorola’s new family of devices, the TCCA’s Phil Kidner said that, as the largest manufacturer of TETRA terminals in the world, he was very excited by Motorola’s investment in its new generation of handsets – the MTP3000 series – which showed huge faith in the longevity of the standard. He echoed the views of IMS, saying that since 2007 – a good year for handsets – 2011 had been the most successful in terms of the number of terminals shipped and that this would continue, bolstered by an expected eventual migration of 80 per cent of analogue PMR users across to digital technology.
If faith in TETRA’s longevity is to be measured in new handset investment then, along with Motorola, the likes of Sepura, with its new ATEX and IECEx devices including the STP8X, Cassidian with its TH1n and other devices, and Unimo with its UT- and PT-1500, are all showing their faith that TETRA will be around for a good while, thereby warranting the substantial investment that comes with developing new terminals.
VP and general manager of Motorola’s TETRA business, Tom Quirke, further echoed sentiments above that the progress of TETRA – now on six continents, operating in more than 100 countries, 57 of which have joined the list between 2007 and 2011 – underpins what new products and capabilities emerge, with much of the research and development done resulting from listening to customers. He said that major trends, such as single man policing and lone workers in the field, often the result of economic pressures on the end-user organization, play their part in deciding the functionality of new handsets. So whilst these customers need to do more with their assets for less, the equipment to support the ultimate end user must still meet the highest standards of safety for the individual, so such factors as connectivity and audio quality must continue to improve.
Of the company’s new MTP3000 series he said it’s safer, tougher and easier to use than its forerunners. “It’s light, rugged and beta tested – feedback from different organisations during beta trials has already been extremely positive, and we are very pleased that a user group in the Netherlands has already chosen the MTP3000 series as its radio of choice”, said Mr Quirke.
With every gain, however, there is often a bit of give and take, which in this case is the effect on battery life. Motorola’s Siew-Loong Chan told TETRA Today during the Dubai TWC that customers typically need a 1.5-hour working life for a battery during an ‘event or incident’ and while the MTP3000s will provide 12-16 hours of battery life, depending on usage, “Compared to previous generations [of handsets] battery life has fallen, but this is a compromise and sacrifice for increased functionality and audio quality that we believe is worth making.”
For a manufacturer like Motorola, delivering products that meets end-user needs is a continuing process of monitoring the market, understanding intimately what the customer wants and needs, and coming up with the right solution. And with data needs on the rise, future proofing to accommodate TEDS is essential, with one of the key issues driving handset development being the emerging importance of broadband and data over TETRA.
Iain Ivory, of Motorola Solutions, said during TWC Dubai: “With broadband talked about all the time now customers buying handsets today are asking the crucial questions: ‘will it still be relevant in three years time? And where does TEDS fit into all this?”
On TEDS, Motorola’s conclusion after pilot projects in Norway and its own research – Motorola has just finished a two-year research programme on the use of TEDS – is that even with the impending arrival of broadband, LTE etc, TEDS is relevant and has a place alongside the other broadband technologies with the company fully committed to the future of TETRA and TEDS as the core of mission-critical communications. However, the company is also developing LTE devices, applications and services, highlighted by its recent launch of the LEX700 Public Safety LTE device.
In Q2 Motorola unveiled its MTP3000 handheld radio series. Tom Quirke was quoted at the launch as saying: “With breakthroughs such as the MTP 3000 handheld radio series, our company is helping to transform user safety, equipment ease of use, and ruggedness and operational flexibility of mission-critical operations.”
Well, the series itself comprises three new models, which are said to answer core user demands for increased user safety and reliability and have significant improvements in audio quality, increased network coverage, ruggedness and ease of use over previous Motorola devices. These radios offer varying levels of functionality and sophistication giving users the choice of entry level to advanced devices, with feature sets that match respective operational needs.
Receiver sensitivity is claimed as the highest in the market (a -2db increase on all existing TETRA radios), allowing a 14 per cent range increase and a 30 per cent boost to network coverage, when compared to an ETSI specification radio. Together with a high-spec microphone, the series has been designed to deliver superior audio quality and a level of audio loudness and clarity, which, the company claims, will ensure users can hear and be heard clearly, even in the noisiest environments.
One of the new features of the series is the IP55-certified side connector, which enables a user to connect and disconnect an accessory in less than two seconds. Its 1.8-2W output optimizes network coverage and enhances coverage in buildings. The radio also features two control knobs, one for volume and one for talk groups. This offers a user experience similar to analogue radios, allowing easy migration from analogue to digital communications.
At entry-level is the MTP3100, a radio for organisations looking for the benefits of TETRA but which don’t need the advanced communication or data sharing features that require a keypad. User scenarios include security patrols maintaining contact with supervisors or maintenance teams co-ordinating operations across a large industrial or processing installation.
The MTP3200, on the other hand, whilst still an entry-level device, is for users working in more mission-critical environments who want a radio for use alongside other data-centric devices for tasks such as database look-ups and information sharing during field operations. Applications include supervision and tracking of fire service personnel during incident response, police officers sharing real-time information from central databases, and oil and gas industry inspection teams conducting operations in hazardous environments with constant high noise levels.
With Bluetooth connectivity, this handset is designed to increase the operational flexibility and productivity of the user in the field by offering wirefree accessories and connection to scanners, printers and mobile computing devices, and GPS enables user location to be continually tracked during field operations.
The third member of the family is the MTP3500, which has all the above features but also a full keypad for more advanced users to maintain critical communication and collaboration between control and field personnel. Its Radio Messaging Service is ideal for users who want to report their status using the radio, a Call Out function allows operators to send a message out with a guaranteed response, and its full telephony capability enables the radio to act as a telephone for calls in and out of the TETRA network.
