ISJ Exclusive: Evolving critical communications


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Sepura is a specialist provider of critical communications solutions to public safety organisations as well as those working in the utilities, transport and mining sectors.

From its formation in 2002, Sepura has consistently pushed the boundaries of what is possible in a TETRA radio, being first to market with innovations such as communications gateways and GPS reporting.

Now, the company is investing in new technology, utilising LTE networks to provide new opportunities for users of their radios. Steve Barber (SB), CEO and Peter Hudson (PH), CTO talk to International Security Journal about this evolution and look to the future for both the company and its customers.

How long have you been working at Sepura?

SB: I was one of the founding employees of the company 20 years ago and I progressed through the product management functions within the business to become VP of Group Strategy before moving into my current role as CEO.

Can you tell us about Sepura’s products?

SB: Sepura designs, develops and supplies digital radio solutions. These solutions are designed specifically for mission critical use – primarily for police, fire, ambulance and rescue teams – but also for operational, maintenance and customer facing users working in airports, public transport networks, utility plants, mining sites and even sports stadiums or other leisure facilities.

We ae trusted by many of the names you will already be familiar with; the Metropolitan Police Service uses over 30,000 of our radios for its operational teams; every single NHS ambulance in the UK carries our radios.

We are the market leader in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, with radios used throughout Asia, Australia and South America.

How big is Sepura’s development team?

SB: Sepura employs around 300 staff, most located in our Cambridge headquarters. 160 of those staff are in R&D roles, working on evolving our current products or developing new solutions for our customers.

We have invested over £200 million in R&D over the years and are currently investing over 50% of our R&D budget into new technologies such as broadband. These are significant projects to support the future evolution of critical communications and are being developed in close cooperation with our partner community as well as with customers, to ensure the new products are fit for purpose in the market.

What makes Sepura products special?

SB: Sepura’s products are classified as mission critical, meaning there is a risk to life in the operations they support. If our products fail in duty there could be significant consequences for our users and for the general public.

To combat this, we design our products to be robust and reliable. They are designed and tested to ensure they can withstand heavy impact such as being dropped or knocked into things. They have to withstand inclement weather conditions, working in very hot, very cold or very dusty and dirty environments.

To combat this, the radios have been designed to be waterproof, can be easily cleaned and are resistant to dirt or dust ingress into the device. And, of course, the radios need to produce loud, clear audio, so that voice communications are clearly heard and understood, first time, every time.

Security is of very high importance, so the radio communications are encrypted, and if they fall into the wrong hands they have the functionality that means they can be remotely “killed” so operations are not compromised.

What does the future look like for Sepura’s product family?

SB: At the moment, most of our users buy TETRA radios. However, over the next ten years they are looking to migrate across to the new broadband technologies. This will give users access to mission critical data on their device and bring new operational opportunities.

Public safety users, for instance, would be able to stream video, access mapping tools or interrogate intelligence databases. A user in a transport organisation could use the device for their critical communications, but also so the vehicle could report maintenance information and location reports back to the control room.

This is an exciting time for Sepura. Not only will we grow our sales channels to address a wider audience with the current portfolio, but we are also investing in broadband. That investment over the next few years will make sure that Sepura continues to lead the critical communications radio market.

Where have Sepura’s recent key sales come from?

PH: Some of our most significant sales areas in recent years have been the full or partial refreshes of public safety organisations, as they await future developments for LTE networks. This is a reasoned approach taken by forces as they need trusted devices to keep working until the transition to new networks is possible.

One significant area of growth has been the mining sector in Australia. Our users there are some of the biggest and most valuable organisations in the country, with responsibility for very large work forces. When the iron ore market is buoyant, as it is now, they tend to invest in technology.

This has helped Sepura make the decision to launch its TETRA solution in VHF frequencies, which provides superior coverage in very large open spaces or in underground locations.

But, mining is also one of the key markets for the emerging LTE market. Safety and operations managers in these organisations can see the benefits of having one device to control voice communications and access to data. This reduces costs on devices and infrastructure and makes fleet management a simpler task.

The new LTE products, with wireless programming capability, provide a breakthrough in this regard.

What is happening with TETRA in the future?

PH: Reports of the demise of TETRA have been exaggerated. The change process is slower than people think – people have been predicting for years that LTE would be in widespread use by now and that is not yet the case.

There is a great deal of work to be done to harden the implementation of the mission-critical standard to give the same level of service and reliability that customers currently have from TETRA. Organisations are putting in facilities to maintain and expand their TETRA networks up to 2035 in some instances and we may see parallel TETRA and LTE networks for a good deal of this time.

In the meantime, significant steps have been made in the availability of additional functionality to TETRA, via the addition of narrow band data capability and intelligent software which can be deployed on Sepura’s most recent devices.

These include fleet management tools, but also solutions to help operations – specifically to create automated actions triggered by location-based devices such as Bluetooth beacons or even geofences.

In this way, organisations can set up rules to automatically change talk groups when entering a specific area, send automated reports to the control room when actions are undertaken or cause warning to be sent to the user and nearby colleagues.

The continued strength of demand for TETRA products shows that Sepura has a bright future at the forefront of critical communications.

This article was originally published in the December 2022 Influencers Edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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