Push-to-talk-over-cellular (PoC) services have significant impact on commercial LMR market, IWCE speakers say

ORLANDO—Push-to-talk over cellular (PoC) offerings are replacing land-mobile-radio (LMR) systems in many commercial environments, as non-mission-critical customer increasingly are opting for the lower cost and application flexibility inherent associated with PoC infrastructure rather than owning private LMR networks, according to multiple speakers at IWCE 2018.

Although more public attention is paid to the public-safety LMR new, first responders represent about only 20% of the overall LMR market that includes about 10 million radios, according to Igor Glubochansky, AT&T’s general manager of mobility product management. Entities that fit into the “extended primary” public-safety category—many of which also need mission-critical performance from their push-to-talk solution—represent another 20% of the LMR market, while non-mission-critical users account for about 60% of the LMR radios today, Glubochansky said.

Andrew Seybold, wireless analyst and author of “The Public Safety Advocate” blog, said commercial users that do not require mission-critical communications are proving to be ideal customers of PoC services—often with the replacement of an LMR system.

“It’s already happened in the commercial space a lot,” Seybold said of the transition from LMR to PoC. “The number of LMR users in the commercial life has gone down dramatically. It’s stayed the same—or grown—in public safety, but the land-mobile radios in the business-radio market have gone down 30% or 40%.”

Dave George, president of Pryme Radio Products—an accessories manufacturer that sells to user of both LMR and PoC solutions—echoed this sentiment, noting the significant adoption of PoC in myriad commercial environments, from hospitality to construction to transit entities.

“We have some pretty major hotel chains that have taken out their radio systems and have switched to PoC, which is pretty interesting,” George said. “We have some casinos in Las Vegas that might have over 1,000 subscribers on the network, and they took out MOTOTRBO systems and went to iPod Touches.”

Transitioning from LMR to PoC solutions is becoming commonplace in the commercial space, but changing the push-to-talk platform has never been the initial goal of the company making the technological migration, according to George.

“In every single one of those cases that I can think of, the decision to use a PoC app came after a decision was made to run some other kind of app,” he said.

In the hotel industry, applications that can manage valet offerings, room service and the status of rooms have greatly increased efficiencies and management’s visibility into the overall operation, George said. To support these applications, hotels typically invest heavily in Wi-Fi networks—also used to serve customers’ broadband needs—and have staff members utilize the applications on lower-cost devices, such as an iPod Touch, he said.

“Imagine that a housekeeper gets a message on an iPod Touch that says, ‘Room 107 has been vacated. Please go clean it,’” George said. “She cleans the room and clicks one button on the screen that says, ‘The room is ready’ or another button on the screen that says, ‘Maintenance is required,’ because a lightbulb is burned out.

“That information goes down to the front desk, goes into their reservation computer, and they know if that room is ready or not. There are some hotels in Las Vegas now where you just check in at a kiosk—you don’t even have to go to the [registration] desk—because the system knows the status of everything in that hotel.

“How often does a housekeeper, a valet or a room-service person actually need to talk? Not that often, but they need all of that other stuff.”

Given this, implementing a PoC solution often is an afterthought, George said.

“The managers for these hotels naturally come along later and say, ‘We bought all of these iPod Touches and equipped all of our people to run this cool app. It seems kind of stupid to be carrying around this walkie-talkie—we already have a fully wired facility with free Wi-Fi, so we shouldn’t have to pay any monthly fee [for connectivity]. And—believe or not—our guy who used to take care of the radio system retired, and the new guy who takes care of the radio system is the IT guy, and the IT guy hates anything to do with RF.’ So, that drives that whole decision.”

George said he has seen a similar thought process occurring in the construction business, particularly with trucks carrying concrete mix that is carefully monitored via smart applications that monitor the vehicle’s location and ensure that the concrete is mixed appropriately for the upcoming construction use.

“Once again, the manager of the concrete company comes along once again and says, ‘Gosh, we’ve got these Samsung tablets [in concrete trucks], and they’re tied into the LTEnetwork. Is there any way they can do voice?’” George said. “And somebody says, ‘Oh yeah, we can get this PoC app.’ Then, they just have to buy a microphone or speaker from me to attach to that tablet.

“We’re seeing a lot of that—literally thousands of units per month in that space. These radios are just being replaced.”

Josh Lober, president of ESChat—an over-the-top PoC application—said the transportation sector is his company’s largest customer base, but he also has seen adoption in Wi-Fi-centric enterprises, as well.

“There could be a logistics or distribution center that has commercial or industrial Wi-Fi in it, and they don’t need to buy devices with LTE carrier service,” Lober said. “It’s pretty popular.”

Mike Newburn, wireless manager for Fairfax County, Va., explained how his county saved more than $16 million in capital expenditure and $2 million annually by adopting a PoC solution from AT&T instead of replacing its LMR system for general government workers in the county that did not require mission-critical communications.

Newburn stressed that Fairfax County has reliable AT&T coverage—“obviously, we couldn’t have looked at this, if we had no coverage,” he said—and had provided general government workers with devices, including the drivers of the second-largest school-bus fleet in the country. With the PoC application, Fairfax County has been able be much more flexible in locating dispatch operations, he said.

In addition to the considerable savings from PoC and support for other broadband applications, Fairfax County has benefited from better voice quality, Newburn said.

“On the broadband side, the voice quality is almost HD [high definition]—the clarity and the tonal quality of the voice is just night-and-day different [from LMR],” Newburn said. “FM [LMR radio] obviously has got a lot lower bandwidth so you don’t get that quality

“What we’re seeing on the broadband side is much, much clearer and crisper. The person you’re talking to, you know what they sound like on broadband, while on radio, it’s kind of generic, especially on P25.”

Leonardo Gonzalez, a product development manager for Verizon Wireless, said he believes commercial users will continue to migrate push-to-talk communications from LMR to PoC solutions.

“There is a natural migration, as people are starting to realize that [PoC] PTT solutions provide the communications that they want and the fact that they run an application,” Gonzalez said. “As Dave [George] said, voice is just another app on the smartphone. With a lot of users, they usually talk about the fact that all of the younger people—30 or less, or 40 or less—grew up using Gameboys and all kinds of communications being in their hands, and that’s what they’re expecting when they start working full time.

“[They say,] ‘Why would I use this big clunky radio, if I can use a smartphone that will give me all of those capabilities: voice, data and video—everything that I want?’ It’s a natural migration, and that migration is going to happen. “Sometimes it’s driven by cost … when people realize, ‘Why would spend money paying an LMR provider when I can do everything on my own Wi-Fi network?’ The migration is there.”

Donny Jackson | Urgent Communications