TCCA CEO Predicts Changes for Critical Industry Market
Monday, October 03, 2016 | Comments

Phil Kidner, who is celebrating 10 years as the CEO of the TETRA + Critical Communications Association (TCCA), offers his views about the past 10 years and the industry’s future.

What have been the biggest industry changes during the past 10 years?
Ten years ago, TETRA was the leading technology for mission-critical communications. Large national public-safety networks were being rolled out, and there were many implementations throughout the world, but not in North America where TETRA was not welcome.

Long Term Evolution (LTE) was not on the public-safety agenda at all, and as a result, there were no discussions around standardized mission-critical broadband or the need for spectrum to support it.

Here we are 10 years later. TETRA is still the leading technology for mission-critical communications and is still being rolled out — the largest network in the world was recently completed in Germany — and in many cases, existing TETRA networks are being upgraded or renewed with the latest TETRA infrastructure.

Globally, critical communications users realize that they need to cooperate more with their peers. North America has opened for business with TETRA, and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the U.K. Emergency Services Mobile Communications Program (ESMCP) and South Korea are moving forward with nationwide critical broadband plans.

As LTE emerged during the past decade, it was heralded as the new critical communications bearer. While it is clear that LTE will play a key role in the future, hybrid networks are the way forward. Operators in several countries are moving in the direction of purpose-designed narrowband services such as TETRA for voice, supplemented by LTE for broadband services in specific areas. Once mission-critical features are incorporated into the LTE standard and products during the next few years, LTE may be regarded as having true critical communications capability.

What are the biggest changes in the coming 10 years for the industry?
The critical communications market is competitive and demanding but small relative to the consumer market — the total number of professional mobile radio (PMR) users is around 44 million worldwide, compared with the global might of some 7 billion consumer mobile users. Economic factors mean there will undoubtedly be continued consolidation of manufacturers, but new players will also continue to join the market and then leave again when they realize it may not be the profit center they anticipated.

The arrival of broadband as a critical communications bearer will catalyze the applications market, and this may benefit the narrowband and wideband technologies too, as users realize that there are many data services that don’t actually need broadband.

What have been the biggest changes for the TCCA since you joined the association?
When I became CEO in 2006, we were the TETRA MoU Association, a name that referred back to the association’s origins in 1994. Subsequently, it was renamed the TETRA Association, and in 2011, it received another new moniker, the TCCA, as we broadened our focus.

Two huge milestones were gaining FCC approval for TETRA to enter the U.S. market and the WRC-15 Resolution 646, supported by 196 participating nations, which encourages administrations to use specific frequency ranges for public protection and disaster response (PPDR) to the maximum extent possible, highlighting broadband in particular. Many TCCA member organizations worked extremely hard to help facilitate both of these decisions, and they are proof that commitment and common sense will succeed.

The last five years have seen the emergence of broadband, firstly positioned as a TETRA replacement but now increasingly seen as a complementary technology in the short/medium and maybe even long term. New members that have no history of TETRA are joining the TCCA but are looking to leverage the potential of critical broadband.

TCCA has broadened its focus to ensure hybrid networks are successful, moving our focus from one standard to ensuring an open, standardized critical communications market now and in the future.

Where will the most TETRA growth be in coming years?
As critical communications users realize that the death of PMR has been overstated, then there will be continued growth worldwide. The hybrid network approach by public safety in Europe will mean many TETRA replacements, which will be replicated elsewhere.

The latest forecasts from analyst member IHS Markit show an extremely healthy market, with growth predicted in all areas. Of particular note is Eastern Europe, where new terminal shipments in the industrial sector are expected to increase by almost 50 percent and in transport by nearly 27 percent.

Although Europe remains the largest market for TETRA in active radios, IHS predicts it will be challenged by the end of 2020 as the installed base increases in other regions including Middle East and Africa (MEA) and the Americas. Latin America is forecast to lead the Americas installed base, although North America, where TETRA was only introduced in 2012, is also forecast to grow substantially.

How do you see TETRA’s role in North America in coming years?
I still believe that like the rest of the world, there will be continued growth in PMR. The success of some of the large transport contracts and other utility contracts will show that TETRA really can do what it says, so more sectors will have the confidence to consider it as an option.

What will the future industry look like?
The death of PMR, including TETRA, has been greatly exaggerated. There are many years left for these technologies. You can buy a system, and it will come to the end of its life before you need to consider replacing it with some other technology. LTE is the global broadband standard. National standards are a complication. LTE technology will probably bring great functionality and benefits, but it is still early. There are few products and no proven standardized solutions.

Spectrum and coverage are the big challenges for broadband. You need a minimum of 1.4 megahertz. Where will you get that, and at what cost? How many sites will it take to provide wide-area, national coverage? In the United Kingdom, the Emergency Services Network (ESN) will have some 18,000 sites to cover the U.K. What about vast geographical areas? Tactical solutions are not the answer; in an emergency, you cannot wait for coverage. You need it when you need it, and it has to be there when you need it.

Public systems are not the answer. Public safety needs control to provide services where they know they will need them, not where there is a profit. It is likely that the peak demand for capacity for the public and for public safety will coincide — a bomb blast or papal visit. Public systems will not be sized to deal with these peaks, but to deal with the norm with some contingency.

One last comment is a sincere thank you to TCCA members. They are almost all volunteers. They all have a day job, yet they put a huge amount of effort in making TETRA a success and are now doing the same for the future of critical communications globally.

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Comments
On 10/4/16, Tony Gray said:
Phil has given the past 10 years of his life to the TCCA and been hugely effective in growing and maintaining the influence of the organization on behalf of all its members, as well as the wider critical communications industry. We all owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Thanks for your service PK.


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