by Tim Mulrey, TSA business strategy & transformation associate
01 December 2022
Tim Mulrey, TSA business strategy & transformation associate, reflects on TSA’s recent digital switch testing and the concerning results.
Since the release of our whitepaper exploring the implications of the UK-wide analogue to digital switchover taking place in 2025, TSA have encouraged the entire TEC industry to embrace digital technology when both manufacturing and installing devices across the UK.
We released guidance in November 2021 requesting service providers discontinue purchasing analogue-only units, with this guidance strengthened in June 2022 when it was introduced as a stipulation into the Quality Standards Framework.
However, we appreciate that switching over can be a complex task. Given the sheer numbers of service users currently using analogue devices in TEC, coupled with government-led mandatory timescales for exchange upgrades, there will inevitably be a short period when analogue-only equipment will need to communicate with TEC Monitoring Centres/Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs) using analogue-to-digital conversion methods.
The need for testing
It is known that there is a variation in performance of analogue devices across communications providers’ digital networks. Understanding how those differences impact on device performance is critical to ensure service providers comprehend and plan for any risks involved once the switchover takes place, whilst pre-empting and exploring potential mitigations to any issues that arise.
Whilst we have recently contacted manufacturers of TEC equipment in the UK in order to provide both guidance and support to test analogue devices over digital networks, we have also undertaken our own in-house testing in order to ascertain an important insight into potential compatibility issues between analogue devices and digital networks.
The assessment process
We decided to focus on the Openreach test centre as it represented the broadest range of networks that we could use during our assessments.
We reached out to both London Borough of Haringey Council and London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council, who both kindly assisted us by providing several devices for testing purposes and granting us permission to place hundreds of test calls into their ARCs. Our tests involved a total of five different devices in all, representing around 75% of models installed in the UK.
The results of these tests, presented in this chart, show that whilst many TEC devices will continue to operate as normal after the switchover using analogue-to-digital conversion methods, there are a significant proportion that either function intermittently - or not at all.
The testing also highlighted that, whilst some networks achieved a high rate of connection success across a wide range of devices, others did not fare so well.
A further concern raised during our assessments was a lack of attention to contingency plans in case of power failure. Only one router we tested contained a battery back-up, which lasted for an hour of calls. All other routers failed immediately during a power-loss scenario.
Next steps: what should you do now?
Given the highly varied results of our tests across various networks and devices, TSA ask that all manufacturers complete testing of devices at one of the five tests sites that have been set up across the UK.
We have sent out an industry-wide call to action letter asking for the results of these tests, which has been endorsed by the Local Government Association, The Department for Health and Social Care, TEC Cymru, Digital Health and Care Northern Ireland, Housing LIN and Scottish Local Government.
You can now view our Analogue On Digital Testing & Installation Guidance. This includes practical tips about test centres, preparing for test calls, plus a standard test specification and much more.
This testing should be undertaken as a priority, with the results shared with all stakeholders so that clear and consistent guidance can be produced to ensure that any risks associated with the switchover are minimised, with known issues mitigated.
TSA are here to support and guide you through device testing, and the wider issues involved with the analogue to digital switchover. Please contact me to share your test results, if you have any questions or need support: ALLIP@TSA-Voice.org.uk