Retiring TCCA Chief Executive Gray Reflects on His Tenure
Tuesday, December 21, 2021 | Comments
TCCA Chief Executive Tony Gray announced his retirement earlier this year and in September, the TCCA board appointed Kevin Graham as the new chief executive. With Gray’s tenure as the chief executive winding down, RadioResource International asked Gray to reflect on his time with TCCA and what lies ahead for critical communications.

RRI: Where was TCCA when you took over and what was your vision for the organization?
TG: TCCA, at that time operating as the TETRA & Critical Communications Association, had grown out of the original TETRA memorandum of understanding (MoU), supporting and advocating the TETRA standard. This was the body which so successfully developed and continues to promote the European Telecommunications and Standards Institute (ETSI) TETRA standard, including the world-renowned Interoperability (IOP) testing and certification process which remains a core part of the market success of TETRA to this day. As such, membership of the association was at that time necessarily made up predominantly of TETRA-interested parties, including manufacturers, users, network operators and so on.

My vision, along with the then board of TCCA, was to extend the remit of the association to encompass all standardized technologies and solutions applicable to critical communications. Hence why the name and branding were changed to The Critical Communications Association (TCCA). From that point on, we started to see a wider and more inclusive audience joining us as members, such as manufacturers of other narrowband, and also increasingly broadband, standard products, as well as their associated users and operators.

Prior to my becoming chief executive, and whilst I was still serving as a board member of TCCA, I had the privilege of participating in the creation of a new working group targeting the standardization and development of critical communications towards a new broadband era, the Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG). I was honoured to be elected to chair the CCBG from its formation and to help steer it through its early work and development, and I’m gratified to see what a significant and valuable contribution it continues to make to TCCA’s work today. As a direct result of the work on critical broadband, TCCA acquired a number of new members such as vendors and operators of commercial broadband solutions interested in the critical communications sector as a potential new market. This led in due course to the formation of another new working group, the Broadband Industry Group (BIG), which complements CCBG’s efforts in driving TCCA’s work in the field of broadband. In the meantime, and as a result of the standardization work being done in the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), ETSI commenced a series of Plugtest events focusing on the interoperability and standards conformance of mission-critical features (voice, data and video, collectively called MCX) being developed by vendors. TCCA was pleased to support and contribute to the very first of these events and has continued to do so throughout their extension and advancement as new mission critical services are included in 3GPP standards releases, with the sixth event concluding in November this year.

RRI: What were the biggest accomplishments during your time as CEO of TCCA?
TG: It’s rather painful to recall, but nonetheless true to say, that ensuring TCCA’s commercial survival and continued substantially unchanged operation throughout the difficult months of the COVID-19 pandemic has been something I have been able to accomplish. Of course, not an achievement I enjoyed or wanted, especially in the run up to my retirement, but nonetheless necessary and vital to the future of the organization. On a more positive note, I think I’ve been able to help broaden the awareness, recognition and appreciation of TCCA, both within the critical communications sector as well as in the wider world. Instigating and developing a number of key partnerships and alliances has played a critical part in this, as has increased and focused marketing on a number of levels. Also, vitally important to the health and success of TCCA as a members’ association has been a continual focus on expanding and developing the range and type of services we provide to our members. With the support of Mark Allen Group, our events partner, we’ve been able to grow and have more widely recognized Critical Communications World, our flagship annual conference and exhibition event. Of course, that event in itself was affected by the pandemic to the extent that it couldn’t be run in its normal face-to-face format in 2020. However, we successfully pioneered a first-ever online event in its place, which as a format I’m sure, together with our regular Critical Update webinars series, will continue to be a key contributor to TCCA’s evangelism and promotion of open standards into the future.

RRI: What are some of the major trends in critical communications you saw during your time and will those continue to be key moving forward?
TG: Clearly the development of broadband in the critical communications sector has been a significant and growing trend since before I became TCCA chief executive and continues apace today. I’m pleased to have played my part in this from the outset, for example through our relationship with the 3GPP standards body as market representation partner and have no doubt that the relationship driving standardisation of critical communications features for broadband bearers will continue to grow and thrive.

In general, the trend towards digitization worldwide has continued, to the point where implementations of narrowband standards such as TETRA, Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) and Project 25 (P25) now outnumber traditional analog systems in critical applications worldwide. This will undoubtedly continue to be the case until the eventual demise of analog narrowband in future, although as has become quite clear throughout the standardisation and development of critical broadband features, digital narrowband solutions, in particular TETRA, have a long and healthy life ahead for many years to come. There will be no “big bang” global changeover to broadband in the foreseeable future! This is borne out by the continued effort and focus being applied by the likes of ETSI TETRA and Critical Communications Evolution (TC-TCCE) to the extension and enhancement of the TETRA standards, for example most recently to enhance its security to 2035 and beyond.

RRI: What do you hope to see from TCCA in the future?
TG: I hope and believe that TCCA can continue to grow its relevance and appeal across an ever-broadening set of vertical applications and markets, all generically falling under the critical communications umbrella. We need to maintain and expand our advocacy for open standards and the other core values that TCCA has as its bedrock. In this and many other regards, continuation of the excellent work done by all the TCCA working groups, delivering timely and significant white papers, activating relevant task forces and so on will be a key element of our success and growth going forward.

Equally, the partnerships that we’ve built within and around the wider critical communications sector are another crucial element of our work and will undoubtedly flourish and expand as time goes on. Continuing and extending cooperation between like-minded parties across the ecosystem has distinct benefits, not just for TCCA’s members but generally for the common good. Just to highlight a couple of such partnerships with particular relevance in the meantime for example, continuing and completing our work with Global Certification Forum (GCF) towards a broadband device certification program available to and trusted by vendors, operators and users alike will be vital. Equally, TCCA’s long term partnership with ETSI, specifically in supporting ETSI TC-TCCE has continuing importance. In the short term TCCE is working on enhancing TETRA security for the long term, as well as standardizing the interworking function (IWF) required for interconnection of TETRA and 3GPP broadband systems.

Finally, but by no means least, I expect that TCCA will continue to build on the success of the Critical Communications World event, in particular CCW ’21, for example through more great new innovations like the Government Authorities Global Village, which was such a resounding success in Madrid.

In closing this, my final contribution as a member of the RRI editorial board, I’d like to sincerely thank RRI for all the support it has given TCCA over the years. I feel sure that as I step back into retirement and hand over to my successor Kevin Graham the great collaboration TCCA has enjoyed with this august journal will continue and flourish for the benefit of the entire critical communications community. Thank you and best wishes RRI!

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