Telecare – time to sweat the analogue assets, not dump them

Veteran Editor Charles climbs on his soapbox, one more time.

There must have been a moment, somewhere, when a bronze age warrior realised that iron really cut the mustard (and other things) better. Unfortunately, that resulting genetic preference for new over old has left us open to the blandishments of salespeople through the ages, encouraging us to take every opportunity to buy new and cast out old.

And it costs! A current example is the drive by many telecare companies to use the digitalisation of the telecoms network in the UK to encourage users to ditch their analogue equipment in favour of their new shiny digital kit…when there’s no need. The telecare world has of course an honourable tradition of encouraging box shifting – back when I ran a telecare programme at LB Newham, in 2007 the government was encouraged to offer a Preventive Technology Grant to all local authorities. Perhaps the most memorable campaign though was Three Million Lives which, from the outside, appeared to have that one aim. Indeed there must be few telecare consultants who have not at some point in their career opened a cupboard to find the shelves heaving with unused – and sadly in a few cases unusable – kit.

Wise telecare providers will resist the current pressures though – both BT and Virgin have been provided with a wide range of old analogue telecare kit to test in their digital simulators alongside the appropriate digital/analogue converters and, I am reliably informed, it has worked well every time. Some companies, I am told, may not have taken full advantage of these facilities and only tested their new digital offerings, whilst ignoring analogue; I’ll leave the reader to work out why they might have done that. This is important because telecare kit is built to last and whilst some service users will benefit from the latest tech wizardry, most will be completely happy with the older kit – indeed those with dementia may find it impossible to get used to any new kit, providing one more incentive not to change. The original cost of that analogue kit must conservatively be well over £500 million, so it would seem to be a crying shame just to dump it whilst it still works well – indeed with local authority budgets as they are, it effectively would hugely reduce their ability to provide a service for all who want it.

There is of course one potential issue, as no power comes down the fibre telecoms lines, unlike with copper, so the service could fail in a blackout. However I understand that both BT and Virgin are working on solutions to this. GSM alarms, supposedly the future, are also vulnerable; indeed apparently this already happened a a few weeks back when the country suffered widespread power outages, when mobile networks failed in some areas. I understand that many masts don’t currently have a power back-up for such occasions and those that do only last 30 minutes.

So, if you are responsible for a telecare provision budget and a nice salesperson pops by to encourage you to switch out your old, ask them how their old kit behaved in the network simulations when paired with an appropriate converter.

If they tell you anything other than that it went really well, look askance. If they say they haven’t tested their old kit, ask them why not.

Categories: Latest News, Opinion, and Soapbox.

Comments

  1. For me this is missing the point about upgrading to digital, digital transformation and the resulting digital dividend. As Socitm put it recently

    ““Moving from analogue to digital care technology should be about more than just replacing existing technology on a like-for-like basis. Whilst simple replacement is an option, a more fundamental redesign of the care technology offer has the potential to transform health and care services across the UK to the benefit of those people who rely on them”

    I agree it is hard to justify upgrading to digital to provide the same features what I would call digital veneer. We should also question why the number of existing telecare users has been flat for so long – see bit.ly/34pNSP6

  2. Adrian I have to disagree, Charles’s points are as usual well made. Perhaps you are missing the point of what he is saying, that budgets are tight in the public sector and the last thing they need is pressure from sales people with targets to hit.

    The fact that some suppliers to the telecare industry are denying the truth about what happens when the phone lines change is shameful and by guiding people down the route of GSM based telecare they are imposing additional and unnecessary costs on the market.

    I found the Socitm report interesting but sadly lacking in fact about the impending switch to digital mirroring the industry as a whole. I’m on holiday abroad at the moment with little access to my work files otherwise I would happily share with you my response to their report.

    Regards

    Mark Baker

  3. Kieran McCausland

    After an 18 month sabbatical from this wonderful industry and at arguably one of the most significant transitional timeframe’s in its history, I can only say how saddened and disappointed I am upon my return at some of the misconceptions and dare I say ‘fear mongering’ being touted by some who really should know better.

    Those who shall remain unnamed seem to have donned a big chicken outfit and adopted the guise of the children’s fable character Chicken Little or Chicken Licken. For those who do not know this fable, our feathered friend begins to run around like a headless chicken (no pun intended) warning everyone that a catastrophe of biblical proportions is about to unfold, in that the sky is about to fall in.

    Fast forward to 2019 and enter stage left, a modern-day digital Chicken Licken/Little who is warning of the great catastrophe looming with the 2025 digital switchover. Customers should, with immediate effect, mitigate or even eliminate the risk and begin to decommission their analogue units both in the field and in their stores and fill them post haste with (coincidently their) bright shiny new IP units that operate via the GSM network, before the sky falls in on their service and put those vulnerable service users at risk.

    With cooperative foresight, BT and Virgin offered social alarm manufacturers the chance to test their analogue units in designated test facilities, where ‘digital distortion’ could be artificially introduced into to the call transmissions to test if calls would indeed fail akin to digital lemmings jumping off of the 2025 cliff face.

