TETRA Applications Group – led by Hannu Aronsson – firstname.lastname@example.org
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. This article highlights automation related examples of TETRA data applications that are available from a wide ecosystem of innovative developers – learn how you can benefit from TETRA data applications today!
In this article we show how TETRA can be used for automation, control including IoT (Internet of Things) and IoLST (Internet of Life Saving Things), M2M (machine to machine) and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) solutions as TETRA is a mission critical network.
IoT (Internet of Things) 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.
Image courtesy of Motorola Solutions
TETRA is trusted everywhere and always — also for automation and control with TETRA data features.
TETRA data rate and speed
Even if the data rate of TETRA is not very high, TETRA is very efficient in delivering small pieces of data with a very fast round-trip time. TETRA also provides high security and encryption options, which enable the use of TETRA to control and automate critical systems.
TETRA automation use case: 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 minutes heartbeat.
TETRA automation use case: TETRA with its quick round-trip times is especially suitable for alarms and alerting systems, such as public siren systems which are used to alarm the public at large about potential dangerous situations.
TETRA is suitable for SCADA, monitoring, alarms, IoT sensors, environmental sensors and many other requirements.
TETRA automation use case: 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, they can provide safe drinking water efficiently.
A remote solar-powered water management solution utilising TETRA data connectivity. Image courtesy of Motorola Solutions
By monitoring analogue and digital sensors directly, the TETRA modem can directly send out alarms to a maintenance crew directly via TETRA CallOut alarms which can be acknowledged directly on the portables. The alarm procedure is a second security layer, fully independent of the SCADA connection to the control room.
A TETRA modem interfacing to an RTU device in an electrical utility installation. Image courtesy of Piciorgros
TETRA automation use case: Vehicles that are fitted with TETRA radios for voice communications can re-use the same radio to deliver vehicle metrics monitoring data to the control room and centralised IT systems in the office. Vehicle systems can connect to the PEI port and I/O on the vehicle TETRA radio to enable this.
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.
TETRA helps manage the attack surface of the network solution.
TETRA provides options for
- data encryption including end-to-end encryption for most critical data.
- authenticating terminals on the network to prevent unauthorised connection to the network,
- authenticating the network to ensure data stays within your secure environment.
TETRA security continues to be enhanced, at the end of 2022 the air interface algorithms were strengthened to provide security to 2040 and beyond.
TETRA automation use case: Some train operators use TETRA for train control and safety functionality. Many train, rail, metro and tram transport operators use TETRA for auxiliary control and functionality for their public transport operations. The high security and encryption support of TETRA enables these safety-critical applications.
TETRA terminals for automation
Everybody knows the wide variety of handheld TETRA radios available, but there is also a wide variety of other kinds of TETRA terminals and devices.
The 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.
TETRA automation use case: 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 automation use case: 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.
Use TETRA as part of your IT and SCADA solution
TETRA data communications is also 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 TETRA network.
TETRA automation use case: Radiation fallout monitoring system in Finland delivers measured results over TETRA using packet data and SDS messages over the national public safety TETRA network, providing a solution that will always work.
SCADA solutions can be run over TETRA packer data as IP traffic. SDS and status messages can also be used for alarms and quick control actions.
TETRA supports voice so field technicians can communicate securely over TETRA when working on the data control solution, making maintenance and crisis situation management easier.
Wide area wireless control cost-effectively with TETRA
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.
TETRA automation use case: TETRA 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 dramatically.
An existing private or shared TETRA network can also be used to deploy data and automation at an even lower cost, higher ROI and quicker deployment, extending the value and lifetime of the existing TETRA network.
TETRA automation use case: Offshore oil and gas operations can deliver monitoring and location information from ships and boats using TETRA. This enables monitoring movable assets in the same SCADA solution as the fixed assets.
Public safety TETRA networks available in many countries provide very high availability and reliability for data solutions as well and often are a good option for important automation and control solutions.
Adding data use to a TETRA voice network releases more value from the network investment.
TETRA is mission critical, and therefore can provide a mission critical IoT platform.
TETRA has great data features for automation and control
TETRA is often considered a voice network, and while it has arguably unrivalled voice features, TETRA also supports data features that work very well for many situations. TETRA has many useful and efficient data features.
From an automation viewpoint, these include the following:
- Packet Data provides IP data on TETRA. Packet data has high level of error correction providing a reliable channel.
- SDS text messages are small pieces of data sent on the control channel. SDS messages are suitable for alarming and small pieces of data. SDS messages can be sent to a talk group delivering the message to multiple radios simultaneously.
- Status messages are short numeric messages that take up very little of the radio capacity. Status messages are often used to trigger automated actions, such as turn on equipment, open a gate, etc.
- Group-addressed data communications allow the sending data to every radio in a specific talk group. This enables sending data to many terminals with only one transmission on the radio network, which is very efficient. Data can also be sent through a talk group to multiple systems monitoring the data.
- Secondary control channels can be added if more SDS and status capacity is needed on the network.
- TETRA Data channels are used by Packet Data, enabling efficient transfer of multiple pieces of data efficiently.
- PEI port (Peripheral Equipment Interface) on practically all TETRA radios allows connecting PC or automation hardware to the radio with a serial or USB cable and using TETRA for data communications. The PEI port works like modems with AT commands and is easy to integrate with any system.
- TETRA is an evolving standard, work is ongoing to standardise multicast IP packet data.
TETRA allows setting priority for voice and/or data as needed, to ensure the most critical information on the network goes through first.
How to find out more about TETRA automation possibilities?
You can get TETRA integration information, SDKs and API information from your TETRA network vendor, most of whom also have developer programmes available for system integrators.
For further details of how automation can benefit you, contact your TETRA supplier or visit TETRA manufacturer websites. You can also attend events like the Critical Communications World conference to see TETRA automation solutions in action.
Visit TCCA’s website www.tcca.info for more TETRA information.
Get more out of your TETRA investment with TETRA data and applications!
The following TCCA member companies participated in writing this article (in alphabetical order): Elektro-Arola, Mentura, Motorola Solutions, Piciorgros, Portalify.
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