Users, Vendors Still See Value in Analog
Tuesday, May 27, 2014 | Comments

Although the digital marketing machine is in full swing in the mission-critical communications industry, most vendors still offer analog equipment and include an analog mode in new digital products.

In fact, Motorola Solutions, the industry’s largest manufacturer, announced a $2.7 million analog conventional and simulcast contract last week in Washington state. Harris also offers analog terminals and base stations, as well as gateways to tie analog networks to digital systems. Tait Communications offers analog conventional and trunked MPT 1327 product ranges. Hytera Communications sells analog products as well.

“Currently, there are no plans in the near future to discontinue any of our analog radio portfolio, but as warranties expire and digital radio portfolios mature, we do see an exponential increase in the proportion of digital equipment in our sales mix,” said Nicholas Bacigalupi, Hytera Communications director of marketing for North America.  

“Whilst many of our competitors are making their analog portfolios obsolete, at Tait we are committed to the continued supply of analog products,” a Tait email to customers said. “We still see a high demand for analog solutions, and as a result we have made the decision to continue offering our entire analog portfolio as well as offering full analog functionality as part of our 9300 and 9400 digital offerings.”

Most mission-critical communications products sold have a digital component, although analog is important during the transition from a legacy system to a new system, said Mike Petersen, director of Motorola Solutions’ ASTRO subscriber product management. “Digital is the primary operating mode our customers are looking for,” he said. “But they look at analog while they migrate. Our customers seldom turn the switch overnight. They need to be able to have the analog in the radio, as well as the digital.”

Motorola’s Project 25 (P25) digital ASTRO products are capable of running in analog mode only. “There are relatively few systems that are analog only and that’s all they’ll ever do,” he said. “We can tier it to align it to the customer’s needs, whether it’s something they need now or upgrade in the future.”

“Every product we have is basically dual mode,” said J.J. Milhorn, Harris product manager of system offerings and IT services. “There are a lot of analog systems throughout the world, and customers have used them for a long time. There will be a migration to digital but there will be a transition period, whether it’s five years or 20. It depends on the transition plans of customers, the areas they are serving, etc.”

All Hytera’s Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) radios can operate in dual mode to maintain analog and digital compatibility and ensure an easy migration to digital technology at the customer’s pace, Bacigalupi said. “We see the future of analog equipment with a sharp decline in analog-only products but an increase in hybrid products that operate on analog (12.5 kilohertz) but are digital ready via a license upgrade,” he said.

Executives said the suppliers plan to support analog for the foreseeable future.

“We are going to support analog for quite a long time,” said Harris’ Milhorn. “There are a lot of customers in the transition phase, and we will continue to support them until the market sees fit. A lot of those customers have asked us for transition plans. We will transition our VIDA system into their traditional system, and that allows a graceful migration.”

In addition to using analog while migrating to a new digital network, many customers require analog for interoperability and mutual aid. “One size fits all doesn’t work in public safety,” Petersen said.

Obviously many networks more than 10 years old are analog and making repairs and maintaining the systems are difficult. “As digital standards become more mature and more manufacturers release low-cost digital products, we see a steady decline in analog sales within the next decade,” Bacigalupi said.

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