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    • Powering Up Worker Communications in Utilities - Author: Danielle Doo

      Published Dec 09 2016, 8:29 PM by Emily Zervos



      Despite the surge in smartphone use in the workplace, two way radios have remained the dominant technology for push-to-talk (PTT) communications in the utilities sector. Why is this? Two-way radios are designed for the job. Not only are they rugged and durable, with extremely long battery life but they also offer a secure and extremely reliable network in a time when we are facing heightened security.

      Utility engineers may work extended shifts, outdoors, or in dangerous environments that require intrinsically safe devices. These different areas of work will require different devices; ones that can be used with gloves, that include displays or operate hands free. Supervisors who are office based may not carry a radio but they do need to communicate with their workers from their own device; a smartphone. Purpose-built radios designed for specific use cases can meet all of these needs. From extra loud speakers, noise cancelling microphones, glove friendly ergonomics, purpose built accessories, intrinsically safe models plus integrated smartphone PTT applications such as WAVE PTT.

      The 5Cs are the basics of what makes Professional Mobile Radio (PMR) such a widely-used communications tool, with more than 40 million two-way radios in use globally.

      1. Coverage – designed to meet specific requirements, whether it is a single site depot or on location engineering.
      2. Capacity – engineered to address peak usage, using a dedicated licensed spectrum and right-sized to each organisation’s specific needs – so calls get through
      3. Cost – predictable costs, with no additional airtime fees like those associated with commercial mobile phone networks
      4. Control – high degree of control over system requirements, design, priorities, security, and operation – allowing a system to be configured for a specific use case
      5. Capabilities – features and capabilities that enable safety and productivity for users such as location services, added encryption/security, text messaging, telemetry, radio programming and other enhanced features.


      The 5th C, Capability, is the game changer. The capabilities continue to drive the usage of PMR in the utilities industry and will continue to propel usage for the foreseeable future. Let’s take a look at the 5th C in more detail...

      Efficiency and Productivity Capabilities (data applications)

      Modern, IP-enabled digital radio systems offer data capabilities. Radio systems might not offer broadband data speeds, but they allow you to deliver data services within your custom designed coverage area. They offer the capacity you need, without the additional data airtime costs and give you exactly the control you need. So with data capabilities, what more can you do?

      • Query databases
      • Monitor biometric data such as the heart rate of workers, by connecting sensors to radios via Bluetooth
      • Coordinate work order tickets
      • Keep track of your staff and assets using location services (such as GPS – outdoors, Bluetooth – indoors)
      • Set up telemetry and SCADA to let your machines talk to each other
      • Manage your fleet of radios over-the-air


      Secure Communication Capabilities

      Security is a big topic these days, especially for utility companies. With PMR you control who can listen to your voice and data traffic. There are many security features to secure this traffic, from business level secure voice encryption to government certified end-to-end encryption with features such as over-the-air encryption key management in TETRA systems. Trusted by tactical teams and government organisations, TETRA secures the most sensitive data.

      Safety and Reliability Capabilities

      To be safe, your communications must be reliable. Your calls need to always get through so there are features built in to make sure calls are prioritised and radio traffic is load balanced. In case of a mobile network overload, you need to be sure your staff will be able to communicate on their radio network or in direct mode. Systems can be designed to be resilient from redundant backhaul links at remote radio sites to redundant system controllers and back-up power. Plus radio always has the fall-back of direct mode/simplex/talkaround operation so communications can occur directly between radios in a peer to peer fashion without the need for infrastructure.

      Which “C” do you think is most critical? Please leave your comments below.

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