    Some manufacturers have indeed taken the trip to test their analogue units in the test labs to a variety of call handling platforms using different protocols while deliberately introducing high levels of distortion into the transmissions. The empirical results indicate that the calls from analogue WILL continue to work post 2025 and the digital lemmings can breath easy once again.

    No-one is saying that there wont be call failures due to excessive distortion in SOME cases, but it will be SOME cases and the biggest indicator of a calls failure will be a message from the ARC stating a message such as handshake failure or similar.

    We have to remember that analogue units will redial after approximately one minute and up to 20 times (sometimes more), which ultimately increases the chance of a successful call eventually landing in front of the operator.

    But what if it doesn’t connect in its entirety?? Well let’s not forget about good ol’ Caller Line Identification (CLI) to keep the lemmings from free-falling and the neurotic chicken quiet. Old tech it maybe, but it still has what it takes.

    New Generation Network (NGN) transmission distortions (which is essentially what happens) is not an impending phenomena due to land in 2025, it has actually been occurring for a number of years now and the savvy control centre operator only has to check the CLI to trace back to the origin of the call and initiate a predetermined response protocol to the client who originated the call.

    In the case of that particular client, there may well be excessive distortion on their particular ‘trunk route’, in which case, the installation of a digital GSM unit may well be the correct course of action based on prior issues. One would like to think that the majority of these issues would highlight when the end client initiates their monthly test call.

    I am not saying that digital is bad and that it should not happen, what I am saying is that the analogue to digital transition should be organic and over time, as analogue units go to silicon heaven, then maybe that would be time to buy that shiny new IP / GSM unit to replace it.

    There is absolutely no doubt that ‘Digital IP’ will begin to open up a whole new raft of very desirable features, polling sensors, continual heartbeat, real time video, connection to wearables similar to the Fitbit so health metrics can be monitored unobtrusively, just to name but a few of the possibilities that the migration to digital will unleash over time.

    BUT and it is big BUT, it will bring about its own problems. As a keen subscriber to the K.I.S.S. approach, digital will be putting a dent in my subscription.

    What is K.I.S.S. I hear you ask? Keep It Simple Stupid – in essence, the more fancy stuff something does, the higher the potential for things to go wrong. Manufacturers of units and ARCs will, as each new problem presents, use their expertise to solve the new problems and indeed there is a strong proactive element to identify and resolve such problems before a product even goes to market.

    But the truth is, that even with the best will in the world and employing Mystic Meg as part of a Research and Development (R&D) team, there will still be those unforeseen problems just waiting to jump out of the shadows and give us all a bit of a scare from time to time.

    The GSM method of transmission is one such problem. As Charles rightly points out in his article, there are GSM masts with zero battery backup and those that do have it, only have the capacity to last a short time anyway.

    Outages of the GSM network seem to happen with an unappetising regularity now days. Worse still these outages are not confined to a town or even a county, but often take out an entire swath of the UK, if not the whole of it in one foul swoop and last for many hours.
    When was the last time you heard all of BT / Virgin landlines in the UK falling over in such a dramatic fashion?

    Roaming networks do try to mitigate this by switching to the next available network in the event of a particular providers outage, however roaming is not without its own unique issues, with the roaming providers servers occasionally failing so the roaming sims go down for a number of hours too.

    Given the warnings in the previous paragraphs, you may ask yourself is digital a good thing and should we be adopting it at all ? Well in my humble opinion the answer is a big fat resounding YES.

    As I have pointed out, digital is not a panacea to solve all communication problems and indeed it brings its own special nuances to the mix. However, over time it offers the ability to increase the monitoring functionality and capabilities for those vulnerable service users who we all strive to protect and keep safe.

    But analogue is not the dead duck, kamikaze lemming or the prophecy of a neurotic chicken as some may lead you to believe and still has a viable role to play in the world of social alarms.

    Certainly, service providers will need to undertake dynamic risk analysis for their service, including close monitoring of call failure rates and create a subsequent response protocol to address them as and when they occur.

    Funding and budgets undoubtedly be another huge issue they need to address as the costs of an IP unit invariably sit about twice the cost on an analogue unit. So by keeping the analogue units operational for as long as possible, will at least reduce the pressure on their ever shrinking budgets.

    At this pivotable transitional time in the history of our life-critical industry, the role of the sales person should now undergo a shift and become more focused on a generic guiding, assisting and acting with integrity toward the customer.

    It should now be about helping the customer with managing the migration from analogue to digital organically, rather than rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of making a quick buck, fantastic commission and winning the salesperson of the month award.

    So next time a sales representative turns up at your door wearing their best chicken outfit of doom, ask them for their BT/ Virgin lab test results (In fact ask ALL of the manufacturers for their lab test results). If they can’t or won’t reveal them, tell them to come back in 2026 ……..

    .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *