Spain and Portugal's critical communications markets in focus

While millions flock to Spain and Portugal in search of the perfect tan, Sam Fenwick takes a look at both countries’ mission-critical markets and the networks that help keep citizens and tourists safe

Before we begin in earnest, let me set the scene. Since the financial crisis burst Spain’s housing bubble, the country has seen something of an export-related boom after its companies were forced to cut their reliance on the domestic market. According to BBVA Research, the Spanish economy may grow by 2.2 per cent in 2019 and 1.9 per cent in 2020. Tourism accounts for around 11.9 per cent of the country’s GDP and, each summer, around 40,000 troops are sent to popular tourist destinations to help reduce the likelihood of terrorist attacks. The public safety outlook brightened somewhat in mid-2018, with the news that the ETA, a Basque nationalist/separatist terrorist group, which had killed 829 people and injured thousands more, had disbanded. While a general election took place in April, according to Reuters another may take place in November, if power-sharing talks fail.

Turning to Portugal, the country has enjoyed an impressive recovery from the dark days of 2012, when it was forced to accept a painful austerity package in exchange for a bailout from the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank. In June, FocusEconomics’ analysts expected the country to see GDP growth of 1.7 per cent in 2019, and a general election will take place in October. The country’s recovery has been aided by a boom in tourism and an uptick in household spending. The above illustrates the extent to which both countries’ economies depend on the vigilance of their public safety agencies.

Regional trends
Sergio Redomero, sales manager, Spain and Portugal at Motorola Solutions, says a lot of his company’s customers in the region are interested in LTE, but “many were expecting LTE to be landing quickly into this mission-critical market and [thought it] would probably replace TETRA in two to three years. [The reality] is that TETRA and DMR will continue to be the main communication [technologies] for the police forces, fire brigades and so on probably for the next 10 years or more [with LTE being used in a complementary way for data services].”

Miguel Aladrén, sales director, Spain and Portugal at Teltronic, says one issue in both countries is the lack of spectrum for private broadband systems. “Part of the market has expressed a real interest in broadband and users are demanding it. For instance, all the Autonomous Communities [in Spain] that have a TETRA network have shown interest in incorporating LTE technology, but there isn’t [the] spectrum [available].”

Redomero says the 20007-2008 financial crisis resulted in a “lack of investment in many networks, but in the last three [or] four years we have seen a lot of investment in those networks. We have seen [many] customers going for a refresh of their networks [and] systems; the market is really active right now. We have [recorded] two-digit growth [over the past] couple of years [and] almost doubled [our] revenues [for] the region.” He adds that in the region, some local police forces are using mobile working applications that are similar to Motorola Solutions’ Pronto suite, with the buying decisions taking place at the municipal level, and there are four to six companies in Spain “that offer this kind of software and it’s quite [commonly] used in the country at a municipal level”. He adds that some police forces are also showing interest in body-worn video cameras, with a number in Spain using some from Edesix, the Scottish BWV manufacturer that was acquired by Motorola Solutions earlier this year.

Aladrén says: “Recently, there is greater interest in DMR, which is gaining market share – it is a real option for many projects, especially from a cost perspective. It is usually a valid technology for small town councils, which opt for a DMR Tier II network, while if the deployment has a regional scope, systems based on DMR Tier III are more suitable. In Spain and Portugal there are still many customers who have analogue systems; [this is particularly so] in the private sector, for which DMR is offered as an interesting alternative. In the Spanish case, [there are] certain Autonomous Communities that don’t have a regional trunking network and even don’t have any plans for their deployment yet.”

Turning to transport, he says: “It’s clear that [its] present and immediate future is linked with TETRA, without losing sight of LTE for the medium and long term. Unfortunately, Spain and Portugal are not implementing new transport projects, so in recent times we are more focused on renovations and extensions of existing systems.”

Simao Rocha, business development director at Sepura, says Spain is a “very active market” and he is optimistic about its future prospects. Teltronic’s Aladrén adds that Tetrapol is the technology used by Spain’s national security forces, while TETRA remains the reference technology in many of the Autonomous Communities for their regional security networks (Catalonia, Basque Country, Canary Islands, Navarre and Galicia, among others), as well as in other sectors such as transport, with many TETRA systems deployed in metros, trams and buses.

Rocha says while the country’s nationwide network is Tetrapol, there are plenty of regional and municipal TETRA networks and most of those user organisations that could move from Tetrapol to TETRA have already done so. He adds: “We currently have multiple opportunities for the supply of TETRA terminals in different regions of Spain, Galicia, Catalona, Valencia [and Ceuta, which] is part of Spain, even if it is in Africa.”

Turning to the private sector, Rocha says there is a tender process for the supply of a new network and terminal for Barcelona Airport and Sepura is in its final stage. In addition, Sepura is also involved in a project for Madrid’s metro. He also says Zenon Digital Radio, Sepura’s distributor in the country, was recently acquired by Cellnex, a very large organisation which is promoting Sepura’s terminals to its private sector customers.

Last year, Zenon and Adesal Telecom supplied Onda City Council with new TETRA digital radios for its local police force – Onda being a town in Valencia, with more than 25,000 inhabitants. The radios allow the force to use COMDES, the TETRA network offered to all organisations in the Autonomous Community of Valencia that provide crime prevention and rescue services.

Rocha adds: “Our traditional customers in the country are still selecting TETRA as their preferred technology even if there are strong efforts from manufacturers of broadband solutions to push broadband. What is required by many customers is an effective, good-quality and reliable dual-mode TETRA/LTE terminal [with a small form factor].”

