Smarter radios rewrite the rules

Published: 20 Jan 2017
Author: Mika Myllymäki
Reading time: 4 min

Ever wondered why TETRA radios work the way they do? Could they be more like the devices we use in our everyday lives? Can a smartphone cut it in the demanding world of emergency services?

The whole concept of professional communication is changing as it adapts to new ways that people work. A novel product is set to rewrite the rules of professional communication. Read on for the full story.

I try to visit customers as often as I can – after all if I don’t, how can we give them what they want?

Over the years, customers have given me many insights into their work but, unsurprisingly, they talk a lot about TETRA radios and what they want from them. There have been some great additions to TETRA radios over the years - new features and capabilities have often been added and they have become smaller and lighter.

But they are essentially the same as when they were first launched.

Fireman using a TH9 TETRA radio

Yet in the wider world, things have changed dramatically. Think back to the chunky phones we all used just a few years ago and compare them to today’s slim smartphones. Think about the touch screen, a wealth of downloadable apps and snazzy features. 

We’ve all grown used to smartphones in our private lives – could they help us professionally too? Police officers in countries such as Finland, France, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and the UK are already using smartphones in their work. They are taking advantage of broadband and high-resolution video.

This has the obvious drawback of each officer carrying two devices or more and all the management headaches that creates.

Should we combine TETRA radios with a smartphone?

One solution we tried was a sort of hybrid phone, a unit combining features of both a TETRA radio and a smartphone. Yet, initial tests revealed that potential customers still found them too big and bulky to be practical.

Another route is to use software to bring TETRA features to a standard smartphone. Probably the most standout feature of TETRA radios is the ability to get in touch with your groups at the touch of a button – Push to Talk, or PTT.

We built an app that put a PTT button on the smartphone screen. Some smartphone models we tested even had a physical button that could be dedicated to the PTT function. Problem solved?

Well, for some people. Even though an app isn’t as secure or as reliably available as TETRA communication, it can be great. For example, it is great for volunteers or part time staff who need to connect with professional talk groups using their smartphones – it cuts the expense of buying full TETRA phones for people who do not need to use them every day, throughout their shift.

But for full time professionals in the field who need to use TETRA communication constantly, an app is still not the final word. The natural way to use the device and its PTT key is to hold the device in one hand and operate the key with one finger of that same hand. If the screen gets bigger, the device is also bigger and the “key” in the app won’t be comfortable to operate. On the other hand, a smaller screen is not the best for using apps.

The combination of current smartphone design and professional, prolonged use of PTT just did not match.

So what is the answer? Well, our R&D people took a new look at the hybrid idea. Their solution was to bring full TETRA radio functionality into a smartphone that is specially designed for professional, every day, all-the-time use.

Tactilon Dabat is a TETRA radio and smartphone in one

The new device is optimised for speech, not music as are many smartphones. It cuts background noise that many professional users struggle with. It also has extended battery life, twice that of a standard smartphone.

The new device is the Tactilon Dabat, a radio that rewrites the rules of what a professional mobile device should be.

Discover more about Tactilon Dabat from its technical specification:

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The Secure Communications blog gives you insights into critical communications future, secure and critical communications, public safety and other professional apps, current events, Tetrapol and TETRA radios, and active paging, for example.