50 years of Swissphone

Angelo Saccoccia, CEO of Swissphone, talks to Critical Communications Today about his company’s past, present and future

How has the landscape changed in the 50 years since Swissphone was established?

Having been a supplier to mission-critical organisations for 50 years, we’ve developed a good feel for the sector and we clearly understand the difference between fads and real trends.

We have accompanied and implemented the migration from analogue to digital alerting with many customers in different countries. We have experienced the debate over TETRA or GSM as a POCSAG substitution, and today we are monitoring the development of push-to-talk mission-critical LTE and its impact on alerting. That said, the requirements for our customers remain the same:

  • In an emergency, every second counts
  • Quick and easy transmission of the alarm message, delay-free, simultaneous alarming of all required persons/groups
  • Absolute reliability 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • The best possible coverage where auxiliary staff are located
  • Building penetration of the radio signal
  • Redundancy and emergency power supply of all critical system elements, combined with low operating costs
  • Fast and reliable service
  • Device batteries that can last for several weeks
  • The highest possible independence from third-party providers.

However, new trends are shaping the future of critical communications technologies including paging. With regard to external challenges, we have identified the following topics: terror attacks, cyber attacks on power grids, natural disasters and the tendency of mobile networks to be overloaded in such circumstances. When it comes to internal challenges, it is particularly important to take the following into account: recruitment, financial resources (costs) and mobility of the users (many volunteers don’t live where they work).

Cyber attacks and data breaches, together with unplanned IT and telecom outages, have recently become important issues and are directly related to technology and the ability to protect, manage and access information.

What’s been the most important event in the company’s history?

This year we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary. Helmut and Erika Köchler – both active members of the board of directors until recently – launched the company in 1969 and developed it successfully to become a major international provider of alerting and critical messaging solutions. This means a lot for Swissphone and we are very grateful to our customers, partners and employees that we were able to achieve this together.

The Köchler family recently transferred ownership of the company to its current management team and a group of Swiss and German entrepreneurs. How will it affect the company going forward?

Swissphone’s management and other investors chose to become the company’s new owners because of their confidence in its strategy and growth potential. The core features of that strategy remain unchanged.

In particular, we want to further consolidate our position in the public safety sector, tackle new customer groups such as hospitals and industrial companies, and expand our range of alarm management services. We are not planning any major changes in our strategy and organisational set-up.

What are the main initiatives/changes that you’ve introduced since you became CEO four years ago?

We successfully launched our s.QUAD pager. This alerting device offers a high wearing comfort, is robust and not to be overheard: it convinces with its ultra-modern and functional design, its excellent reception, its dust- and waterproof housing and its volume.

We have made important investments to future-proof our regional and national network architecture to alert faster with greater resilience and robustness. I’d like to highlight our s.ONE platform as well. This is a modular, state-of-the-art solution suite that covers all relevant stages in the alerting process. It will lead to more process efficiency and more security, as well as to economic advantages for public safety organisations.

Together with two-way capable devices from Swissphone such as RES.Q and s.QUAD terminals, s.ONE delivers a complete, fully developed solution for alerting, monitoring, resource management and remote configuration of terminals.

This solution will deliver more efficiency throughout the alerting process – before, during and after alerting. However, this means that the organisations need to review their internal processes and be willing to make improvements.

We have received very positive orders in the healthcare sector and in industry. We have also improved our internal processes. For example, we have adapted our organisation to better meet our market’s needs and intensified co-operation between our national companies and with our partners.

What are your current challenges and priorities?

In terms of networks, we are developing an even more robust and modern system architecture which is compliant with the external risks; eg, a self-reliant network that is independent from power supply utilities, wired radio network access, third-party infrastructure, commercial cellular networks, internet lines, smartphones and two-way radios.

Are there any commonly held misconceptions about paging that you have to dispel?

We see many organisations in Europe and in North America investing in paging technology. The main drivers behind these investments are POCSAG’s ability to provide:

  • 100 per cent control over the network with high reliability
  • A high level of resilience, which is increased further still when combined with other technologies
  • A good way to get a message to many users very quickly
  • A dedicated critical messaging service, which means that critical messages can’t get lost in the barrage of notifications, texts, emails and video content on a smartphone.

Do you have any advice for mission-critical organisations that are considering using paging solutions for critical alerting?

It’s all about good planning – a paging network starts with a radio coverage plan, which includes a computational simulation and some on-site verification measurements. Since there are many variables to play with (such as site location, transmission power, antenna height and antenna diversity), typically the main constraints are not technical ones. It’s more often the case that organisational constraints arise (eg, desired sites are not available or cost too much). In this case, the radio coverage planning must be adjusted.

After that, three single components are needed to build a paging network:

  • A computer-aided dispatching (CAD) system, which connects to the paging network controller by a standard interface
  • A paging network controller, which connects by LAN to the master base station
  • A master base station, which broadcasts the message by wireless POCSAG to the slave base stations, which then repeat the message so that the pagers can receive it.

Due to the requirement for high availability, all components should be redundantly available. Also, all components should have a back-up power supply such as batteries and solar cells.

What are your thoughts on the major trends in the critical communications industry?

Today, there are many ways to send a message, such as 5G and internet connections that allow cloud services and apps. But public safety organisations need a reliable and redundant technology for alerting which works even in a blackout – when nothing else is working and telecoms are down.

However, broadband communications are becoming more and more important to the authorities as today’s mission-critical communication technologies TETRA, Tetrapol and P25 (North America) have very slow data transfer rates compared with 3G or LTE/4G.

The use of public mobile broadband services will stimulate the demand of crisis communication users for high-speed data services. In the medium to long term (from around 2025-27), LTE will also be used for public safety as a voice communication substitute for public safety users.

Hybrid solutions (LTE for mission-critical use with TETRA/POCSAG) have after careful evaluation advantages and new opportunities but also challenges. Swissphone has launched the first POCSAG/LTE IoT device and is evaluating its acceptance in several European countries.

Angelo Saccoccia CV
Angelo became Swissphone’s CEO in October 2015. Prior to that he worked as sales manager and promotion manager at Sony (Switzerland), at Swissphone Telecom AG for 15 years, serving as its chief marketing officer and member of the Executive Board.In 2010 he founded his own company, TC Promotion GmbH in Baar, Switzerland, which provided consultancy services to spin-offs and other companies in the health care and public safety industries.

Angelo has eight years’ experience in consumer electronics, five years’ in health care industries and more than 20 years’ experience in the public safety industry. He has realised projects in Europe, the Middle East and North America and has an MBA from The Open University Business School.