TETRA – the benefits of both voice and data

15 June 2023

TCCA’s TETRA Applications Group
– led by Hannu Aronsson

TCCA’s TETRA Applications Group
– led by Hannu Aronsson

TETRA is recognised as a leading mobile communications technology that is delivering mission-critical voice services to public safety organisations and mobile workers worldwide. However, TETRA data capabilities are often under-utilised. There are many automation-related examples of TETRA data applications that are available from a wide ecosystem of innovative developers.

TETRA can be used for automation, control including Internet of Things (IoT) and Internet of Life Saving Things (IoLST), machine to machine (M2M) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) solutions as TETRA is a mission critical network.

IoT in a narrowband radio network context means using the radio network for data communications for control, reports, alarms, etc. and leveraging the features of the narrowband radio network for control, i.e., security, encryption, private network, and quick reliable small data delivery. TETRA is very efficient in delivering small pieces of data with a very fast round-trip time, and provides high security and encryption options, which enable its use to control and automate critical systems.

Public safety, fire and ambulance operators can securely deliver alarm and task information to field units over the public safety TETRA network. For example, task information, destination address and priority information can be sent as data over TETRA and shown to the users using their in-vehicle device. The users can provide progress updates from this device which can be updated in the emergency call centre via TETRA.

In some countries, millions of TETRA Packet Data IP transmissions, data SDS and status messages are used every day to deliver key information to and from the field units, providing exceptional situational awareness for both the field units and the control room.

For automation and control, bandwidth is not the most important feature. Often having a guaranteed data rate and response time is most important. Reliability and quick delivery of small pieces of data enables most automation and SCADA applications with TETRA.

Today’s IP based SCADA protocols like IEC60870-5-104 or DNP3 are optimised for small bandwidth technologies like TETRA. A short heartbeat packet over TETRA to each field unit every few minutes is enough; in case something changes in a field unit it will be reported automatically to the server in the control room. With these protocols and Packet Data Channel Sharing active on the infrastructure, up to 800 field units can be handled per base station and traffic slot using a 15 minute heartbeat.

TETRA with its quick round-trip times is especially suitable for alarms and alerting systems, such as public siren systems which are used to alert the public about potentially dangerous situations, as well as for monitoring, IoT sensors, and environmental sensors. For example, a water utility can monitor measurements from numerous points in its water treatment facility using TETRA-enabled RTUs with alarm functionality. By monitoring the whole process in real time, the utility can provide safe drinking water efficiently. TETRA solutions can also work along broadband solutions for those applications that require high data bandwidth, such as surveillance cameras, video and high-speed data streaming.

There is a wide variety of handheld TETRA radios available, but there is also a wide variety of other kinds of TETRA terminals and devices. Industrial TETRA terminals can include automation RTU (Remote Terminal Unit) functionality in the same device. These terminals often have I/O (input/output) and local networking ports for easy integration with SCADA and other devices. This means that a single device can solve both the automation, SCADA and communications needs in a remote location.
Industrial processes can be monitored using SCADA running over TETRA packet data. This is a suitable solution for outstations and remote locations from which SCADA information is needed for the operational processes. TETRA SCADA-enabled terminals can be part of a standard SCADA solution.

Some of these TETRA terminals designed for automation also include programmable business logic functionality, allowing a portion of the automation to be handled locally on the device itself. TETRA can provide information updates to public transport station displays while also providing a high-quality voice audio channel for audio notifications in special situations.

TETRA data communications capability is also relatively simple to integrate in the back-end office IT system world. Using a TETRA data gateway, TETRA’s efficient narrowband radio optimised data communications can be connected with standard IT protocols and IT systems. TETRA packet data is standard IP networking, but the SDS and status messages and group-addressed data delivery allow for even more efficient communications over the network.

TETRA can be used as a private network totally under the owner’s control. As a private narrowband radio network, frequencies can be available even in most built-up areas. A private TETRA network enables the owner to control coverage, capacity, availability, resilience, and security to fit specific requirements. Network coverage can be optimised to cover an oil or gas pipeline with low number of base stations and enable pipeline monitoring and control using a secure wireless network in addition to providing secure and reliable voice communications along the length of the pipeline. The lower number of base stations also makes it easier to provide battery or generator backup power for a business or mission critical network.

When buying a TETRA network, consider both voice and data benefits, which can improve the ROI. An existing private or shared TETRA network can also be used to deploy data and automation, extending its value and lifetime.