OTAP Evolution – Over-the-air programming meets radio management

OTAP-Evolution_300x300Vendors have been talking up OTAP for more than a decade.

They promised time and money savings, with less driving, less disruption, and more control over devices. OTAP would dramatically reduce the resource required to operate a network. Large radio fleets would be upgraded simply, quickly and seamlessly, without having to recall vehicles and users to base.

In this article, we discuss why this hasn’t always happened, and where OTAP development is currently.

What OTAP brings to Radio Fleet Management

Despite the market demand, the time taken by vendors to develop a sophisticated OTAP offering for digital LMR has not kept pace with other developments in wireless communication.

There is some advantage in current OTAP offerings; currently OTAP does replace the wire. But it is not significantly better or faster, still takes too long, and is only able to program one radio at a time.

The technologies surrounding LMR have developed, fuelled by demand and expectation from consumer communications devices. In this context, we can look at OTAP not as a solution in itself, but as one component of the wider, radio management solution.

The delay has given developers the space to view wider issues – beyond the programming task – to look at all the associated information flowing seamlessly between devices and applications.

No longer confined to the single function of upgrading and programming software and firmware in radios and radio devices, OTAP becomes a vital tool in your radio management system. In the future OTAP will be more useful, more featured and save more resource.

Where next for OTAP?

Not so long ago, iPhone users needed to initiate and download each software upgrade – whether urgent or not – directly from iTunes, to their cellular phone. This used the same process as manual programming, except it was carried out by the user rather than a technician.

Granted, this was not difficult, but it did mean that devices in service used a variety of software versions, resulting in some operating sub-optimally.

Those same phones are now updated automatically, wirelessly, and usually without any input or knowledge of the user. For both Apple and the users this has huge economic advantages:

  • Upgrades have no need of hardware intervention. They can be undertaken at off-peak times to suit network loads and programming resource.
  • Users are not inconvenienced, so maintain their loyalty to the product and manufacturer.
  • Fewer software issues mean less support is needed, reducing the support overhead for Apple.

This is the kind of advancement LMR software developers are refining. LMR network operators should demand these benefits from their radio fleet management.

The diagrams below describe the progression of OTAP development from its most basic, to programming multiple devices in parallel via LTE and/or WiFi. The bar graphs show the dramatic reduction in resources required, with each subsequent evolution.

1. BASE / DEPOT Scheduled upgrade, programmed serially via cable.

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2. BASE / DEPOT Scheduled upgrade, programmed serially via cable or via LMR if remote.

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3. BASE / DEPOT Wireless programming to laptops in field. Vehicle (or portable) units programmed via cable.

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4. BASE / DEPOT Wireless programming to vehicle (or portable) units via LMR, serially.

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5. BASE / DEPOT Wireless/LTE programming to multiple vehicle (or portable) units in parallel.

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What to look for in an OTAP solution:

Flexible, scalable implementation

Implementing new features and processes is often associated with costly change management projects or worse, confusion and frustration. OTAP can now be implemented more gradually, without the organizational impact, yet maintaining security and control. Users need much less support, as programming will often take place without their knowledge or input.

Fire and forget

It is difficult to connect to all radios at a convenient time for the programming technician. Some solutions were unable to confirm whether programming had been completed, or even initialized. Users may be on leave, off duty or simply have the radios turned off for any of a multitude of reasons. Now, when radios are scheduled for programming, it is cached and configured to commence as soon as the radio is turned back on.

Voice pre-emption

In the past when a portable radio was reprogrammed via OTAP, the target device would, effectively be out of communication, leaving the radio user vulnerable. Now, should the radio receive a voice call during programming, OTAP is immediately suspended, so that the user can take the call. Once the call is completed, programming can recommence automatically.

User-selectable programming

At the time when the radio is to be programmed, the user may be busy, involved in a situation where they are dependent on their radios for information or safety. Users can be advised that programming is about to commence. The radio indicates that updates are waiting, and the user can select a convenient time to action the change.

Exceptions only

Maintenance and upgrades to software are often urgent, impacting on operation and safety. Unfortunately, LMR data capability is limited, so upgrades can take much longer than is desirable. OTAP can now upgrade software by sending only the exceptions – the differences between the old version and the new, so the entire programming task is dramatically shortened. This development means that OTAP can conceivably make changes to firmware also.


This article is taken from Connection Magazine, Issue 6. Connection is a collection of educational and thought-leading articles focusing on critical communications, wireless and radio technology.

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