Vendors Say Public-Safety Users Need Two Devices in Data Era
Tuesday, January 08, 2013 | Comments
Mobile radio vendor executives say mission-critical users should expect to have two devices for the next 10 years, one for narrowband voice and one for mobile-data applications. Users agree that two devices are necessary for the short term but are optimistic an integrated device will be available in a few years.
Tom Quirke, Motorola Solutions general manager for TETRA global, said company research found that users will continue to want a separate voice device as their lifeline even as mission-critical data use becomes more prevalent. And although a TETRA voice device also supports data, such as GPS and text messaging, more bandwidth-intensive applications would be performed through a secondary device likely running on a commercial network, at least outside the United States.
“We see the use of a secondary device globally,” Quirke said. The strong reliance on mission-critical voice communications will drive the separate voice radio, Quirke said. He cited three user preferences that require a separate voice radio. Users want their eyes looking up all the time, they want a device in a holster that they can still talk with using a lapel microphone, for example, and they want hands-free operation.
The psychology of how officers work comes into play, said Katja Millard, Motorola Solutions head of European research. “Officers feel insecure about a converged device,” she said. “They want to go with something that is never failing. After an incident, an officer has more time to pull out his data device and start interacting with that.”
“Users will accept using two devices for a while, especially because at first there will be mainly applications like reporting, back-office applications, intranet, dispatching and some video/picture messaging that will be running on ruggedized laptops installed in vehicle, or eventually large tablets,” said Christian Mouraux, ASTRID product management and market intelligence manager. “I would expect to see some prototypes of TETRA plus 3G/Long Term Evolution (LTE) devices coming in 2013 in fairs and exhibitions, then after, the market will decide.”
Hong Kong Police Force Chief Telecommunications Engineer Jolly Wong said device maturity is dependent on spectrum availability. “The next-generation public-safety devices will be based on 4G/LTE technology,” he said. “The maturity is pretty much dependent on the availability of radio spectrum that supports wireless broadband data applications like location services, video streaming and machine-to-machine (M2M) applications.”
In Europe and parts of Asia, private broadband networks for public safety likely won’t happen for years because of a lack of spectrum. “In North America, you have 700 MHz available, but elsewhere in the world, the picture isn’t so clear in freeing up the spectrum,” said Steve Barber, Sepura head of product strategy.
Even in the United States, where public-safety LTE spectrum is available and users have said they want an LTE smartphone at launch, officials will likely use two devices for years to come. LTE doesn't yet support mission-critical voice so users must have USBs, tablets and vehicle modems when the public-safety broadband network begins rollout, which is still at least a year away. All four device form factors were designated in the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) launch statement of requirements document presented last month.
Because of lack of spectrum availability and other reasons, Barber said TETRA devices will talk to other data devices through Bluetooth or other wireless technologies. Motorola’s Quirke said Bluetooth 2.1 is the most secure and would be the best option for communications between voice and data devices.
Quirke said that users will likely differentiate between data that is and isn’t mission critical. The location of every police officer is mission critical, and users don’t want that information on a commercial network. However, a camera performing license plate recognition could be connected to a commercial network.
“It’s part of the choices you can make for broadband data,” said Quirke. “Then you take the risks and caveats of running on a commercial network.”
ASTRID’s Mouraux said there will likely be demand from Belgium’s public-safety officials for single ‘critical voice plus data’ devices for applications that can run on smaller screens/devices. “To my point of view, the challenge is more on the applications side than on the device,” he said. “What application should be developed that will really bring value? That is key.”
Barber said users want to retain the mature feature sets they have with TETRA radios for voice communications. But they could still use data devices for applications such as linking fixed traffic cameras.
Wong said an integrated device will depend on the maturity of critical data applications and the choices of terminal devices. “The professional mobile radio (PMR) industry, due to the smaller market size, limited suppliers and lesser choices, will take a few more years to see one integrated smartphone,” he said. “And I think that will happen when 4G/LTE comes to PMR in around three years time.”
Ergonomics and price will be crucial factors, said Euros Evans, chief technology officer (CTO) for Airwave U.K. Evans said having a combined device that’s small enough to be useful and at a competitive price will be challenges to address. Once TETRA and Project 25 (P25) migrate to LTE platforms, single devices will become more ubiquitous.
“In some markets converged devices will work, but in some markets, you can see the need for separate devices,” Evans said. “When the technology converges, you will see single devices.”
“I think the two-box approach will be the model for the foreseeable future,” said Sepura’s Barber. “We will see rugged and nonrugged LTE devices with different amounts of functionality. With LTE and TETRA, there are some technological challenges to overcome before you can have a true integrated device because you’ve got two radios radios working simultaneously together, where the TETRA radio is so high power. A two-box approach will continue for at least 10 years, working in parallel with LTE and dual-mode devices.”
Policing on foot is the space that needs to be addressed, Evans said. “They have a huge number of things they have to carry and are laden down with equipment,” he said. “Anything to minimize the equipment carried is critical. Counting the number of devices isn’t the right thing — quantifying the volume and weight you’re carrying is best. Whether you put them together or they are separate, it doesn’t really shift the equation of volume or weight of equipment.”
“There will for sure not be a one-size-fits-all data device,” said Mouraux. “The device is really dependent on the usage. For example, firefighters are interested in data for biometrics sensors for monitoring, which should ideally be integrated into their suit, while police on the street will more likely look for smartphones/PDAs with voice on one hand and a ruggedized laptop/tablet for vehicle installation on the other hand.”
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