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Interview about dPMR Digital Two Way Mobile Radio and its Growing Success In Europe and Beyond

Interview about dPMR Digital Two Way Mobile Radio and its Growing Success In Europe and Beyond

Pete Hizzey, chairman of the dPMR Association, recently gave an interview with Richard Lambley editor of Land Mobile Magazine about the ETSI dPMR standard for mobile radio and its growing success in Europe and beyond. You can read the interview here which explains the digital two way radio standard and possible future developments for the standard and the dPMR Association. Our thanks to Land Mobile for giving us permission to publish this article.

The easiest way to describe dPMR is that it’s a fairly simple digital protocol and it’s been totally designed around the idea of minimum cost, and simplicity. And something inherent in doing minimum cost and simplicity is that the system is FDMA – it is the same type as all the legacy analogue equipment out there. You don’t actually have to go to some switched TDMA-type system to be able to operate this. So it’s something that is ideally suited for migrating. It offers the most logical migration routes. There is a lot of interest among people who have got analogue systems and partially digital systems, like MPT 1327, who are very keen to migrate to digital. Effectively all they have to do is to put a digital trunking controller on to their repeaters and be able to operate both systems in parallel.

Are you saying, then, that it is aimed at a section of the market that requires a digital system but doesn’t want it to get too expensive and complicated?
It’s really more than that. Because it is a simple protocol, when you get down the simplest level of the market (which is things like one base station and a couple of mobiles, or even a small community base station), the cost of the equipment means that it is a very sensible proposition. But it is totally scalable – so that at the top end of the functionality, you get full trunked networks that can operate enough base stations and channels to do a national network.

What would you say are the main features and benefits of the dPMR standard?
Because it stays an FDMA protocol, it makes it inherently more simple to migrate from an analogue network. You can offer people the possibility to run their old system and the new system in parallel and add equipment as they want. They can keep a lot of their base station equipment and their repeaters, and we can just put digital controllers on to them.
We’re looking at systems where people have already got an analogue trunked system and then will put in a controller that actually does both – dPMR and their old system. And they can then just add mobiles to it as and when they want to.
There are specific areas of the market where that is critically important. We’ve got certain customers who have trunked networks, and effectively they have to shut their business down if the radio network goes down. They are talking in terms of hundreds of thousands of dollars an hour if it goes off. So with things like that, you can put two systems on and you can virtually hot-switch, and then just add the mobiles and handheld units as and when you want to. The important thing for that customer is that the system never actually goes off.

How well is the dPMR initiative supported by the industry?
It’s certainly fairly well supported by the industry. Because it was always designed to be a lower cost technology, we’ve had a lot more interest in Asia. We have two members of the association who supply chip sets and both of them have a list of customers who are building equipment. Some of them have announced products, some of them are waiting – but we’ve said we are going to hold an interoperability session in Asia, probably at the end of the year, and they have both indicated that there will be five or six of their customers coming along with equipment for interop testing.

So it isn’t going to be just Icom and Kenwood?
Ooh, no! I know Kenwood announced that they’ve got plans for later in the year, but certainly they have been beaten to it by many of the Chinese and Asian manufacturers.
There’s been some confusion, I suspect, about dPMR because Kenwood and Icom have both offered NXDN digital radio, which seems rather similar proposition. Can you clarify the situation?
They are completely different – totally incompatible. They both operate 4-FSK signalling and both of them can operate in 6¼ kilohertz, but that’s as far as it goes.

Will NXDN slowly fade away now that dPMR equipment is readily available?
I don’t know. It’s one of those things that is actually a commercial question. It’s a bit like saying ‘Will Betamax disappear when VHS comes out?’ Certainly there’s a fairly good customer base for NXDN, just as there is in dPMR. But as far as Icom is concerned, the problem is neither here nor there because we have a common radio platform that’s called IDAS and it will operate both. It’s simply a case of swapping the software, rather like going from Windows to Linux. It’s the same platform, so we are manufacturing the same product and we’re just putting different software in it.

