Terrestial Trunked Radio

TErrestial Trunked RAdio (TETRA) is a specialist cell phone and walkie talkie standard used by police, ambulance and military. Its main advantage over technologies such as GSM are:

  • the much lower frequency used, which permits very high levels of geographic coverage with a smaller number of transmitters, cutting infrastructure cost,
  • the fact that its infrastructure can be separated from that of the public cellphone network, and made substantially more diverse and resilient by the fact that base stations can be some distance from the area served, and that
  • unlike most cellular technologies, TETRA can also be used in a point-to-point mode if the infrastructure fails.

Its main disadvantages are:
  • it can only support a much lower teledensity in a given area, compared to GSM and similar technologies (which is not a problem in the applications for which it is used, but mostly limits it to these applications)
  • handsets are more expensive (about 750 EUR in 2003), due to the reduced economies of scale compared to mass-market cellphones

TETRA uses Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) with four user channels on one radio carrier and 25 kHz spacing between carriers. Both point-to-point and point-to-multipoint transfer can be used. Mobile Stations (MS) can communicate Direct Mode or using infrastructure made of TETRA Base Stations (TBS).

All traffic is normally encrypted. TETRA provides both transfer encryption and end-to-end encryption.

In Europe, TETRA uses frequencies:

  • Emergency systems 380-383 MHz, 390-393 MHz (also 383-395 MHz and 393-395 MHz)
  • Civil systems 410-430 MHz, 870-876 MHz / 915-921 MHz, 450-470 MHz, 385-390 MHz / 395-399,9 MHz,

TETRA is an ETSI standard, first version published 1995.

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