TETRA Radios vs GSM and Wi-Fi – What is the Correct Choice?

Today, different wireless communications technologies such as GSM and Wi-Fi are expanding and improving at unbelievable speeds, and it would be valid to raise doubts on the future of TETRA technology. This is especially important when we acknowledge the increasing trend of the global unification of different standards that has caused technologies such as WiMAX to be simply taken out of competition.

What is TETRA technology?

TETRA (TErrestrial Trunked RAdio) is a set of standards developed by the European Telecommunications Standardization Institute (ETSI) that describes a common mobile radio communications infrastructure. It is the next-generation replacement of the old analog mobile and handheld radios used by public services as well as many industries such as construction or oil and gas.

Unlike its analog ancestors, TETRA was built over long years of research as a digital standard to collectively provide the features of older technologies such as mobile radio, cellular telephones, pagers, and wireless data.

TETRA networks are now implemented in well over 100 countries in Europe, Middle East, and Asia.

Benefits of TETRA technology vs Analog Radios

The benefits of TETRA technology when compared to preexisted analog radios are enormous:

  1. All communications are digital and encrypted.
  2. All modes of one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communications are available.
  3. Data transfer on the same network is possible
  4. Calls can be seamlessly “relayed” between the mobile stations enabling communications over very broad geographical areas.

TETRA technology vs GSM

It is obvious that the growth of cellular phone networks such as GSM have limited the TETRA market in many ways. Unlike before, where many private companies were highly dependent on using analog emergency radios for their communications, mobile phones have obviously taken over this market, limiting the usage of TETRA radios to mainly the public and emergency services.

The reasons that the public and emergency services still depend on TETRA technology are:

  1. Instant and easy one-to-many calls which is critical for emergency situations
  2. The much lower frequency used (380MHz vs 800/900MHz) gives longer range, which in turn permits very high levels of geographic coverage
  3. In the absence of a network, mobile radios can use ‘direct mode’ to share channels directly (walkie-talkie mode)
  4. Encrypted communications

TETRA technology vs Wi-Fi

Most of benefits mentioned above are also valid for a Wi-Fi based network, however due to much higher frequency of a Wi-Fi network (2.4 or 5 GHz), the very short range of a few hundred feet makes Wi-Fi not an option to consider for public and emergency services.

Future of TETRA Technology

While I predict TETRA radios will still be widely used in public and emergency services around the world for years from now due to the benefits listed above, and considering the enormous investments made in building up the TETRA infrastructures, I would predict no future for the technology in the long run.

The future of communication infrastructure is clearly in the expansion of a unified data infrastructure based on GSM technology and software based solutions.

TETRA radios only support a maximum data rate of 3.5kbps and need huge budgets for both setup and maintaining the infrastructure. It would not take much long before we see similar ruggedized, easy-to-use handheld radios that provide identical functionalities of current TETRA radios and much more, but operating on dual Wi-Fi and GSM infrastructure and at a fraction of the costs. Intelligent drones can also act as quick range extenders for cases of emergencies or natural disasters.

The question is not if this will happen, but only how many years (or maybe months) from now it will happen.