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TETRA, the European digital trunking standard, is now widely established with over 300 customers around the world. Equipment vendors are also experiencing increasing interest in the Middle East and Africa as public organisations upgrade their radio networks

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By  Richard Agnew Published  January 5, 2004

International Expansion|~|tetraweb1.gif|~|Public organisations are mulling adoption of TETRA in the Middle East|~|Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA), the professional mobile radio (PMR) and public access mobile radio (PAMR) standard for emergency services, public utilities and corporates, is rapidly expanding its European roots. Defined in the 1990’s by the European Telecommunications Standardisation Institute (ETSI), the original creators of the GSM standard, TETRA is now widely established in over 300 organisations and firms around the world. Recent times have also seen various public organisations from the Middle East and Africa adopting TETRA as a basis for private networks offering secure mobile communications, push to talk (PTT) voice capability, paging and wireless packet data transfer, as well as other features. An increasing number of applications are also being developed for the technology, prompting greater interest amongst private firms in different industry sectors. “In public utilities and emergency services in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East, there is currently a big move towards TETRA,” says Duncan Gerrard, senior consultant, ADP Communications, the UK-based software provider for various PMR systems. “We see TETRA offering the best value in many sectors of the market and a level of service delivery that other technologies can’t,” he adds. Interest in TETRA in the Middle East and Africa has already come to the fore, especially among public sector organisations and the oil and gas industry. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry was one of the first government bodies in the region to adopt the technology in 2002. Petroleum Development Oman has recruited PMR equipment vendor, Rohde & Schwarz Mobilfunk, to supply it with a TETRA system to support the security and operation of local oil fields, comprising 21 base stations, two exchanges and allowing users to handover to the local telephone network. UK supplier, Marconi, has also delivered a TETRA network to Tehran’s Metropolitan Police Network, linked into two control centres, supporting up to 12,000 subscribers and providing automatic vehicle location for up to 2,500 units. And following the war in Iraq, a TETRA network was adopted to provide voice and data communications capability for the police force in Baghdad. TETRA suppliers expect growth to continue during 2004. The technology is expected to be a contender in upcoming PMR procurements by Kuwait’s Ministry of the Interior and the emergency services in Jordan, while UAE monopoly operator, Etisalat, is expected to revive its interest in the technology in the early part of the year. Also, according to vendors involved in a tender opened by the Abu Dhabi Police Department in December 2003, TETRA is one of the front-runners out of the technologies being considered. TETRA takes its features from several different wireless systems, including traditional mobile radio solutions, cellular technology, paging and wireless data. Users access the system through mobile phone-style handsets or other terminals dedicated to different sectors and situations. They can then communicate with colleagues in closed user groups or outside the network through direct terminal-to-terminal mode, send text information through short data services and access e-mail, WAP and other packet data services. Other key features include end-to-end encryption, compatibility with GPS for location-based services, roaming, and enabling emergency calls to jump traffic queues in cases of network congestion.||**||Standardisation|~|tet1.gif|~||~|“TETRA has end-to-end encryption and it’s easier to work with in terms of voice-to-voice and group calls. A lot of public and emergency services are replacing their existing voice systems and want to talk individually, do group calls and broadcast messages. TETRA lets you do all these at once,” adds Gerrard. Internationally, the TETRA standard is also being updated. Originally, the technology was created as an answer to the problem of emergency response teams from different European nations being unable to communicate with each other in times of crises, due in part to a lack of interoperable PMR equipment. But because of its design as an open standard, vendors expect TETRA to be able to access other markets as well. “The difference between TETRA and older technologies is that it has been put together for the needs of the industry and end users. Most other technologies are the property of companies and other suppliers need to buy licences,” adds Dario Barisoni, director of PMR sales for the Middle East at Rohde & Schwarz. Various enhancements to TETRA are also being worked on within a programme dubbed TETRA 2. This is expected to see current data rates of up to 28Kbits/s increased substantially to meet demand for non-voice applications, and the range of TETRA extended to allow its use by light aircraft, ships and pipelines and in rural telephony situations. The addition of alternative voice codecs, improvements to the air interface and improved interworking with cellular networks is also on the agenda as part of the TETRA 2 programme. “TETRA standardisation is moving ahead. [Also] important is the work of the TETRA memorandum of understanding (MoU) group with regard to the implementation of the standard through TETRA Interoperability Profiles (TIP), in order to secure interoperability between the products of different vendors,” says Max Zerbst, representative managing director of Rohde & Schwarz Mobilfunk. Various challenges await TETRA’s expansion, however. Concerns among the public over radiation emissions, for example, have hampered the rollout of a nationwide TETRA network for the police force in the UK. Further, various vendors are continuing to push PTT over public mobile technologies such as GSM, GPRS and UMTS as alternatives to the various standards for dedicated PMR networks and for public safety networks. NewGen, a digital trunking operator entering Jordan during 2004, claims it will also target the corporate sector when it launches its public network at the end of April. The iDEN system combines the capabilities of a mobile, two-way radio, alphanumeric pager, and data/fax modem in a single network. The TETRA community, however, says it expects to retain the high end market for PMR networks, especially in the areas of law enforcement and public safety, where fast and accurate field communications to and from a central office are more critical than the range of applications on offer. “For application providers, GPRS is not as demanding as TETRA,” says Gerrard. “GPRS also eats TETRA in terms of data capacity, but it can’t guarantee delivery. The times when you need these systems the most are when they are under the most pressure and [public mobile] can’t deliver a guaranteed service when emergencies happen. TETRA has limited data capability but that capability is rock solid. Also, if you’re a [public mobile] provider, you’re a commercial outfit and you want to get as many people onto your system as you can. But there a limited number of slots available, so there’s got to be some latency,” he adds. TETRA is also regarded as having the advantage in the PMR space where security of transmission is of great importance. “PAMR shared networks using iDEN and PTT over GPRS potentially compete openly with TETRA and other standards, but once you get into the security side it doesn’t become an issue,” says Kevin Humphrey, director of Middle East sales at Motorola’s Commercial, Government and Industrial Solutions Sector (CGISS). “PTT over GPRS and iDEN don’t really suit these marketplaces as they don’t offer the security that most customers require. TETRA [also] supports rapid call set-up, less than 300ms compared to iDEN at 500 to 600ms and PTT over GSM at over couple of seconds, depending on how it is implemented,” he adds. Going forward, TETRA still has ample room for expansion and has yet to be adopted widely by the private sector in the Middle East and Africa for dedicated networks. But suppliers say its growing footprint internationally and within different sectors will help it market itself in the region and reap growth. “TETRA is proven and there are a vast number of existing live systems in the world that potential customers can visit,” says Barisoni. “Other technologies have been there for a number of years but in terms of reliability, TETRA is ready,” he adds.||**||

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