Broad strokes for LTE development

The growing demand for data in critical comms, and its resultant need for broadband capabilities was a major topic for the Public Safety Forum at PMR Expo. Laurence Doe hears from both broadband supporters and sceptics in the mission-critical space

The growing demand for data in critical comms, and its resultant need for broadband capabilities was a major topic for the Public Safety Forum at PMR Expo. Laurence Doe hears from both broadband supporters and sceptics in the mission-critical space 


Phil Kidner, CEO, TCCA, said that broadband for critical communications should rely on the standardisation work being done by 3GPP 

It is rare that data capabilities and broadband aren’t mentioned when manufacturers speak about the future of TETRA. The direction in which European PPDR is heading was the first discussion point that really touched a nerve in the forum and came from panel member Phil Kidner, the TCCA’s CEO. 

“We are this niche community of more than 40 million users, and there’s this big ecosystem of seven billion consumers that all want more broadband – so we need to be part of that,” says Kidner. “We don’t want to do GSM-R, we don’t want a product that looks like GSM but isn’t. What we want is for the standard LTE product to be suitable for critical communications so that when we buy that product we’re getting [the] economies of scale [from] seven billion [users] and not just being part of 40 million or in GSM-R’s case even fewer. 

“We must be a part of a 3GPP version of LTE,” adds Kidner. The Public Safety Forum chair, Tero Pesonen, then asked what the TCCA is doing in this area. 

“The Chinese have [their own version of ] LTE and we think this is a mistake. We’re trying to tell them this and that they should work with us [TCCA] and 3GPP.” 

Kidner pointed out that the US also has the resources to bring LTE to the forefront of technology used for PPDR. “But we don’t want an American system, it must be a global system and the only way we’re going to do that is by working together. 

“There was lots of hype about what TETRA could do and most of it was fulfilled. We are in that same position today with LTE,” he concludes. 

Kidner invited Hannu Aronsson, the TCCA’s applications working group chairman, into the discussion to support the argument that interoperable applications are needed for any technological development. 

“Take the best practices of applications from different organisations with co-operation between different countries, and get the best practices from past interoperable applications,” advises Aronsson. “There is not that much work going on at that level so the TCCA is trying to find a way to work on end user applications and make them interoperable. 

“I think the time scales are quite compatible. We will have the broadband networks in a few years and have time to think about standardisation and design for interoperability, perhaps upgrade some old systems. So when you get there you get a really good end user application service out to the people in the field, which in the end is what we really care about.” 

“Control and coverage are the key problems we are facing right now and we need to look at that in terms of the transition to broadband. It’s going to be a difficult transition over the next few years so we really need to work as a community,” says Liz Mead, senior analyst, critical communications for research and analytics firm IHS. 

Network availability 
Daniel Rupp, department manager for the federal office for civil protection (BABS) in Switzerland, shifted the conversation to the need to harden critical communications infrastructure against power failures and how this led to Switzerland’s national emergency and rescue TETRAPOL network POLYCOM being designed to run for a 72-hour period during power outages. 

“Right now we are doing an audit in Switzerland with 24 network operators to make sure there is a proper setup in place in terms of resilience and ability of the network... We also built our [TETRAPOL] network for 99.9 per cent ability and we are pretty sure we are much higher today. It was [designed to cope with the stress of] a special event taking place ... so we have the ability on the TETRA and TERAPOL side. For broadband data it must be the same coverage across Switzerland - 97 per cent geographical coverage with an ability of 99.9 per cent. 

“It’s quite clear that the TETRA and TETRAPOL networks are working very well,” he says. “But there is a growing demand for data and we have to prepare for that in whatever way different countries want to fulfil the demand.”


Left to right: Phil Kidner, CEO TCCA; Elizabeth Mead, IHS; Jonas Karlsson, chief architect, Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency Chairman, and operators and users association, TCCA; Daniel Rupp, department manager for the federal office for civil protection in Switzerland; Manfred Blaha, PSCE chair 

Rupp says that after 15 years of investment in the TETRAPOL system those investments need to be protected, which has led to the decision that a coexistence must be achieved. The country is now planning to evolve its TETRAPOL network to have an IP backbone. 

“We need full coexistence, full functionality and we need this coexistence around for the next 10 years,” he explains. 

“The problem I see is when we’re talking about 99.9 per cent availability of the network,” challenges Manfred Blaha, chair of the PSCE (Public Safety Communications Europe Forum) User Committee. “That only tells me that it’s up and running. It does not yet guarantee that it can be communicated over. The experience we had in several disasters is that one of the first issues that comes up is that commercial networks [become] congested, overloaded and don’t have access to the resource even if [they are] up and running. This is one of the main problems in critical communication paths; even if it is 99.8 per cent up and running the 0.2 per cent is the critical percentage when a disaster strikes.” 

