Why Digital Radio Standards Matter for Utility Organizations

Pylon at SunsetElectric Utility organizations provide a universal service that’s fundamental to the needs of modern developed societies. In most cases these companies are managed as commercial entities – regardless of their actual ownership – and fall under various independent regulations to make sure public service obligations are achieved. Although each individual company has specific strategies and objectives, there are broad performance criteria that they have in common, including financial efficiency, safety, reliability, security and sustainability.

Naturally, these criteria influence the performance requirements of the mobile communication systems utility companies deploy. The number of employees and work methods, service geography, consumer density and workforce mobile applications all need to be considered.

The first consideration is: which digital mobile radio standard will bring the most benefits?

GSM cellphone technology, APCO P25 in the USA, TETRA in Europe and DMR worldwide are examples of successful, widely-adopted digital standards. Successful standards bring real advantages for Utilities, as they know that whichever vendor they choose to partner with, their solutions should all fall within the same broad technical parameters.

But clearly, not all vendors interpret these standards in the same way, which is why the truly successful standards are those which are ‘open’.  Open standards are not under the control of any single vendor;  instead, they’re defined and controlled by an independent body with a proper process for resolving conflict between interested parties.

Equipment designed and produced to an open standard by one vendor should be interoperable with equipment from another, which is why it’s wise to look for standardized interoperability test procedures or results from certified interoperability laboratories.

Digital radio standards developments

In 2000, there were only two truly open digital radio standards; TETRA and APCO P25.

TETRA (TErrestrial TRunked Radio) was developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute for large, national networks run by government agencies for Public Safety organizations and others. APCO P25 was designed primarily for Public Safety users. While TETRA originated in Europe and APCO P25 in the United States, both standards have been widely adopted outside these areas.

In 2005, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) published the DMR (Digital Mobile Radio) standard with three tiers for business and professional systems with low complexity and high cost effectiveness.

All of these technologies offer varying benefits to Utility organizations looking to upgrade their current radio communications systems.

More information can be found in our white paper ‘Guide to Digital Radio Standards for Utilities’

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