How to skillfully integrate PMR with an advanced push-to-talk service?

Published: 7 Feb 2020
Author: Mika Myllymäki

Are your factory's processes depending on efficient communication? Here are some good news. Advanced PTT brings technological improvements that your previous onsite communication system could only dream of:

  • Enhanced audio quality means clearer instructions and requests. This means fewer misunderstandings and greater responsiveness. 
  • Users can send images and videos. They say a picture is worth a thousand words – so once again, this feature will improve safety and clarity in team communications.
  • Integrate your advanced push-to-talk solution with IoT sensors and automatic alerting to notify your workers about potential equipment failures, allowing them to begin maintenance prior to unplanned downtime.
  • Finally, your new solution runs on smart devices that your personnel use every day and has an intuitive user interface as most mobile apps do. Therefore, your workforce can use these solutions without advanced training.  
  • In addition to familiar phones, advanced PTT can be integrated with accessories your personnel already knows and which are almost always mandatory under special conditions.

Advanced PTT brings a lot of improvements, but in order to realize these benefits, you need to plan your implementation wisely. Even if you plan to do away with PMR entirely, it may be best for you to consider running a hybrid environment for as long as you can.

Move from PMR to advanced push to talk

Benefits and challenges of a hybrid environment 

Running a hybrid environment with traditional PMR and advanced PTT service is good for many reasons. First, running these systems in tandem doesn’t detract or do away with the benefits of advanced PTT - you can enjoy both at the same time. In addition, you can bring many of the benefits of your advanced PTT solution to your PMR users - improved collaboration with wider expert teams, faster reaction and decision making as all personnel can be reached even off-site, IoT integration, and more.

With a hybrid environment, you also don’t need to necessarily rip and replace your older equipment. Your legacy communications environment may still serve valuable functions that can’t be immediately replicated by advanced PTT, or contain unique, mission-critical features. Running a hybrid environment means that your new advanced PTT solution doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel - you can keep as much of your legacy environment as you want and use it for whatever you need. 

Lastly, advanced PTT is a moving target. You may find that the first solution you try doesn’t work for you right away, or doesn’t scale with your growth. In this situation, preserving a hybrid comms environment will let you fall back on your legacy infrastructure while you try something else.

Creating a hybrid environment isn’t all roses, however. If you’ve made a good choice, your smart PTT solution will contain a PMR gateway that incorporates traffic from/to PMR devices. If you have not paid enough attention in the procurement phase, your smart PTT solution may be really user friendly but may not offer interoperability towards PMR - so you end up struggling with two separate systems. Unfortunately, you also lose the synergies of the hybrid environment. 

As the PMR gateway is among the most important parts of your comms infrastructure you must carefully choose the advanced PTT solution provider. If your gateway will be unable to correctly process signals between the two systems, this results in mission-critical information getting lost in the ether. For a successful deployment and reliable operations you should always select either an experienced systems integrator or an end-to-end solution provider who understands both critical communications as well as reliability engineering.

Enhancing security

Depending on your business, you may face a variety of cybersecurity threats. These might range from corporate espionage to industrial sabotage. Your level of security measures needs to match the level of your risk. Since attacks on industrial systems are on the rise, it’s very important to understand how an attacker might take advantage of your hybrid communication system. With an end-to-end solution you can easily enforce also your cybersecurity measures rather than finding separate building blocks to patch the shields up.

IT and Production working closely together

Aside from security, the day-to-day operations of your hybrid system are going to fall on your IT administrators, so it’s important to work with them on a number of issues.

Your first decision will regard areas of competences and responsibilities. Have you outsourced IT or is the IT administration in-house? Are your teams' competences on the right level? In addition to the understanding of service level objectives (SLO) and service level indicators (SLI) they should have an understanding of and care about the operations' communication needs. Everyone, also the administrators, need to understand what it looks like when your hybrid system is working as intended. Workshops in the pilot planning phase are an excellent way to share information - both ways. 

Proper reliability engineering means collecting data from your communications system. You’ll need to understand:

  • What an acceptable call setup time is (PTT access time under 300ms), how you’ll measure that, and what you’ll do if this time falls below acceptable norms.
  •  What you’ll do during unplanned downtime – who gets called, who gets to wake up in the middle of the night, and what your recovery procedures are.
  •  What other SLIs are valid? What might indicate unplanned downtime or problems with the system? How will you collect these SLIs, and how long will you retain the data?

Lastly, you need to understand that there are governance and privacy issues involved, because collecting data on communications systems means collecting data about your employees. Both your IT compliance experts and your compliance personnel will need to provide input on this.

Continuity of features

In general, your PMR users are going to want to switch from their PMR devices to smart ones with advanced push-to-talk while preserving as many features as possible. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. What do you do next?

This is where your migration strategy comes to the forefront. To the greatest extent possible, you need to keep the best features from your previous implementation, emphasize the improved features from your new equipment, and eliminate outdated or inefficient processes.

One of the implications of this approach is that you can’t simply unbox your new PTT solution and start using it. First, you need to test it in a controlled environment to make sure that it does what its vendors claim it can do. Then you need to pilot it in the field. Once you’ve proven that the new solution can match or exceed your legacy system, you can begin to roll it out to your workforce at large.

In a nutshell, the gradual rollout of an advanced PTT service gives you the maximum amount of time to check for functionality, while also providing your users with an easier on-ramp for learning and acceptance.

A way to succeed

It is not easy to put the topics above into an order of importance. These topics are the key points to remember in transition. The most important points are crystallized in a checklist “7 things to remember when moving from PMR to an advanced push-to-talk service” which you can now download below.

While in a system transition it is important to experiment and constantly learn, it is also important for a service provider to listen to customers and transform the best practices into flexible solutions. As an example, Airbus Tactilon® Agnet solution is designed to deliver the best of both worlds: increase the operational efficiency by bringing PMR and smart device users together into same communication groups while using the existing system until the very last drop of the investment, same time utilizing the features of the new system.

Download checklist

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