Aladrén says: “With a national Tetrapol network deployed and maintained by a telecommunications operator, there are plans to migrate that network to LTE technology. A small portion of the spectrum around 450Mhz has already been reserved for this use, and the allocation and final destination of the digital dividend at 700Mhz hasn’t been decided yet. The migration process and evolution of the current national narrowband network towards broadband is expected to be long, and we will still see a few years of coexistence between both technologies.”

Juan Carlos Hernandez, general manager, Spain at Airbus, says its main customers are focused on mid-life upgrades for their narrowband networks to ensure their operational use until 2030 as a minimum. “We are mainly in proof of concept [trials] [and ongoing demonstrations] for these services [with our] mission-critical customers.” He adds that the first of these trials began this year and they are a mix, with some using both the company’s Tactilon Dabat TETRA/LTE hybrid smartphone and its Tactilon Agnet solution, which provides smartphones with two-way radio-like functionality and multimedia messaging while also allowing smartphone and two-way radio users to communicate with each other, and others just using Tactilon Agnet.

Hernandez adds that initial feedback from the trials is confirming that these solutions can provide mission-critical users’ operations with increased versatility and efficiency, and he highlights the ability to manage both narrowband and broadband networks via a single tool.

Last year, Motorola Solutions transitioned Telecom CLM’s TETRA network in Castilla-La Mancha, which provides the region’s public safety user organisations (police, fire brigades and ambulances) with mission-critical communications, to the company’s latest TETRA system – DIMETRA X Core. The network, which consists of more than 100 sites, was also equipped with WAVE, which allows TETRA and broadband users to communicate with each other over a commercial network. Redomero says this was introduced because the user organisations “wanted to have the option to [include] users that perhaps don’t want to carry [both] a radio and a smartphone”.

Turning to Portugal, the government has recently reached an agreement to acquire all the shares in SIRESP from the other shareholders (PT Moveis – Altice Portugal – holds 52.1 per cent, Motorola Solutions holds 14.9 per cent and the Portuguese state holds 33 per cent). This is so that it can exercise full control of the mission-critical operator, following a dispute with Altice over payments for the network hardening that took place in the wake of the 2017 forest fires; the purchase is expected to close in December.

Motorola’s Redomero says his company is in the late stages of working to upgrade SIRESP’s core network to DIMETRA X Core and that this work will probably finish next year. In addition, Motorola Solutions is working with SIRESP and the Portuguese government to improve the network in several other areas.

Sepura’s Rocha says: “The Portuguese market is very clear and stable. SIRESP is [here] to stay for the coming [years], I don’t foresee any investment in the short term to move to a different technology, and TETRA will remain [the technology for] SIRESP. There are a lot of discussions around SIRESP – its quality and the service it [provides], mostly related [to the] lack of coverage in specific areas and specific events like the fires we had last year. However, the Portuguese government is working to improve the conditions and the performance of the network to make sure that [the country has a] reliable, robust and future-proof public safety communications network.

“I have a very positive [view of the] SIRESP network, [which] is a little bit different [from] the common perspective – if you [read] the newspapers, or [watch the news on the television], there are many voices saying awful things about SIRESP. It’s not perfect but [it] is many steps ahead of competitive solutions in many aspects [and has provided a good mission-critical communications] service to the country for the past 10 years.”

Rocha doesn’t foresee many opportunities for new TETRA networks within Portugal’s private sector. “Portugal is a small country [with a population of] 10 million people. You can count on the fingers of one hand any TETRA project outside SIRESP.” In addition, the country’s mining concerns are too small for TETRA and as a consequence opt for DMR Tier III or Nexedge.

He adds that in the near future there will be “a strong need to refresh the TETRA terminal fleet. We supplied [TETRA terminals to the country’s public safety users] eight to 10 years ago, [and] even with the high quality of the STP8000 series, the radios [that are currently in use] are old and need to be refreshed. The biggest users of TETRA terminals in Portugal all [say the same thing]: ‘We are desperate to buy new [radios].’ Portugal is still going through a crisis, the level of investment of our government is low, and the investment [needed] for the refresh of terminals is [being] delayed again and again.”

He explains that smartphone use by Portuguese police officers is very widespread, but they typically use their personal devices (often as a secondary means of communication). Rocha also says that the country’s fire brigades tend to use analogue and DMR radios in addition to cellphones for communication as they have a limited number of TETRA radios, which are mostly used for multi-agency operations. Cost is a big factor here, given the lack of funds available in the country. “If you are responsible for the fire brigade, you can either buy a TETRA radio for [around] €500 or a DMR radio for €200; then you need to take a decision, and most of them will [buy] DMR radios because [they are] what they can afford to pay – ‘I would prefer to have a Mercedes but if I [can only] buy a Dacia, I will drive a Dacia’.”

From what we have heard, it is clear that the region as a whole is seeing strong growth, while the availability of funding remains an issue for Portugal’s public safety sector, with the need to refresh the country’s ageing fleet of TETRA terminals being a primary concern. Any transition to mission-critical broadband is clearly quite far in the future, with user organisations still at the stage of trying to fully understand its potential and its operational implications. Given that next year’s Critical Communications World will be held in Madrid, I hope that this has given you an advance feel for the themes that will be discussed at that event, and it will be interesting to see in June 2020 how the conversation has moved on.