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Mobile-Radio Convergence: The Next Generation in Wireless Communications?

If someone was to hand you a Hytera PDC760 handset, you would be forgiven for being a bit confused about what you were looking at.

The touchscreen and embedded 13MP camera put it very much in the smartphone camp. But then, as well as the fact that it’s quite a chunky unit, there’s the prominent antenna protruding out of the top.

Since when did mobile phones, smart or otherwise, have antennas?

The Hytera PDC760 is, in fact, a two way radio. In design, features and functions, a far cry from the stereotypical one-button walkie-talkie, maybe, but still a two way radio. For all its additional features, its primary purpose is to deliver wireless voice communication over the radio spectrum.

By adopting many of the physical features, not to mention data capabilities, we would normally associate with a smartphone, however, the PDC760 fits in with a growing trend of convergence between mobile and two-way radio technologies.

Different strengths

Before we try to understand the potential advantages of this coming together of two wireless technologies, perhaps we should start with the differences. Two way radio is, in its original analogue form, a much older technology than cellular mobile. It uses the VHF and UHF radio frequency ranges to transmit voice over limited range, self-contained networks using narrowband signals.

Mobile, by contrast, operates on the microwave spectrum. Using broadband signals, mobile is able to handle much higher data rates, which is why mobile phones have evolved from offering voice and SMS to being the computer-in-our-pocket data devices we know today. By using a transmission infrastructure based on fixed masts and antennas, mobile also offers long range, theoretically global coverage.

Mobile has taken the world by storm because it is convenient, you can go wherever you like and still use it, and it lets you do lots of different things at once. It hasn’t, however, displaced two way radio, especially in industry, for one very important reason - within a defined network area, two way radio is seen as offering much more robust, reliable coverage with better quality audio.

When you really need communication to be at its optimum in the workplace, the conventional wisdom is to opt for two way radio over mobile.

Evolving together

It is clear, then, that the two wireless comms have plenty to learn from one another. It could be argued that, since digital two way radios first appeared a decade or so ago, radio manufacturers have been gradually trying to catch up with vast range of functionality smartphones offer, adding more and more features, data integrations and, as we have seen, hardware appendages.

Looking at things in the other direction, mobile phone manufacturers can do plenty to make their devices better suited to the requirements of commerce and industry by imitating the convenience and reliability of two way radio. There are already solutions out there. Lugra, for example, offers an app which turns a smartphone into a two way radio in two minutes.

Lugra PTT side-steps the hassle of using a contact book to make calls by adding a push-to-talk feature to a phone. This enables group calling at the touch of a button, using secure, encrypted digital networks. In addition, you also get access to other common digital two way radio features such as dispatch, work ticketing and safety monitoring functions, all while still being able to access all the normal features of your smartphone.

It is this marriage of capabilities for the convenience of the end user that has prompted Hytera to explore the possibility of creating fully hybrid narrowband-broadband networks, running communications devices over radio frequencies and 4G LTE simultaneously. This would combine the quality and reliability of radio, and the ease of large group communications, with the long-distance connections and advanced data-handling of cellular technology.

If proved viable, that could well prove to be the future of digital communications in the workplace.

Brentwood Communications

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