Hytera’s Gary Ji, director TETRA department, told TETRA Today that the company was excited to have launched its PT580 at this year’s TWC in Dubai. With a 1.8” high res colour display, the device is IP56 compliant enabling it to work effectively following exposure to a jet of water, and with a 1W output power it delivers a clear digital experience for the user. With MIL-STD-810F rating, the handset is tough for harsh environment use. A man down alarm is activated when the user is inanimate for a period of time.
The PT580H is IP67 compliant and, amongst other features of this feature-rich device, offers 3W of output power (adjustable) to enhance coverage and GPS messaging and positioning which can supplement the man down function to locate users in dangerous situations.
Also launched at the Dubai TWC were Unimo’s PT-1500 and UT-1500 terminals. According to Unimo’s project marketing team deputy general manager, Daniel Park, talking to TETRA Today, the PT-1500 offers an IP-54 water and dust resistant handset weighing in at just 235g and exhibiting 18 hours of battery life depending on the usage scenario. It has 16 pre-programmed group channels and optional GPS. Park said that it was the world’s smallest and lightest TETRA terminal so far.
Its sister handset, the UT-1500 provides a dual-mode device, which can switch between TETRA and GSM or WCDMA if outside a TETRA coverage area. Waterproof to IP-67 standards, it has built-in Bluetooth as an option, a built-in camera which can take and transmit images over TETRA, GSM or WCDMA networks. It also has an SD-card based voice recording facility, with the whole device weighing just 259g.
Cassidian launched its slimline TH1n TETRA radio in the first half of the year in Dubai, a new class of pocket-sized TETRA radios though retaining a large, bright colour display already typical of previous Cassidian handsets. The company says the new small design could well open up the TETRA market to new sectors, such as social workers and health care personnel and is also suitable for covert use due to its size.
The handset’s voice quality has been optimized for clarity and its IP65 rating (protection against high pressure water) as well as dust protection ensures reliable performance in demanding environments. An output power of 1.8W provides extra reach when network coverage is at its limit or when Direct Mode Operation (DMO) is used. The repeater feature in DMO enables teams to build a voice connection between users who might otherwise be out of reach of each other. Even with such a slim profile, the TH1n provides usage times comparable with those of any other TETRA radio on the market, thanks to innovative battery technology.
The ability to access and share data in the field is increasingly important and the TH1n enables field operatives to perform data queries and send reports, and take advantage of the Java platform, which enables many types of easy-to-use applications, through custom-made application user interfaces.
The first three orders for the TH1n were announced in May to Virve Products and Services from Finland, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) and Atlas Telecom from the United Arab Emirates with deliveries to take place during 4Q 2012.
Amongst the other devices in its portfolio Cassidian’s THR9 allows users to view sharp images, as well as benefit from mobile applications that present mission critical information in a clear visual format. An enhanced memory and Java support, enables the THR9 to receive and host applications that can be customized to meet specific needs. Shock resistant and rated IP55 to protect against dust and splashing water, the THR9 is built to withstand field conditions. The device has an easy and reliable battery connection mechanism and two battery options, one with an extended capacity for heavy use. The THR9 also offers a vibrating alert for silent notification of incoming calls and messages and a similar repeater capability to the TH1n.
Sepura’s STP9000 series
Having presented its one millionth handset to Q-Tel in May at TWC, Sepura has much to shout about and its continuing faith in the TETRA brand was further borne out by the launch of its STP9000 series of hand-portable radios. The company says that it has ‘fused’ the attributes of its flagship forerunner, the STP8000 series, with a new generation of highly innovative features in the STP9000 series, all of which sport a large colour screen and full key pad together with GPS. The STP9000 offers innovative hardware design, which blocks out background noise and uses enhanced audio equalisation technology to improve the full-duplex audio experience.
The STP9100 is designed for users who require many of the key advantages of the STP9000, but typically need to perform only a limited range of tasks using their radio. The STP9200 shares most of the core benefits of the STP9000, including the IP67 rating, but is targeted at users who are seeking an entry-level model.
With its IP67 rating, the series can withstand submersion in up to 1m of water for up to 30 minutes and can also keep out fine dust particles making it suited to users in the mining or fire and rescue sectors. Innovative connector protector technology provides protection against the effects of salt water and salt fog exposure – a key advantage for a number of users, such as coastguards and marine patrol units.
To ensure ease of use and taking into account the results of a worldwide survey, an enhanced and intuitive user interface has been created offering three presentation styles to the user: Card mode is 100 per cent compatible with Sepura’s existing user interface, enabling existing Sepura users to be immediately comfortable with the STP9000 series. Grid and list modes will appear familiar to users who are used to the user interfaces on smartphones or other GSM devices. In both cases, organisations will minimise training costs for existing staff and new recruits.
Many radio users wear heavy gloves, for operational, health and safety or climate reasons. Following detailed user feedback, Sepura has added ‘haptic’ technology to the STP9000 series, producing a physical movement of the radio, felt through the hand, which confirms to gloved users that the key press has been successful. A new ‘wake on alarm’ feature enables users to switch a radio on and make an emergency call simply by pressing the emergency button. To minimise capex when considering these new handsets, all accessories for the Sepura STP8000 series of hand-portables are compatible with STP9000 series radios.
The company also recently added the STP8X intrinsically safe handset to its portfolio, which, as an IP67 rated device, is said by the company to be the first submersible intrinsically safe TETRA terminal. It supports the company’s ‘man-down’ application, which can detect when a user has become immobile through injury or other circumstance sending an alert to colleagues.