Radio Vendors: LMR Is Not Dead
Although the industry is undergoing unprecedented change, two-way radio technology isn’t going away, said representatives from five different radio manufacturers during the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) Wireless Leadership Summit in Kansas City, Missouri, Oct. 24.
Mark Jasin, executive vice president and general manager of JVCKENWOOD USA, said LMR will be redefined to include push-to-talk (PTT) over cellular (PoC) and Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. But he said PoC is an entry-level solution, and JVCKENWOOD is selling many hybrid radios for customers who need more functionality.
“I think there is still a lot of opportunity for LMR and private systems, even as we start to see the evolution of PoC,” said Steve Cragg, vice president of sales for Hytera Communications. “Current PoC potential customers are using cellular, not LMR. I believe that is where PoC sits, in some of the cellular customers.”
Cragg said the fact that the LTE standards have had to be so heavily modified to include the features that LMR provides is flattering. LTE suggests an operational model, which is too expensive for many companies.
“The product line is so diverse among all the manufacturers here,” said Jon Paul Beauchamp, senior sales manager at Icom America. “We all appeal to the common denominators. Traditional LMR is not going anywhere. For smaller end users and smaller campuses, traditional LMR is going to be around. There is a lot of profitability there. There are in-building and out-of-building needs, and that’s where LMR is going to be.”
Trevor Fulk, professional and commercial radio (PCR) specialist team manager at Motorola Solutions, said there is not an either/or proposition. It should be both. “Not every customer has to have a two-way radio,” he said. “Sometimes the smartphone is the right thing. We have to embrace it. We have to do both.”
“The industry has always changed, and this is no different,” said Nick Pennance, vice president of engineering at Tait Communications. “It’s just called convergence.”
All the executives agreed that PoC services aren’t meant to replace traditional SMR networks but to integrate with SMR and to extend those services to more users. “Most SMRs have built for mobile coverage, but PoC gives you wide-area portable coverage without having to invest,” Cragg said. “If you don’t have an SMR system, PoC allows you to increase your business without having to invest in a system. PoC should increase your opportunity — your business — at no actual investment.”
Icom’s Beauchamp agreed. “Your infrastructure and equipment costs come down with PoC,” he said. “You’ll spend less on infrastructure so your balance sheet should be OK.”
Even with a robust market, that’s not to say two-way radio vendors and dealers don’t have challenges. Jasin said radio manufacturers have to buy raw materials for their products on a global basis.
“Some suppliers are dropping the raw materials we need,” he said. “Analog is still part of our sales, but we can’t get parts anymore.”
Finding qualified staff for servicing two-way radios and networks is also a challenge. For this reason, Jasin said vendors need to make channel distributors as efficient as possible. “The onus is on us to make you a better channel,” he said.
Cragg said Hytera is focusing on remote capabilities for new technology the company rolls out. “We are trying to make everything as remote capable as possible,” he said. “For you the dealer, instead of sending someone to a site to reconfigure, you can do it remotely.
“We focus on the technical side, and as the technology evolves, we need to invest in service and better sales people. You can attract people who understand the new technology and that connectivity. Those technologies are giving you a great way to grow your business and recurring revenue.”
Motorola’s Fulk said attracting and retaining talent is key for the industry’s future. “We have to be able to talk to the IT department,” he said.
One audience member suggested the companies could do better around open standards. The executives admitted there will likely be proprietary features within any standard at least until those features can become standardized.
“Vendors have to do the standards work,” said Tait’s Pennance. “P25 (Project 25) is working but it took 25 years. Every standard evolution takes a lot of time. We have to do some things proprietary, and we try to push them back to standards, but it takes time.
Motorola’s Fulk agreed and said interoperability pushes up costs. “There is always going to be a set of features that aren’t interoperable,” he said.
Cragg said interoperability is “extremely complex,” using Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) Tier 3 as an example. “We can show you DMR Tier 3 working on other vendors, but if customers want a special feature, it will be proprietary,” he said. “Then, we can introduce it into the standards process. All our products work at some level.”
Jasin said JVCKENWOOD is catching up on DMR Tier 3, and the core operational performance is there.