“It’s not just having a generator or a battery backup, it’s about how it’s all connected together,” adds Kidner. “In the UK, for example, there’s 3,500 TETRA base stations delivering the coverage users want and there’s 17,000 cellular base stations for GSM not delivering what the users want, so just beware of that.”

Under attack 
Cyber attacks could be a threat to PPDR no matter what network systems are operating over. The hacking of the Bowman Avenue Dam near New York City and other such incidents have shown that critical infrastructure can be disrupted. Pesonen points out that hackers knocking out electricity supplies could impact PPDR communication. 

Mead argues that we have to get close to TETRA’s reliability of 99.9 per cent with LTE if we are to provide the necessary data capabilities. She references a 2015 US mobile network survey from mobile network performance company RootMetrics. It found that the reliability of MNOs AT&T and Verizon were at 84.9 per cent and 89.8 per cent respectively. 

“I think that pretty much says it all,” she says. “If we are looking at the future of broadband and we’re looking potentially at commercial cellular networks... What we will have to do to enable consistent communications and reliability for critical situations? It’s a huge problem if people are looking at commercial cellular networks rather than private.” 

Reaching harmony 
“Yesterday [November 23] at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva 196 countries agreed that 700 MHz should be the harmonised band for PPDR,” announces Jeppe Jepsen, TCCA director and board member. 

“Within the 700 MHz [band] 30 MHz will be auctioned off in most of the countries. France’s frequencies, five MHz below and three MHz above, will require special devices.” 

Jepsen added that as the harmonised 700 MHz band, is in the middle of operator spectrum, it allows for mass- market access to devices and could mean that public safety broadband applications could be accessed by commercial devices such as iPhones. 

“The whole purpose of PPDR being in 700 [MHz] is the roaming capabilities between countries and being close to the mass market economies of scale,” he says. 

“The European Union is supporting and funding broadband network development,” assures Blaha. “One of the key arguments in the call of the European Commission is that whatever broadband networks emerge will hopefully be Europe-wide. 

“They will also be interoperable between all the countries so the intersystem interface discussion we have today on our TETRA and TETRAPOL networks should be solved in the broadband and LTE world at the very beginning. I think that’s very important.” 

“It sounds to me that we have a lot of work to do on frequencies to ensure that in any particular country there is dedicated frequency,” suggests Pesonen. “I suppose there is a lot of work to be done in LTE standardisation to ensure there are relevant functionalities in the standard, including the issues related to public safety migration from one MC-PTT [mission-critical push-to-talk] element to another. 

“There’s a whole lot of things that need to be done government to government, agency to agency, network owner to network owner, to have this going on,” he concludes. 

Broad goals 
There is not a single public safety organisation without a communication problem says Blaha. He states that interoperability is key for any project being undertaken to achieve a reliable system. The way we build PPDR systems in Europe will eventually be guided by BROADMAP – a roadmap for EU PPDR broadband networks. It is a “milestone” for PPDR organisations and an opportunity to give first responders data-rich communication tools, he adds. 

The news that BROADMAP could be in place by 2017 was first reported in October 2015 [see for more information – Ed], more than a month before PMR Expo. It aims to use part of the Horizon 2020 programme’s €1.7 billion funding as part of the EU framework for research and innovation. 

It will lead towards new interoperable broadband capabilities being deployed within eight to 10 years. One of the original 48 PPDR organisations that signed the letters of support for the project was the Bavarian Red Cross. 

“Their task is to involve police forces, ambulance and fire services,” explains Blaha. “So in the end we will reach a broad arena of public safety organisations.” 

With a member from the audience questioning the €1.7 billion figure as “not going to go very far”, Blaha responds that the BROADMAP proposal budget currently stands at “between €1 million to €2 million for 12 months” to get international discussions started between PPDR groups. 

A decision from the EU Commission on whether the proposal for BROADMAP will go ahead will happen by the end of January or early February this year. 

“The next step is negotiating the contract between the consortium and the European Commission so we can start the project by May 1. Then the first national workshops will be in May or June,” says Blaha. 

It is uncertain if initiatives such as the BROADMAP roadmap will start setting out a clear broadband path for future mission-critical public safety and PPDR. What is clear is that countries like Switzerland and the UK are preparing for a large network capability to keep up the pace of LTE development towards mission-critical push-to-talk. 

Surveys carried out by IHS and others show that current cellular systems are insufficient for the reliability we expect, even in countries investing a great deal in LTE development such as the US. While nothing is certain, 2016 looks to be a big year for broadband communications, interoperability and harmonised services.