We have three ETSI digital standards now in PMR – we have dPMR, DMR and Tetra. Do you see much overlap between dPMR and the others?
There are significant differences between them all. Tetra, for example, is designed as a 4-TDMA system. It will only operate in a minimum of 25 kHz channels. You couldn’t actually put it into a standard PMR band because that’s 12½ kHz or better, so it’s something that has automatically got to have its own band.
TDMA doesn’t really share very well with FDMA, certainly with analogue – there are already problems going around in the States with that. And the other thing, of course, is that Tetra was always designed to be the do-everything, Swiss Army knife of the radio industry. So if you build a Tetra-compliant radio, it is going to be seriously expensive in terms of development and r&d; to get the whole thing to operate. Generally, the business and industry users are not looking for that. It might be fine for a do-everything radio that you can issue to public security services on a national scale, but it’s certainly not for a business user.

What about the more advanced PMR features – data applications and vehicle- and people-location, and even trunking? How well are those supported in dPMR?
There’s everything! There’s all the vehicle location we can handle, GPS, tracking, asset tracking. We can do text messaging, data transfer – it’s exactly the same. It’s purely down to the type of protocol you want to use, but as an application level what it offers is exactly the same.

Is there a developer community that is creating applications for dPMR?
Within our own companies, we’re working with distributors and they are creating applications on dPMR; that’s already happening. Outside of the radio manufacturers, there are certainly companies that are doing protocol stack work who are also going to be looking at applications as well.

Within the dPMR Association, what are the activities and issues that you are particularly concerned with at the moment?
There’s been significant activity in terms of doing interoperability testing at all sorts of levels. We are not just analysing radio equipment, we are also looking at infrastructure equipment. As I said, we’ve got silicon manufacturers and they would like to have some kind of assessment of the embedded software in the chips. That poses all sorts of questions, but certainly we’ve got the ETSI standards for interop, so we’ve got a very good base for being able to test all the products, and we are just in the process now.
The other work is related with development of the ETSI standard itself. The standard offers all the building blocks required to implement just about any type or scale of radio network, but it is only when you develop particular systems that new ideas evolve. We have a technical working group within the association that looks at these and then develops proposals to the ETSI working group for updating the standard.

Looking at the dPMR world from a wider perspective perhaps, not just Europe but globally, how successful would you say the dPMR initiative has been?
There has been interest from quarters of the globe where it was totally unexpected. I’m fairly confident it’s not going to be the one that is going to go away.
You mentioned this thing about the NXDN and the fact that it’s a manufacturers’ protocol: we may see some changes there in the future, but certainly I think that dPMR is going to pick up more of a global share of the market. But on the other hand, I’d be surprised if NXDN went away in the near future either.
It’s got a significant product base to a point where, if you look at the number of licences issued for 6¼ kHz FDMA compared to 12½ kHz TDMA, it’s about 50:50.

So NXDN wasn’t just an interim protocol while you got dPMR ready?
It was something that had been worked on between Icom and Kenwood. It more or less started at the same time as the work with dPMR, because the first thing to do was actually to make the technical proof that 6¼ kHz would actually work, would comply with the standard.
Of course, when you are developing a standard within ETSI, it’s a much longer time frame, so of course it’s much easier to complete a manufacturer protocol like NXDN in a shorter time frame and make the product – and it gives you a proof of concept, that 6¼ kHz FDMA is totally viable.
That was one of the questions within ETSI. Many of the major manufacturers said: ‘FDMA 6¼ kHz is totally impossible’, to the point where we actually had to bring in some prototypes to one of the meetings to demonstrate them. We said, ‘Look, there you are! Do you want to look it on an analyser? It can be done!’

Looking at the longer term, if I were buying a radio system, how confident could I be that the dPMR standard is here to stay and that it will continue to be developed and supported?
It’s an open ETSI standard and therefore it is of significant interest to manufacturers. You can see that the interest is increasing step by step. The actual base of product is increasing significantly and the type of products that we can offer is increasing very, very significantly.
If we go back three years, probably all that was available would have been the very basic licence-free handheld product – whereas today you can have a full, multi-site, multi-channel trunked network with infrastructure and controllers with it. So the advances have been exponential.

Pete Hizzey is chairman of the dPMR Association, the worldwide forum for manufacturers, suppliers, users and others interested in radio systems based on the ETSI dPMR technology. For almost two decades he has led Icom’s European office, with responsibility for European standardization and legislative affairs. Information about dPMR and the association can be found at .

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