Migration to Digital Boosts South African PMR Market
Tuesday, April 09, 2013 | Comments


By George Spencer

The South African PMR market can be segmented into government users, professional private users, public operator and dealer-reseller sectors. Conventional analog, simulcast and MPT 1327 trunked PMR technologies remain in significant use, as does TETRA. To a lesser extent, Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) and digital Private Mobile Radio (dPMR) technologies have been deployed, with one user indicating a potential GSM-R deployment.

Significant growth is expected as a result of the migration to frequency efficient digital technologies. In the professional systems and solutions deployment space, current and emerging digital technologies facilitate integration of fixed wireless and mobile radio to the IP cloud where secure mobile data is the key driver, in addition to better quality secure voice communications. Opportunities for software application developers focusing on dispatch and security will create a demand for different skill sets to be employed by PMR integrator vendors.

While the number of analog users exceeds the number of digital users, there is an increasing trend toward digital technologies across all market sectors. The benefits of digital technologies are well marketed by vendors, and technologies that facilitate a well-priced soft migration are garnering the most interest.

Chinese analog products dominate the price-sensitive dealer-reseller market, with low-cost digital products to follow. And push to talk (PTT) over GSM has captured some market share, mostly at the expense of public access mobile radio (PAMR) networks.

The industry is also experiencing single-digit growth in the turnkey solutions space, particularly when point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless technologies are included in addition to mobile radio.

Most integrator vendors are predicting double-digit growth as a result of user migration from analog to digital technologies during the next five years. Integrator vendors that offer turnkey solutions including service level agreement (SLA)-based maintenance agreements are securing more profitable returns than the traditional “mom-n-pop-shop” integrators.

Managed services are being aggressively mooted by some integrators; however, large professional users such as South African state-owned companies (SOC) South African Police, Transnet, South African National Defense Force and power utility ESKOM want to control and operate their own radio communications networks. In addition to their operational security requirements, SOCs have a mandate from government to create employment and develop skills as opposed to outsourcing services and using consultants.

Many established manufacturers distribute their products, technologies and systems via exclusive distribution agreements or partnerships with South African companies. Others supply product and technologies directly or through multiple competing channels.

South Africa is seen as a challenging and risky, yet growing market. The lack of technical skills, limited access to finance and questionable regulation can be seen as offering opportunity for some firms.

George Spencer has been active in African PMR for more than 20 years. He is the managing director of Emcom Wireless based in Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa, and vice chairman of the South African Professional Mobile Radio Association.

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