Interview with Sami Honkaniemi, CEO Mentura Group

Last year, we interviewed Sami Honkaniemi, CEO of Mentura Group, a leading provider of service management solutions for the critical communications industry from Finland. This year, we asked him some more in-depth questions. We asked Honkaniemi about the changes within the industry, the shifting focus from narrowband PMR applications to critical broadband solutions and more specifically the type of broadband applications that customers need, the integration of MCPTT, video, etc.

Q: Mentura has been pioneering on PMR applications for a long time. How do you see the coming broadband solutions affecting your products and business?

A: We see a rapid growth of broadband and hybrid projects. At the same time, there’s a steady stream of TETRA related projects and new requirements coming from our customers. There’s a lot of investments made simultaneously to TETRA and Broadband, even by the same customers.

I suppose the plan is clear: TETRA has a strong position as the Critical Voice system, while customers are investing in broadband as the data and applications platform. MCPTT is in the roadmap, and for some projects it is the primary driver, but it appears still to be a future activity. TETRA’s excellent Voice promise will provide unbeatable value for demanding users still for a long time.

In our Hybrid deployments TETRA is used as a backup carrier for data and for most critical data.

Q: What kind of broadband applications do you see the users deploying?

A: From our perspective, there are two different worlds for data and applications:

Firstly, there’s the Critical Communications. Systems and applications that must work when nothing else works and lives are in danger.

Then there’s “normal” applications for managing your daily operations and digital workflows. Mobile Office and standard enterprise services. This is where any organisation can pick lots of low hanging fruit.

I would not underestimate the importance of routine applications. They can maximise the field user’s productivity allowing them to focus to the actual job at hand - protecting the public. Digitalisation can really help here. Application vendors need to be able to provide easy to use applications not just for back-office use, but for fields teams as well.

When designing an application for these two purposes, a completely different needs and reliability criteria’s must be considered. However, it’s still important to include them in the same solution, as much as possible. Having “Mission Critical” and “Crisis” tools in an application that is used daily, helps users to become familiar with these tools. This is especially important when working under pressure, as well practiced routines become the backbone for successful operation (this we have seen in many recent incidents).

These are the design principle we are focusing on when developing our own applications: One tool that provides support whether you need to handle routine tasks or swiftly move to managing a larger crisis. And, let computers do what they are made for, and let people focus on the tasks that only people can do.

It is sometimes confusing when the same forum is discussing Mission Critical Communications and Applications. Most user requirements are not in the “Mission Critical Data” domain. Digitalisation is an elephant. When easting an elephant, it’s good to start from the nose.

Q: People talk a lot about the becoming MCPTT and video. How do you see these integrating with applications?

I do not really consider MCPTT or Mobile Video as applications (even if they are technically often provided as “apps”). They are features in the communications device, which workflows can be integrated to the application design based on the user’s needs.

Video is becoming just as “basic” capability as Voice is now. First via body worn camera recordings, then live streaming from vehicles, drones and body worn equipment and then group video as part of calls. Some legal obstacles related to privacy for the field user and public need to be sorted out in most countries though.

Q: How quickly do you think customers will be migrating to broadband?

For data and application purposes, it is happening and of course has been done already for a long time, depending on the purpose and the security policies in each country. As many countries will not have the frequencies or budget to build dedicated networks, they’ll rely on commercial radio coverage. This is where we’re expecting the “tipping point” soon. Mobile operators are approaching the point where they are able to prioritise and secure PPDR traffic with sufficient coverage and resilience. That’s when things can change really fast.

Q: Classic question, According to you what is the killer application for Critical Communications Users?

This is our favourite wrong question! It is obvious that the answer is different for each organisation, or then it is something disruptive that we have not yet heard from. I trust that the user community will be able to point us to the right direction, if we just listen to them carefully enough. Usually they know best after some exposure to the tools.

What is interesting to see is how Social Media is becoming in more than one way a valuable tool for first responders. I would even go as far as to say that providing Mobile Internet access to Critical Comms Users allows the user organisations to utilise the available information to improve their operations in ways we cannot predict. Now they have to use their personal devices to access what they need. Internet is considered “unsafe” but it does not have to be if done correctly. And if we talk about availability, then we should go beyond the availability of mobile coverage. Google and Facebook invest quite a lot in availability. Is Internet a good Killer Application? Mission Critical Social Media!