How a shoe triggered the global rise of TETRA

4th November 2014

04 November 2014 - "In emergency situations, commercial networks can become overloaded or even break down entirely, but TETRA's built-in redundancy can provide continued operation. Commercial organisations are beginning to use TETRA because they want to be ready in case the worst happens ..."

Published 04 November 2014

In December 2001, UK citizen Richard Reid changed the way we fly forever.

The name doesn't sound familiar? Well, Richard was the so-called 'shoe-bomber' - the guy who boarded American Airlines flight 63 from Paris to Miami with explosives packed into his shoes. He was thwarted by a 24-hour delay, during which damp weather and perspiration from his feet dampened the fuse and prevented detonation.

Although Richard failed in his original mission - and will be contemplating that failure for the rest of his life in a 'super maximum security' prison - his actions have had a lasting impact on airport security procedures: as Steven Levitt calculated in his book Superfreakonomics, passengers in the US alone remove their shoes for inspection around 560 million times a year.

If we assume a single minute for this operation, that's equivalent to nearly 1,065 years spent solely (excuse the pun) on shoes. Divide that by 77.8 - the average US life expectancy - and you see that almost 14 lifetimes per year are wasted taking off and putting on shoes. Thanks, Richard.

So, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with TETRA?

Well, terrorist attacks such as the shoe bombing - along with 9/11, the train bombings in Madrid or bombings on the London transport system - drew the attention of many organisations to the importance of security and communications in a critical situation. These events have also served to highlight the vulnerability of existing systems, and the far-reaching consequences this kind of crisis can have if the vulnerabilities are not addressed.

Commercial organisations - such as airports, mines and oil and gas plants - are beginning to use TETRA not only because of the extra functionality it provides, but because they want to be ready in case the worst happens. They have realised that the impact of an incident on critical infrastructure goes beyond the boundaries of their premises.

Therefore, they want to be sure that the calls for help, the management of resources, the definition of escape routes and the synchronization of civil protection agents are properly delivered in a crisis, and not hindered by unreliable networks. After all, these may be life-or-death situations.

In emergency situations, commercial networks can become overloaded or even break down entirely, but TETRA's built-in redundancy can provide continued operation. This is one of the reasons why the adoption of TETRA is increasing, and why a technology once so firmly linked to public safety is now being taken up enthusiastically by the commercial sector: according to IHS, from 2012 to 2013, TETRA's contribution to the installed base increased from 26% to 51% in commercial markets.

Another reason is the shift towards digitalization - the move from analogue to digital communications. While in many cases TETRA will offer more functionality than the commercial sector typically needs, the fact that it is a mature, proven technology ensures there is no frequent need for patches or software upgrades and the system is, overall, more resilient.

For those of us who deliver TETRA systems - from manufacturers to integrators - the challenge is to adapt our approach. Until now, we have typically focused on public safety procurement processes, but we now need to highlight the benefits that TETRA can bring to commercial entities ... and this is the tricky part: many of these benefits are not immediately obvious to the commercial user. Indeed, the benefits may not be completely apparent until the occurrence of a critical event.

So, how do we do it? Well, it's up to us to be proactive in providing live pilots and demos, demonstrating the resilience of the system and highlighting key features - such as audio quality, priority and emergency calls, GPS, Man-Down and Lone Worker - to emphasise the increased safety of field workers and the potential for increased productivity, as well as the benefits for business continuity in a crisis situation.

By presenting a clear business case, and highlighting the non-monetary ROI, we can show commercial users that TETRA is different from the competition and it can make a real difference in any situation where effective communication streamlines workflow, boosts efficiency and, ultimately, saves lives.