In today?s world of 4G and soon 5G networks, along with the rapid growth of internet access, it seems rather anachronistic to talk about two-way radios as a means of communication. Surely these devices belong to another era where faxes were the technology of the day?
In reality, however, two-way radios are still very relevant in the security world and have gone through significant advances over the past few years to enable them to keep up with the expectations of people in today’s connected world. And when one looks at the reality of communications requirements in the security world, quite often, the good old two-way radio is a reliable and comfortable communications mechanism for many.
To find out what the state of two-way radios is in the security market in Africa, Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked a few people who still focus on these devices and their supporting infrastructure to tell us about the technology and its relevance in the market today. We spoke to:
• Tony Lohrentz from Halo Technology.
• Justin Hydes from Spectrum Security Products.
• Ian Coleman from Scan RF Projects.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Is the market for two-way radios declining? What is keeping this market going?
Lohrentz: In order to answer this question honestly, I would say that in the early 1990s, with the introduction of cellphones to the market, there was definitely a decline in the supplying of two-way radios. However, as the cellphone industry starting growing, and people realised the cost of using cellphones was not a fixed cost but rather a monthly cost coupled to a two-year contract, two-way radios regained their position in the market.
This is where the industry had a re-think and a turn-around, and as a result conventional two-way radios were here to stay. The reason for this is that two-way radios in their normal operation (CPFs, security and industrial markets, etc.) are a fixed cost with no surprises at the end of the month, hence the reason for two-way radios always having a place in the market.
Hydes: There is definitely not a decline because of cellphones. Two-way radios (and Motorola specifically) offer mission-critical solutions which a cellphone cannot offer. There is also too much risk and cellphone networks are not reliable enough to replace two-way radio communications. And then there is the reliability of two-way radios; you can be sure of communication 99% of the time via radio.
Coleman: The past 12 to 18 months has been a difficult period for the traditional two-way radio industry, particularly those serving the private sector market. There has been a noticeable swing towards Push-to-Talk (PTT) over cellular (3G radio) which has diminished the demand for licensed PTT radio somewhat. The importers and distributors of PTT over cellular products have enjoyed high sales volumes.
Using cellular telephones as a replacement for conventional two-way radio has, however, not been the root cause of the suppressed radio market.
The mining sector continues to deliver a high demand for digital radio terminals and infrastructure. The trend in the mining sector is the requirement for turnkey communications solution providers and system integrators.
Opportunities in the public sector, particularly public safety providers and state-owned enterprises, are numerous, but the lead time between bid submission and award are generally lengthy, and sadly, tenders are often cancelled for future re-issue.
HSS: What infrastructure is required for effective two-way radio communications in an environment like a mine, or farm, or even a business or educational campus?
Lohrentz: When we talk about the mining industry, then this is where we talk about infrastructure systems which have been supplied to the mines by making use of repeater-based systems. This once again is a fixed cost to the mine for which they have budgeted.
Infrastructures that are available to the market are the repeater-based systems, which form part of Motorola’s TURBOnet systems, Kenwood’s Nexedge and Icom’s IDAS systems. These systems nowadays remain either in analogue or digital format, and as communication is instant through either network, this far outsells the cellphone industry onto the mines.
There is no doubt that the latest digital two-way radio technology has elevated the popular walkie-talkie to the realm of an advanced security tool with many more features being part of the total package.
Hydes: This is dependent on the customer’s communications requirements. Dependent on the coverage area, we would only require a repeater base with portables as well as mobiles. Should there be expansion there are additional variables which will come into place.
Coleman: All privately owned two-way radio systems require infrastructure investment, and the size of the investment is dictated by the area of coverage required. A local campus environment, such as a shopping mall, airport, university or factory may require only one or two base station (repeater) sites, whereas a mining environment demands significantly more to meet the coverage requirements and high concentration of radio users. The more remote the site, the more the infrastructure costs increase with the need to erect communication towers, establish road access to these sites, connect to the electricity grid, and of course secure these sites against the scourge of theft and vandalism.
Surface mining often requires moveable sites which are established on self-contained trailers or skids. These trailers may be positioned to provide communication coverage deep into an open-cast pit and readily relocated as mining operations progress, or be moved to a safer location whenever blasting occurs.
Communication infrastructure for underground mining is very different. Traditionally leaky feeders provided the medium for RF distribution in mining shafts and tunnels, and whilst this solution is still widely used (particularly in explosive methane gas environments), RF over fibre is now often preferred by solution providers and communication system architects.
HSS: What new features and functionality are we seeing in two-way radios to make them more useful and competitive in a world where people seem to expect data, voice and video communications at their fingertips?
Lohrentz: In recent years, the world was introduced to the REAL PTT products which look like a two-way radio, talk like a two-way radio, but are 100% dependent on cellular GSM systems. These two-way radios operate with a SIM card and provide communication over any distance, anywhere in the world. This on its own has taken a large chunk of the normal two-way radio industry.
The evolution into the digital realm means that we are now using the RF spectrum more efficiently. To typical radio users, it would seem that from outward appearances, nothing has changed in the move from analogue to digital. However, it is what is inside that is the differentiator (the SIM card). With digital radios, connection is instantaneous, and users now have a communication link which allows them to talk anywhere in the world provided cellphone coverage is available.
Hydes: POC has been introduced to the market (secure PTT over cellular). This means you now have a SIM-based radio which can talk to any other radio (portable or mobile) anywhere in the country. The device only uses data, but has added benefits of GPS tracking, etc.
Coleman: A two-way radio is not a consumer device, and in almost every instance the equipment is procured and owned by the employer. This said, the decision-making processes are very different in making the investment. In a mission-critical, safety-critical or operations-critical environment, the ability to talk to one, or talk to many, at the push of a button remains fundamental. Providing radio users with easy access to broadband data is generally not a priority, mainly because it’s a distraction from the employee’s primary function.
Low data rate functions and features are widely used in today’s digital radio systems. Location GPS data, man-down signalling, lone worker monitoring and status messaging are tools that assist managers to monitor and measure the productivity, and the wellbeing, of their work force.
TETRA’s (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) ‘Image Push’ is a feature that is widely used in the public safety environments where a control room operator may send still images to a policeman’s or guard’s radio, for example.
HSS: What are the latest products and solutions your company provides in the two-way radio market?
Lohrentz: As mentioned above, REAL PTT has revolutionised the two-way radio industry, and is now giving the end-user what he has always wanted, namely unlimited coverage. The REAL PTT industry, through its products, can now offer the end-user the following:
• GPS live track.
• Voice recordings.
• Individual calls.
• Group calls.
• Stun & revive (if a radio is lost or stolen).
• Lone worker protection.
• NFC tagging for the security industry.
Hydes: We currently supply MOTOtrbo solutions (analogue and DMR).
Coleman: Scan RF Projects’ current initiatives include underground LTE broadband data, converged LTE and TETRA surface mining solutions for autonomous mining, as well as dual-mode broad- and narrow-band devices for public safety. 2018 was an exciting and profitable year for the company’s radio division. The forthcoming financial year is expected to surpass the previous one.
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