TCCA and TETRA: here’s to the next 25 years


As TCCA marks the 25th anniversary of its founding as the TETRA MoU Association on 4 November 1994, members of its TETRA Industry Group (TIG) – as chaired by Francesco Pasquali - look at the history and the future of the TETRA standard in this interview with CCW News editor Phil Mason

How and why was the MOU group convened? What was the particular impetus for it, and who was the steer?
Three parties came together to promote the new ETSI standard which had been approved early 1994. A group of government users, a group from industry, and Telecom Denmark had agreed to collaborate to promote the standard. The inaugural meeting took place in Copenhagen on 4th November 1994.

Did the latter come from users, manufacturers, or both? What did they want to achieve?

Several countries had ageing systems and had been participating in drafting the standard in ETSI. They now wanted to create an eco-system to ensure competition and innovation. Manufacturers saw the benefit of having a large market using the same equipment. So, a symbiosis was created with the signing of a MoU – users wanted a competitive market and industry wanted a large market.
The TETRA Interoperability [IOP] Testing & Certification Process was the cornerstone on which such a mutually beneficial, virtuous circle was built. Nothing similar had ever been provided before. The opportunity to mix products - radio user equipment as well as networks - from different manufacturers in real, everyday, field operations was a real novelty in a market which, until then, was dominated by proprietary, industry-specific solutions.
IOP brings competition, leads to lower price levels and faster product evolution on the one hand, and to a larger market on the other. TETRA adoption began, and it is still to be regarded as the technology of reference, well beyond the European public safety sector, and across all verticals worldwide.
The TETRA IOP is still the flagship of TCCA, ready to provide a successful model, also for the future broadband IOP.

Had anything similar existed previously in relation to other kinds of communications technology? Was there a particular organisational model which was being followed?
This was very new. Key individuals from UK Home Office, Dutch Police, Motorola, Nokia, Phillips and Ericsson drafted the MoU in such a way that government bodies could sign it.

How has the organisation evolved in parallel with the technology and its use? How has it stayed the same, for instance in terms of structure, work groups, vision and so on?

The organisation did a great deal of marketing in order to spread the benefit of the open standard, and already in February 1995 it had 13 signatories. The organisation has changed many times, but always stayed true to open standards; and to a balance between users and suppliers.
With the passing of time - and in order to give an answer to the need for really interoperable TETRA products - different technical working groups were formed, with each focusing on one of the aspects of the standard such as Trunking Mode, Direct Mode, ISI, and so on. All were coordinated and supervised by the steering Technical Forum.
Today the TETRA Industry Group supervises TETRA-focused marketing activities, also contributing to set TCCA’s strategy as regards TETRA, in cooperation with the Association Board.
More recently, with TCCA’s vision and strategy embracing broadband technologies as a complement to TETRA, new working groups have been created including the Critical Communication Broadband Group and Broadband Industry Group.

How has the TETRA market changed over the years, and what has been the legacy of the group in relation to that?
The first commercial contract was for the new airport in Oslo, and the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Finland also granted large contracts to suppliers. The addressable market for TETRA is from small single site solutions to nationwide networks. The ability of creating a standard with such ‘bandwidth’ has been attracting suppliers of all sizes, and that has been very important for the market.
Although natively conceived mainly for the European public safety sector in the context of the Schengen agreement, TETRA developed as a standard. As more products came to market, a much wider and ambitious vision led the technology to be able to fulfil the requirements of a large base of end users across all vertical market sectors.
Starting from being the technology of reference for European national public safety networks, TETRA has become the most largely adopted technology also for transport – for instance, mass transit such as metros, and airports -, as well as utilities, mining, oil and gas, major event management and many other sectors around the world.

What lessons have been learned and implemented since the mid-1990s? 
Collaboration between users and industry – as well as between industry, and between users – have been the key factors for such an unquestionable success.
Today cooperation between normally competing industries might be taken for granted, but at that time it was an extraordinary novelty which undoubtedly helped to better and faster fulfil the user requirements. This could have never been so complete and comprehensive a solution for the needs of different end user types, unless the users themselves had not chosen to cooperate for a common benefit.
Finally, the tight collaboration between manufacturers, operators and users enabled agreements to determine which features from the standard were included in the interoperability profile definitions, thus providing to the market products ready to behave as expected and needed.

Was there an expectation that the technology would be as successful as it has been?
It is questionable that the founding fathers expected to see TETRA running into and beyond 2030. However, it has been the visionary forward-looking joint work of manufacturers and users in TETRA standardisation - and within TCCA - that has given TETRA such an extraordinary longevity, continuously keeping it up-to-date and future proof.

Was there any initial push-back against TETRA, for instance with users just wanting to keep as they were? If so, how was that overcome?

Most networks were in VHF and TETRA was in 380-400, so they were questioning coverage. Motorola used the Island of Jersey as a proof point. Jersey Police had a five-site VHF system and the same five sites had TETRA installed – and coverage was actually better. Many user groups from across the world travelled to Jersey to witness it, proving how TETRA could become an improvement on existing analogue networks.
In its early stages TETRA was questioned to be more expensive than alternative technologies, analogue or proprietary, but it was soon clear that the technology could bring unrivalled advantages. This was both in terms of services such as voice quality, security, feature richness, data transmission, but also economies of scale, with TETRA being an open multi-vendor market. Even business models using the shared multi-agency network approach largely adopted it, which allowed to the optimisation of investments from public administrations.
Finally, the initial resistance from some user organisations, which had to give up control over their own system and become part of a nationwide network with central control, was soon overcome by the benefits of TETRA. These included potentially much closer cooperation among different agencies sharing the same network, thereby providing a much improved service to the public.

Following the IHS Markit figures released last month regarding increased growth, how is TETRA likely to evolve going into the future?
TETRA remains a trusted technology which, whenever correctly implemented, is always available and everywhere. TETRA has a great future with the new business models based on commercial networks struggling to be as trusted.
Moreover, the growing push for broadband mainly refers to national public safety networks. However development of the standard and delivery of solutions from vendors is still significantly behind TETRA. In other verticals such as transport and utilities, or even in PPDR involving local/regional systems, TETRA is still the technology of reference, even in the much longer term.

How will it co-exist with broadband?
We expect a fruitful coexistence of TETRA and broadband for many years to come - until broadband is as trusted, always-available and everywhere it is needed.
At the moment both technology standards are complementary. TETRA provides wide area, secure mission critical voice and data services, while broadband delivers the capability to enhance operations with applications, delivering operational efficiencies and significant business benefits.
TCCA is already working jointly with ETSI, along the same model which led to TETRA’s success, to develop the interworking tools needed for a tight and operationally effective integration between the two technologies.

Photo courtesy of Motorola Solutions.

TCCA’s TETRA Industry Group comprises representatives from Airbus, DAMM, Etelm, Funk-Electronic Piciorgros, Hytera, Leonardo, Motorola Solutions, Rohill and Sepura.

For more on the future of TETRA, join us at CCW 2020



Philip Mason
Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0)20 3874 9216