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Applications for TETRA T

Alun Lewis finds how the consumer apps model can be applied in the TETRA community

he past few years have seen an explosive growth in applications developed for the smartphones, PDAs and tablet devices that have become the latest must-have

consumer accessory. Although very few make substantial money for their developers – and there are currently more than half a million applications on the Apple iPhone store alone – the sheer numbers involved and the breadth of human interests catered for illustrate the central, even critical, roles that these are now playing in many people’s lives. While older members of the critical communications

community may adopt a sceptical attitude to this current ‘iFad’ – to coin a term – new staff joining their organizations will expect the same mobile access to information and rich media in their work roles that they do in their personal lives. But the awkward truth is that in many enterprise, utility or

emergency situations, they will have to wait a while. Te speed of development in the consumer sector is outstripping that of even the military, while the economies of scale possible through the mass market mean that technologies once affordable only by governments are now available to all. So, how should the TETRA and critical communications

community look to apply some of the innovation, creativity and very real benefits that can accrue from the use of applications, adding value to the secure and high-reliability voice connectivity that’s already at the heart of their networks?

Renewed vigour Two recent changes in the overall landscape are now driving a renewed vigour in the applications area. Firstly there’s been the decision that LTE will be the technology of choice for broadband services in the mission-critical area in a number of countries. Secondly, the impact of the global recession on both governments and enterprises means that assets must be sweated as much as possible – and that means simplifying and automating as many back and front office processes as possible. A truly integrated applications environment that eliminates the

friction involved in manual, paper-based processes and provides greater situational awareness to both responders and despatchers can cut operational costs and act as an effective force multiplier. Foundations for this journey were laid back in 2007 when

the TETRA Association of the time formed the TETRA Applications Working Group – a forum where the community of both vendors and end-users could share best practice, improve interworking, move towards standards and exploit the WAP and Java application platforms already within TETRA. For Hannu Aronsson, chairman of the TETRA Apps Working

Group and CTO of the Finnish mobile solutions vendor Portalify, the world of applications can be roughly divided into two classes: those specific to TETRA and which involve improvements to existing features to enhance location functions or better manage network congestion; and those which deal with


wider, more complex organizational and operational issues and will provide that much-needed return on investment through demonstrable cost-benefit analysis. He raises cautions, however, about the realities of developing

applications for the critical communications space. He states: “Te sheer size of the consumer applications marketplace dwarfs that of critical communications sector – five million compared with five billion – so the likely returns have to be taken into account when planning development. On top of this, budgets in many areas are under close scrutiny. “Tere’s also the very serious issue for any developer that

these two markets move at very different speeds – even though some organizations have already been deploying consumer devices in critical areas. In the consumer sector, device turnover and application churn are very rapid, while, in the critical communications space, system lifetimes can be as much as 10 years or even more. Mr Aronsson concludes: “Tere are however changes afoot in

the marketplace as users recognize these realities. Government organizations have always wanted highly customized or bespoke systems in the past – but their budgets are now being crunched. As a result, there’s much more focus now on using standardized and open platforms where development costs can be shared and everyone isn’t always starting from scratch. Te choice of LTE for the future is significant here, as it’s a global open standard and that will greatly benefit application activities.”

Interoperability tools Tis issue of closed, incompatible technology and market silos is one that has bedevilled the communications and IT sectors since their earliest days. Typical of the new kinds of approaches to standardization is the Public Safety Cluster strategy adopted by ETSI. Uniting both ETSI and the 3GPP – responsible for 3/4G standards – this Cluster is working on a comprehensive set of standards and interoperability tools to enable and enhance communications in emergencies. Pulling together 10 ETSI groups such as TETRA, BRAN (Broadband Radio Access Networks), SES (Satellite Earth Stations and Systems) and TISPAN (Telecoms and Internet converged Services and Protocols for Advanced Networks), the Public Safety Cluster also co-operates with a wide range of external bodies, including the OMA (Open Mobile Alliance), the EENA (European Emergency Number Association) and others. While it’s stating the obvious to say that applications will

increasingly have to interwork across traditional technology boundaries, Peter Hudson, senior product manager at Sepura, emphazises the benefits immediately available from applications now – and also the importance of understanding the wider and ‘softer’ human and organisational environments in which they’ll be used. “While applications is definitely the buzzword of the moment, it’s important that the user community doesn’t

TE TRA TODAY Issue 7 2012

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