Motorola Solutions touts strength of North American LMR business at close of 2020
Dedicated, purpose-built land-mobile-radio (LMR) systems remain the primary mission-critical voice technology for first-responder agencies in North America and in other parts of the world, according to Motorola Solutions officials citing record LMR orders during the final quarter of a challenging 2020 as evidence supporting the claim.
Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown said the final quarter of 2020 represented “our largest quarter ever for LMR orders in North America” amid circumstances that underlined the value proposition for radio networks.
“We saw a number of events during the year that continue to reinforce the importance of having secure, reliable, mission-critical communications for first responders,” Brown said last week during Motorola Solutions’ quarterly earnings call. “Whether it was the hurricanes in the Southeast, fires in California, or—more recently—the explosion in Nashville, our LMR networks continued to provide private secure voice communication to the men and women on the front lines when other networks were down.
“And while we continue to invest in broadband solutions that augment LMR with valuable data and location capabilities, the redundancy, resiliency and reliability that LMR provides during the most critical moments continues to be foundational and a must-have for our customers.”
Jack Molloy, Motorola Solutions’ executive vice president of products and worldwide sales, echoed this sentiment and highlighted some of the recent key activity in the LMR space.
“It’s really exciting,” Molloy said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Just in North America, we announced Nassau County in New York, which was $122 million—a big deal out in Long Island. We secured a $61 million deal with the state of New Jersey, which has been a long-term customer of ours. A deal that we’re really excited about was a $100 million P25 managed-service deal—we will design and build the network—for Tasmania.
“When you really think about it—and I look at forward metrics all the time—we’ve never had greater interest for P25.”
Customers continue to be attracted to the reliability and security associated with P25 networks, Molloy said.
“When I talk to customers, the things that come up are this: Number one, security has never been more important,” Molloy said. “Right, wrong or indifferent, these folks systems are purpose-built, in terms of how they are laid out. What’s the backup situation on those? What’s the backhaul situation on those? How do you secure all of those elements?
“[A second factor is] Devices. The most tangible thing for people in public safety—for fire, police and EMS, what you hold, what connects you, and what is fundamentally your lifeline—is a radio. So, purpose-built devices matter.”
That purpose-built philosophy extends throughout LMR systems built and maintained by Motorola Solutions, and that approach has been enhanced by the company’s cloud-based CirrusCentral platform that has been tested for its ability to provide redundant core technology to a P25 system, according to Molloy.
“Ultimately, a lot of that comes into complete network topography,” he said. “We think about the forest fires. We think about floods. We think about what happened on Christmas Day in Nashville. What was the network that continued to work there? It was the city of Nashville/Williamson County [LMR] network. They had issues with other networks, and I’ll just leave it at that.”
Not all of Motorola Solutions’ LMR news associated with 2020 was good, as company could not escape all negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with a better-than-expected final quarter of the year, the company’s Professional Commercial Radio (PCR) business—the segment that serves enterprises, as opposed to public safety—experienced a $300 million (30%) decline in revenue globally during 2020.
“Some of those verticals have been challenged,” Molloy said, citing difficulties in the airline and hotel industries. “Really, we went through a period of time where—unlike public safety, which continued to meet with Motorola—many of these places just weren’t operational, and they weren’t investing any money.”
During the earnings call, Brown said he believes the PCR segment will bounce back from last year’s lows—”2020 was pretty draconian; I look at it more or less as a floor”—but indicated that it is difficult to estimate the growth rate until more is known about the economic recovery from the pandemic’s impacts.
Motorola Solutions officials acknowledge the growing role that wireless broadband technologies like LTE have in delivering data-centric applications for IoT and smart-grid systems—in fact, the vendor giant is working to help utilities build private LTE networks that operate the 900 MHz and 3.5 GHz CBRS broadband spectrum. Despite this investment and the fact that these broadband systems can support push-to-talk-over-cellular solutions, these entities continue to turn to LMR to meet their mission-critical-voice needs, Molloy said.
“When it comes to [utilities’] voice communications and how they use them, they’ll actually bring their power grids down for 12 hours at a time when they’re fighting forest fires,” Molloy said. “The only solution that has longevity, in terms of power, is a P25 solution.
“We talk about the co-existence [of LMR and LTE], but that’s a great example of how P25 kind of co-exists in a world where people are thinking about 4G/5G in how they do power control, but it always comes back to reliability, security, purpose-built devices, purpose-built design, and [backup] power.”
Such characteristics have long been perceived hallmarks of hardened LMR networks, but the integration of digital networking technologies into radio systems has resulted in a key operational shift, Molloy said. Increasingly, enterprises and government agencies are turning to vendors like Motorola Solutions to monitor and maintain their systems as opposed to relying primarily on in-house LMR expertise.
“What we’ve seen from our customers is that that they still have a resource or two, but they really are relying on us, just because the network sophistication is far greater than it was five years ago, and it certainly is far greater than it was in the world 10 years ago,” Molloy said.
“That’s really created a tremendous opportunity and a little bit of a vacuum that we had to step into, as the manufacturer. We’ve also made investments in network operations centers, not only here in North America but around the globe … As things have become more sophisticated, it’s given us new opportunities to sell more advanced support and cyber services, but to also operate those networks.”
Kelly Mark, Motorola Solutions’ executive vice president for software and services, echoed this sentiment.
“We had a number of good managed-service orders internationally that either extended existing networks that we had or added on new ones, like the Tasmania transaction,” Mark said during the company’s earning call.
“So the services business continues to be something that demonstrates the resiliency of LMR and the demand for that. We see our customers continue to renew the contracts that they have at increased rates and on time, which is a very positive indicator of both the compelling nature of our services, but also the importance of LMR.
Another trend that has emerged is that customers are reducing the life cycles for LMR radios—a fact Molloy noted during the company’s earnings call.
“Historically—five years, six years or seven years ago—people would hold the device for 10 years,” Molloy said during the conference call. “The refresh cycle now looks more like six years to seven years for a device.”
This has resulted in some encouraging sales of the APX NEXT and APX NEXT XE devices, which are P25 radios that also can leverage LTE connectivity for specific applications. Outside North America, the company sold out of the first MXP600 TETRA radios that were available during Q4.
“We essentially were oversubscribed and shipped everything we could in Q4, with numerous big orders throughout Europe,” Molloy said during the interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “As I’ve told my team, this is one in which an overly conservative sales forecast was related to the MXP600 [being sold out].
“We had a couple of orders that were going to be what I would call last-generation devices. We announced it [the MXP600], and the groundswell of interest moved to, ‘We want to go to the new radio.’ So we had some shift and upsell to the new device. That was really what that was about.”