A new era


Ahead of his planned retirement in June, TCCA chief executive Tony Gray discusses his hopes for the sector, as well as reasons for optimism in this new year.

What’s been the most important change to the critical communications landscape during your time as chief executive?

I think the most fundamental change I’ve seen is in the drive towards enhancement of what were previously considered to be strictly commercial and consumer standards, such as 3GPP LTE and 5G for mission-critical use.

Throughout my career, it was always considered that use of necessarily niche standards such as ETSI TETRA was the only way to ensure delivery of the levels of functionality, security, reliability and resilience that are essential for critical use.

However, in the past several years it’s become clear that, in fact, despite its relatively small size, our sector can wield enough heft in global standardisation forums like 3GPP to have its particular needs and requirements taken into account. This has taken place through continual effort and engagement.

Why do you believe that change to be important?

It has been recognised throughout the journey towards adoption of enhanced mass market standards and technologies that economies of scale could be achieved if critical users became a segment of a much wider global ecosystem. I believe we’re beginning to see the fruits of our labours in this regard. The groundwork has been laid for even-more-functional and better-value broadband solutions, for the future of critical communications.

What will be the impact of 4G and 5G, not just operationally but in terms of the market?

Again, with some critical users and applications gradually migrating to substantially mass-market solutions for both infrastructure and devices, I believe we’ll see not only greater bandwidth – and hence functionality – but also the economic benefits of scale.

In my opinion there will also be a natural tendency towards convergence of different market segments having similar or complementary requirements. A variety of verticals, such as the automotive, rail and industrial automation sectors, could end up having a substantially similar – and louder – voice in driving requirements.

Not including broadband, what will be the most impactful technologies going forward and why?

On the back of the data revolution enabled by higher available bandwidths, I believe the future will be all about applications. That means the ‘apps’ we’re all so used to on our smartphones, but also the range and types of usage that can be made of critical communications bearers.

New technologies are continually emerging and developing, such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics and so on. All of these rely on having reliable and ubiquitous access to volumes of data.

Future critical users are undoubtedly going to find many and varied innovative ways to apply these and other new technologies to their work and daily lives.

Where will the TETRA standard be in five or 10 years’ time?

TETRA has been, and remains, the gold standard for critical voice and short data functionality and security. Everything I see from the market, and specifically in the work of the ETSI Technical Committee TCCE, tells me that this will continue. TETRA will be a significant candidate as a premium quality standard and technology choice for at least the next two decades.

How do you expect TCCA to evolve? What would you like to see?

I’m gratified that during my tenure we are greatly extending and enhancing TCCA’s mandate, reach and influence. We are now truly representative of the critical communications sector as a whole and across the entire space. This is regardless of which standard, and whether public, private or hybrid operators, and in all parts of the world.

This has been achieved in great part through partnerships with the likes of 3GPP and ETSI, as well as other like-minded organisations including GCF, 450 Alliance and EENA. I hope that TCCA can maintain the momentum and build on these foundations by continuing to expand and grow its messaging and influencing abilities.

Coming out of an incredibly hard year, are you optimistic about the sector going forwards? Is there anything we need to be careful of?

It has indeed been an extremely hard year, and certainly not the ideal I would have chosen for my legacy as TCCA chief executive!

However, I’m satisfied that, in common with so many of our members and other organisations around the world, we’ve done the best to continue work on all our project and to adapt to life under  the pandemic. Once it is over, we will be stronger and better equipped for the future.

In that sense, and given everything I’ve already said about the strengths, potential and opportunities for the sector, I’m very optimistic. Apart from anything else, what I see in the capabilities and spirit of the younger generation coming into the business gives great hope and optimism.

I’d only caution that we must always remain flexible, and maintain readiness for the unknown. Nobody expected a pandemic, but it came. Likewise, we can also see the results of climate change all around us, but we’re not yet doing enough to mitigate or even reverse them. Financial markets can crash overnight at the whim of speculators, and when they do, we’re all victims.

At the very least we have to be prepared to react when the unexpected or unknown occurs.

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Media contact

Philip Mason
Managing Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0)20 3874 9216