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BLOG: Digitising the humble ‘walkie-talkie’

Andy Chan | July 19, 2012
What are the challenges of moving from analog to digital two-way radios?

Invention has its own algorithm: genius, obsession, serendipity, and epiphany in some unknowable combination. The basics of invention described by Malcolm Gladwell aptly illustrate the origins of the humble two-way radio. However, its existence and steady growth over the decades demands a discussion on what makes this invention so lasting and insular amid the tectonic shifts in the technology world. Is it the engineering resiliency the cost effectiveness, its ruggedised built or the near-assured and quick returns on investment? In fact, it is a combination of all of the above.

Two-way radios are, to many of us, uninteresting pieces of technology, with no relevance in today's world. Much of this perception is due to two-way radios being overshadowed by their consumer world cousins - the mobile phones.

The reality is quite the opposite. Two-way radios are everywhere around us. These communication tools have evolved into sophisticated communication technology platforms, for instant and dependable communication across a host of organisations, both government and enterprise. They are the backbone of seamless communication between employees in hotels, convention centres, resorts, casinos, theme parks and shopping malls, construction companies, airports and hospitals. They are trusted by police forces; government agencies; first responders; strategic infrastructure operators; metro rail and long distance rail operators; port and ship operators; as well as power grid and other energy systems operators; to provide round-the-clock, mission-critical instant communication between groups and in one-to-many scenarios. In fact, a report by research group Analysis Mason revealed that the market for professional mobile radios grew consistently by five to six percent year-on-year since 2010[1]

The two-way radio world is undergoing a fundamental shift from the analog to the digital world. This move is adding unprecedented data capabilities to its functions, in addition to clear and reliable voice communications. Texting, e-mailing, multimedia support and even customised workflow applications are all capabilities that are easily available on digital two-way radios today. These are in addition to the clear communication strengths two-way radios have to offer over mobile phones - the ability for one to-many communication, transmit interrupt, make reliable and unlimited calls and the ability to customise functions to fit one's purpose. All these make two-way radios the best fit for critical communication in the public sector and enterprises.

The migration from analog to digital technology is a clear and irreversible trend, being driven by government mandates, and encouraged by the benefits of spectrum efficiency and end-user benefits. What does this mean for users of two-way radios? What are the challenges of moving from analog to digital? Is there a future for two-way radios?

The digital revolution

Digital two-way radios deliver clear benefits, including exceptional voice quality, extended battery life, increased capacity and the ability to interoperate with legacy equipment, applications, and an overall reduction in the infrastructure requirements. On the other hand, analog two-way radios have reached the limits of their innovation curve. A good example is Le Tour de Langkawi cycling race in Malaysia. Previously, race officials used analog radios in combination with expensive aerial coverage. They found that the analog radio strength weakened over wide distances and audio quality often degraded, hampering communications and co-ordinations during the race. As a result, organisers switched to the MOTOTRBO digital radio solution. Besides saving cost, digital radios deliver significantly better audio clarity, extended coverage and many other user benefits such as messaging, locating resources and monitoring workers. The combination of voice and data empowers users to make decisions faster, thus enhancing productivity, safety and security.


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