When the TETRA specification was first published, Chelton created an airborne TETRA system for the UK Police’s air support to communicate with the team on the ground; by utilising the Motorola vehicle radio, which the force was already using, for seamless communication between the ‘bobbies on the beat’ and the police support in the air. Once deployed, Chelton started gaining interest from international users of TETRA as it increased foothold in Europe. Working with Thales and Sepura, Chelton’s TETRA radio has since been adapted into Generations 2 and 3 to allow for use across different regions and public safety sectors, all of which are still in use today around the world.
Going beyond TETRA
All good things must come to an end and although reliable, TETRA is limited in its capability and ageing. While durable and consistent, TETRA is not able to solely deliver the high standard of voice as well as multimedia data communications to emergency services. Most other countries are continuing to use TETRA, but those who don’t are investigating other technologies. Next-generation mobile technologies, such as the 4G LTE network provided by EE as part of the UK Home Office’s upgrade to the Emergency Services Network (ESN), are enablers for meeting the new requirements of public safety. High-speed data, location information, images and videos can make all the difference in a mission especially when up against the clock. The smartphone-like capability of real-time information provided by 4G LTE will ensure first responders are able to transmit and receive information quickly and clearly.
England, Scotland and Wales are the first countries integrating 4G LTE as part of the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP). ESMCP uses EE’s commercial cellular network, but with a bespoke Mission Critical Push-to-Talk capability. EE’s existing network is being upgraded with 700 new 4G radio frequency sites, including in remote and rural areas. Chelton will provide the Aircraft Communications System (ACS) for air operators to communicate over LTE. Alongside these, Chelton will capitalise on their established footprint and heritage in antennas to supply a range of sophisticated antennas, which will operate both on the ESN terrestrial band and the dedicated Air-to-Ground network, ensuring forces in the air and on the ground have effective and reliable communications.
With any change there is always resistance, and the biggest roadblock to full LTE adoption is coverage and service continuity. LTE in cities or small areas is a workable solution, but what happens in the depths of the jungles or the middle of the desert where you couldn’t even begin to comprehend the size and topography? One option is to cover all areas with LTE, which can be expensive. There is still some way to go before LTE can be used as the sole means of communication, highlighting the importance for avionic equipment to continue using technologies of today whilst being prepared for technologies of the future.
Why Pick ‘n’ Mix is the way forward for communications infrastructure
So why should countries modernise their communications infrastructure? Newer broadband technologies can offer many more functionalities, which will not only allow emergency services to respond quicker, but will also ensure they send and receive the correct information and talk to exactly who they need to, no matter where they are. Chelton predicts that broadband technologies will co-exist with TETRA to support a full holistic approach. The combination of technologies will ensure service continuity and 100 per cent coverage while LTE is developed to be better able to meet the stringent requirements for mission critical communications.
Even though the migration to newer technologies will not be immediate, it is important to have avionics ready to perform its requirements with both the technologies of the present and of the future. Much like a bag of sweets, you need to be able to pick ‘n’ mix your critical communications.
Not only will flexibility benefit capabilities, it also ensures your aircraft is future-proofed and eliminates the need for constant upgrading or retrofitting of equipment – that’s where Chelton comes in. With deep-set roots in TETRA, and pioneering the use of LTE in antennas and avionics, Chelton will ensure your aircraft can perform missions both now, and in the future.