CC Bitesize interview – Andy Schwartz

Ahead of the Critical Communications Bitesize ‘TETRA in the US’ session, NJ Transit director of radio Andy Schwartz offers some strong opinions about the technology in relation to broadband

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Andy Schwartz
Andy Schwartz

What could have been done to make the roll-out of TETRA easier in the United States?

There is really no good answer for this question as it is well behind us. There are, currently, no barriers to deploying TETRA in the US,  other than it is restricted to certain frequency bands in the 450 MHz and 850 MHz bands. TETRA also requires 25 kHz channels versus other technologies that only require 12.5 kHz channels. Both technologies provide a 6.25 kHz channel equivalency.

There are many ‘should’ve, could’ve, would’ves’ that apply to the availability and roll-out of TETRA in the US. The great thing is that it is here, now. What could make things better? One thing would be to get more TETRA vendors into the US market to make the technology even more attractive, by providing enhanced choices when it comes to both infrastructure and terminals.

Why is the market as difficult as it is?

The question really should be, ‘Why was the market as difficult as it was?’. I truly believe that the TETRA standard sells itself when presented as a solution for those who need a mission-/business-critical PMR/LMR system for both voice and data. The industry has seen that, with major transit and utility companies selecting TETRA as their technology of choice. TETRA was also adopted at several major airports in the US.

The main contributor to the TETRA standard’s late US market entry were the regulatory and commercial pressures of the US public safety market. These two barriers kept the TETRA standard out of reach of the US marketplace until 2012/2013, when regulatory changes were made to accommodate the TETRA transmission mask. By this time, however, other technologies had made such gains in penetrating the public safety space, TETRA has been relegated to mostly business/industrial/transport/utility applications, where it shines.

Could this change? Perhaps. Against other digital trunked standards for public safety, there are many pros for TETRA. The challenge for TETRA vendors is to overcome deeply embedded beliefs about radio technology and interoperability – very important elements in the US public safety market.

Can you make the case for TETRA being superior to broadband in a business-/mission-critical context?

I don’t look at this as a mutually-exclusive choice – broadband versus narrowband. They complement each other, and there is a need for both.

Mission/business-critical narrowband is absolutely necessary for voice communications. These systems are hardened to withstand man-made and natural incidents that can – and do - very negatively impact commercial broadband systems. It has been seen over and over with fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and so on. It is essential that voice communication survives to enable public safety to deliver lifesaving services and critical infrastructure operators to recover their systems.

On the other hand, narrowband systems don’t have anywhere near the capacity to support data-intensive applications that can be supported by broadband. These data services are, generally, mission-essential, not critical, and agencies can continue providing critical services without broadband data while using their mission-critical narrowband systems for voice/coordination.

To what degree is broadband a threat to the US TETRA industry?

Broadband shouldn’t be a threat to the US TETRA industry as long as broadband’s place is kept in perspective, and TETRA vendors are successful on positioning TETRA for what it’s best known for – mission-critical voice with narrowband data. TETRA should be primary for voice. Always. Broadband can be primary for data. Broadband can also be secondary for voice using the multitude of PoC applications that exist today.

Commercial networks, including FirstNet and the various ‘FirstNet-like’ offerings from other carriers, are not able to replace public safety/mission-critical systems today. They can’t support a critical need for public safety/mission-critical operators’ off-infrastructure calls [that is, direct mode/talk-around/simplex].

Broadband has a long way to go before it is a credible alternative to PMR/LMR systems for voice. Until then, it is a great compliment.

‘Critical narrowband: The user perspective’ takes place 23 & 24 June 2021. For more information and to book your place, click here

Philip Mason

Managing Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio, Mark Allen Exhibitions

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