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Tony Gray: Building on strong foundations

Date: 22nd September 2017
Topic: Monthly Features
Author: Sam Fenwick
Issue:
Issue 40
Tags: TCCA

Tony_Gray_1.jpgTony Gray, the new chief executive of the TCCA, discusses his immediate priorities, its latest initiatives and his vision for the Association with Sam Fenwick

SF: What do you feel is the most pressing issue for the TCCA and its members, and how will you be looking to address this? 

TG: We must keep pushing the boundaries of critical communications in a cohesive and organised way, in partnership with all our stakeholders. It’s not a market with unlimited budgets and we must ensure that evolution benefits end-users above everybody else. After many years of only having narrowband options, with the arrival of broadband the technology and solutions on offer to the critical communications market are rapidly developing and evolving. So, we need to ensure stability through effective collaboration and by emphasising the TCCA’s leadership position as the go-to organisation for all things critical communications. 

SF: How do you plan to spend the first 100 days in your new role? 

TG: I want to meet with as many of our 150-plus members as possible because without members there would be no TCCA and we’re hugely appreciative of their support. In parallel, I’ll be going out to meet all our volunteer Working Group members, so I’m contacting Working Group chairs to arrange invitations to their next meetings and I’ve already set up a couple of those. There are also some important and very relevant international conferences coming up that I’ve been invited to present at. For example, CCMENA in Dubai, RadioEXPO in Poland in October, and in November there’s PMRExpo in Germany and Comms Connect in Australia – so I’ll be doing a little bit of the immense amount of travel that Phil Kidner did. I’ve learnt to tolerate airport lounges over many years of travel, albeit not quite as much as undertaken by Phil in the past [See our interview with Phil Kidner last issue – Ed]. 

I’m also planning to redouble and expand our marketing efforts to exploit all the opportunities and channels open to us to communicate with members, non-members and the wider critical communications ecosystem. This means going beyond what we’ve already achieved with things like websites, social media, PR and, of course, print media. Finally, but by no means least, we’re hard at work preparing for our flagship Critical Communications World event in Berlin in May next year. 

SF: When the time comes for you to hand over the reins to someone new, what do you want to have achieved? 

TG: I’m hoping that’s sometime in the future, though it may not be the full 11 years served by my illustrious predecessor. Phil left the TCCA as a strong and influential organisation and during my own tenure I will build on that foundation to ensure that we remain current, relevant and dynamic in a changing world. 

It’s my job to develop the TCCA as an organisation that’s authoritative, appealing and gives full value to our current members and attracts new organisations to join us. We also need to ensure that our efforts support the industry’s ultimate goal: delivering the safest and most reliable critical communications support and solutions for end-users around the world.  

SF: How would you describe your approach to leadership? 

TG: A good leader knows his weaknesses as well as his strengths, and I will rely on a range of expertise to support me. Of course, as the TCCA is a non-profit members’ organisation, I’m its only full-time employee, but I’m fortunate in that I’ve inherited strong relationships from Phil with some very key partner organisations and individuals. These established and capable teams will assist me in the wider work of the Association. 

SF: Are there any new initiatives you’re looking to implement? 

TG: We have launched a brand-new Working Group specific to broadband industry members, called the Broadband Industry Group (BIG). I’m convinced it’s vital that we give our broadband industry members the same support, opportunities and access to expertise as our TETRA industry members have always enjoyed through the vibrant and active TETRA Industry Group (TIG). 

Following on from the first MCPTT plug tests in June, where we collaborated closely with ETSI, we’ll be focusing on becoming the de facto conformance, testing and certification body for critical broadband products in the future, building on our already established and highly respected TETRA interoperability test and certification regime.

I also want us to build on the work started by Phil in collaborating and co-operating closely with regional forums in places like Australasia, China and North America, as well as TETRA Forum Poland in my adopted country and elsewhere. 

Also, we need to continue to expand our relationships and co-operation with key partner organisations in critical communications and related areas around the world and, just to list a few of those, I’m thinking about the likes of EENA, PSCE and BAPCO, together with APCO, FirstNet, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) over in the US. We have established means of communication and collaboration with these organisations, but I want to see if we can build on them.   

SF: What are your thoughts on the feasibility of using fully standardised mission-critical LTE for public safety use in a standalone capacity? 

TG: I’ve always said and I remain convinced that it will undoubtedly come to pass in due time, with “in due time” being the key element. However, for now – and I believe for quite some time to come – we don’t have the fully completed standards, the industry hasn’t yet had the time to develop, test and prove conformant products, and critical users have perfectly adequate, proven, reliable and resilient PMR solutions that they’ve learnt to trust and rely on during crises and safety-of-life situations. 

In the meantime, we’re working with all the stakeholders globally to understand the implementation and operational models that will best serve critical broadband users of the future. I personally think it’s unlikely that we’ll see adequate funding and spectrum availability for the roll-out of very many dedicated owned and operated critical broadband networks that have typified the current TETRA and PMR era. 

So, in my view, commercial mobile network operators will have the opportunity to become more important players in the provision of critical communications services in the future, but there are a lot of practical hurdles and business case opportunities for them to address before that might become a realistic solution for critical users in the future.

For example, commercial networks are typically only deployed in areas where there are enough potential subscribers and there isn’t too much in the way of back-up, reliability and resilience. Also, if a network goes down in a small area for a short time, that’s lost revenue, but it’s not the end of the world for a commercial operator. 

Critical communications users’ expectations are dramatically different. An aircraft or train crash or a similar incident could happen anywhere, and that might not be where a commercial network operator currently has network capability. Critical users demand access to their service regardless of any incidents and whatever else is happening with other more commercially orientated networks. So, commercial network operators are going to have to think hard about how they can deliver the same kind of reliability and resilience that nationwide TETRA networks provide today. 

SF: What attracted you to your new position? 

TG: I’ve known the organisation and most of the members very well, having served on the board for almost six years. My career in mobile communications spans both professional and consumer disciplines, so I’m looking forward not only to being more closely involved with the further evolution of PMR but also in helping to drive the development of LTE and 5G technologies that will eventually support critical communication needs. 

Beyond that, I believe we are at a tipping point in the critical communications world – not just because of technological advances but also in the variety of operating and business models potentially applicable to the provision of future critical communications services. I want to help to guide the Association I’ve known and been part of for many years into a future where it can thrive and grow for the benefit of all its members and all the people out there who rely on critical communications, whatever shape the technology takes. I hope I have some background and skills that will contribute to those aims. So, for the next few years, I’d like to think that I can make a difference, taking on from what Phil achieved.  

SF: Where do you see the TCCA and the critical communications industry in 10 years’ time? 

TG: First and foremost, I’m convinced that they’ll both still be required. Clearly the need for critical communications is not going to go away. When it comes to exactly how critical communications services are provided and with which solutions, technologies and operating models and so on, we’ll have to keep an open mind for now. That said, there’s no question that society will become more reliant on many of the early initiatives we see today, such as smart and safe cities, the Internet of Things and so on. To my mind, they’re all intimately and indivisibly linked to a critical communications backbone. So, by remaining current, relevant and dynamic in the changing world I’ve been talking about, the TCCA can grow and prosper along with its members.  


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