TCCA Technical Forum: on to the next century

Group chair Harald Ludwig and association vice-president Tero Pesonen discuss what the future holds for TETRA

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Ahead of Critical Communications World this November, TCCA Technical Forum group chair Harald Ludwig and TCAA vice-president Tero Pesonen discuss what the future holds for TETRA.

What are the key differences between the TETRA market now and when the group first started?

When the Technical Forum was formed, TETRA technology was brand new, and only first networks with limited functionality were in place. At that time, prospective purchasers – used to single vendor proprietary systems – had little confidence that TETRA infrastructure would really work together with radios from different manufacturers. The risk of this infant market fragmenting was evident.

The way forward therefore was to have a forum bringing stakeholders together to discuss matters on a practical level, without commercial pressure. The TETRA Interoperability Process [IOP] was instigated to ensure fully documented and certified processes were in place, in order to reassure potential buyers, as well as provide common guidance to vendors.

The IOP has underpinned the success of TETRA, which rapidly became the leading narrowband mission-critical radio technology throughout the world. TCCA’s IOP process remains in place as a critical element of the TETRA ecosystem as new infrastructure elements and user devices are developed. We take it as a compliment that all the work going on behind the scenes to ensure interoperability goes largely unnoticed!

Who was involved in the group at the start?

The first TF meeting took place on 16 February 1999 at the UK Home Office in London. Both users and operators were involved, including the Home Office itself, British Telecom, Dolphin Telecom, The Police Netherlands and KTL. Vendors included Marconi/OTE – now Leonardo – and Nokia, as well as test vendors/test house IFR and Tele Danmark. Some of those original organisations are still very active in TCCA and standardisation activities.

How did the market/users respond to the new technology?

Everything was new at the beginning, and we had to convince the industry of the benefits of co-operation, which is the essence of the TETRA MoU. The public safety market at the time used proprietary technology, so there was no need for interoperability testing. This approach was new for all involved.

Issues were how and what to test and how to organise testing. We also discussed who would be the certification body and who will fund the process. Basically everything was an issue.

These were resolved by co-operation and collaboration across countries, operators and vendors, with the Technical Forum bringing the industry and operator/user communities together to consolidate views for prioritisation and goals. It is a good example on the benefits of co-operation for the benefit of all.

The market responded very well, as demonstrated by the fact that in most tenders, the IOP tests and IOP certificates were a fundamental requirement. It also shows that when purchasers formally ask for interoperability by putting a requirement into their tenders, they’ll get it. It does not come by itself.

What will be the key areas in terms of TETRA’s continuing development going into the future?

Going forward, we see the main work item as being the development of the standard to be able to interwork with 3GPP critical broadband systems. This work has been ongoing for some time but is vitally important for those users who want a dual systems option where it is possible that TETRA is used for voice, and maybe for Direct Mode.

A second key area is in delivering improvements to TETRA data services, for instance making packet data over TETRA more efficient. ETSI TC-TCCE is already working on packet data group calls, which really enhances efficiency.

The third area is security, which always requires updating and improvement to stay ahead of the bad actors. End-to-end encryption is outside the scope of ETSI standards and is dealt with by TCCA’s Security and Fraud Prevention Group (SFPG).

What is the future for the standard? Does broadband represent a challenge?

We predict that the TETRA standard has a long and healthy future ahead. The advent of critical broadband based on 3GPP LTE/5G is an opportunity for TETRA as it could increase the overall volume of critical communications telecoms being used, leading to a wider overall global market for both standards.

It is very clear that large national PPDR networks will migrate to broadband to benefit from higher data capacity. However, this will take time due to the complexity of implementing the new technology, as well as building the value chain in order to meet the day-to-day operational requirements of critical users.

For the latest on the evolution of TETRA and other critical communications technologies, register your interest and join us at CCW 2021.

Philip Mason

Managing Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio, Mark Allen Exhibitions

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