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LMR to Broadband PTT – a Migration Strategy

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There are several reasons to migrate users from Land Mobile Radio (LMR) to Broadband Push to Talk (BBPTT), including low to no capital cost, lower monthly user costs, enhanced capacity and expanded coverage. In addition, BBPTT is available on wireless smartphones, feature phones, and tablets, all significantly less bulky and less expensive than a digital LMR radio.

As any communications or radio manager can tell you, however, no matter how valid the reasons change never comes easy. One key challenge is to develop an effective migration strategy from an existing radio system to BBPTT.  This paper provides guidance on how to develop such a strategy, as well as a timetable for migrating users from LMR to BBPTT with minimum impact on users or operations. 

Strategy

Any strategy that involves changing a fundamental task, such as how people communicate, should avoid unnecessary complexities because they often make the migration effort more difficult or time consuming. When planning a migration from LMR to BBPTT, the biggest variable is the need for users on the two systems to communicate with each other while the transition is in process, i.e. do the two systems need to be interoperable or will a rapid migration mitigate the need for interoperability. A safe and effective strategy is to start small with a test group, learn and adapt from their experiences, then scale the adapted solution to the entire organization.   The steps in this strategy include:

  • Develop a plan that includes requirements, training, funding, transition, support, and a timeline
  • Decide on a BBPTT vendor
  • Determine what BBPTT devices will be used and how they will be provided
  • Provide training to a test group of experienced and new users to provide feedback
  • After the trial, collect the feedback and update the plan as needed
    1. Training: All users at once, online, or by transition group?
    2. Transition: By department, talkgroups, channels, something else?
    3. LMR Interoperability: Needed / Not Needed?
    4. Timeline: Initial group cutover, larger groups cutover, completion?
    5. Support requirements: Internal, BBPTT vendor, carrier, 3rd party?
    6. Funding: Devices, management applications, or other expenses associated with the transition that need to be covered?

Taking the items listed in step 5 above, we will look in a little more detail of some of the issues to address in each of these areas.

Training

BBPTT products are intuitive and easy to setup and use, and can often be used with little or no training. Some vendors also provide quick reference guides, manuals and other help tools. Use the initial small group described above to identify any unique training requirements for your users.

Transition

While basic push-to-talk operation is very similar between BBPTT and LMR radios, the biggest difference maybe the accessories. Accessories for BBPTT include remote speaker microphones, car kits, Bluetooth PTT buttons and other tools, and should be included in the training package.

LMR Interoperability

There can be value in connecting talkgroups / channels between the radio and BBPTT systems once both are operational.  If some users within your organization need to continue using the existing LMR system, then LMR Interoperability is a viable option. LMR Interoperability provides a bridge between your existing LMR system and a BBPTT system.

Timeline

Migrating from LMR radio to BBPTT can take from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the number of users and sites, and whether or not interoperability is a requirement. For organizations with less than 100 users in one area, migration from LMR to BBPTT may only take a week or two to train users, program existing (or new) talkgroups and provide user devices.  Large distributed organizations that have a large user base, a variety of types of users and will require LMR Interop may take 60-90 days to migrate.

Support Requirements

Support requirements for user training or setting up the talkgroups / channels are relatively small. Setting up the LMR Interoperability will likely require resources from your IT department, and possibly a technician to install the LMR gateway. Ongoing user support needs have been historically very light due to the simplicity of the applications.

Funding

The great news about BBPTT is there is very little, if any, capital funding required. If your system allows BYOD where employees and contractors bring their own devices, then all or most of device costs are avoided.  If LMR Interoperations are desired, gateway costs run from a few thousand dollars and up, depending upon the number of groups connected and the type of interface desired. In general, the total cost of BBPTT monthly ownership is less than just the monthly costs of the monthly maintenance fees charged by LMR vendors, and with no capital outlay.

Conclusion

Migrating users from an LMR system to a BBPTT system is not difficult, risky nor expensive.  User devices can be had that mimic an LMR radio operation with a dedicated PTT button and wired or wireless speaker-microphone, or users can use their personal iPhone or Android devices.  Most users will instantly migrate to BBPTT with little or no training, and be happy to not have to carry ‘a brick’ to communicate with coworkers. Finally, BBPTT provides numerous advantages over traditional LMR radio with the ability of most user devices to handle voice, video and webpages on that single device.

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