CCW 2025: new horizons in Belgium

Following today’s handover to next year's Critical Communications World host operator Astrid, its director of external relations, Daniël Haché, discusses why the event will be important for both Belgium and Western Europe

Astrid director of external relations, Daniël Haché

Could you give an overview of the ASTRID network, in terms of infrastructure, history and so on?

The main mission of ASTRID is to operate the nationwide public safety communications network in Belgium. It was founded in 1998. The infrastructure includes a secure digital radio network that covers the entire country, ensuring reliable communication for emergency and security services.

In terms of users, the ASTRID network serves various entities, including police forces, fire departments, ambulance services, civil protection agencies, and other emergency responders.

By establishing a reliable and transparent link between those users, ASTRID aims to promote the smooth running of operations and their safety in the field, and thus contribute to the protection of the population as a whole.

ASTRID provides four important basic services. These are: radio communications, paging, call-taking and dispatching solutions for the emergency rooms and a mobile voice and data supply - Blue Light Mobile.

How is it planned for the network to evolve?

ASTRID will develop, deploy and operate a 4G/5G network over the coming years with the aim to eventually replace the existing radiocommunication network, which is based on TETRA.

This will enable the fast, secure, and reliable transmission of large quantities of data to and between emergency and security services, much like voice communication is handled today.

This advancement will open up new possibilities and applications for more effective interventions by emergency and security services. This will be thanks to the sharing of images, videos, and more data sources, that all contribute to a better situational awareness on the ground.

ASTRID's new broadband network will opt for a hybrid solution. Due to the high costs associated with building separate antennas and masts - as well as increasing difficulties in obtaining permits for them - the network will utilize the infrastructure of commercial telecom operators. However, ASTRID will retain full control over the core of this network—the 'brain'—thereby ensuring it remains under government ownership.

The multi core operator network approach guarantees the security, reliability, and confidentiality of all communications for emergency and security services in Belgium. ASTRID aims to start migrating the first users to the new network in 2027.

Why is it important for Belgium – and Western Europe - that CCW 2025 is being held in Brussels?

The choice of Brussels as the host city for CCW 2025 holds great significance for Belgium and the European Union. Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium but also a major hub for European institutions and international organisations. It offers a central location that facilitates participation from stakeholders across the region.

By hosting CCW 2025 in Brussels, Belgium can showcase its achievements in critical communications technology, while fostering collaboration among industry experts from the European Union and beyond. The event provides an excellent platform for knowledge exchange, networking opportunities, and showcasing innovative solutions relevant to our region's specific needs.

It will provide the opportunity to promote BroadEUNet, an initiative of the European Commission. This has the aim of setting up by 2030 a supranetwork allowing to interconnect the national 4G/5G MCX networks, creating a virtual Europewide communications network for all the emergency and security services across the European Union and beyond.

ASTRID will simultaneously organise its own ASTRID User Days at the same location. The ASTRID User Days are an opportunity to bring together users of critical communication in Belgium with other partners, suppliers, and stakeholders. Two powerful events, joining forces!

What are the key challenges currently facing the continent and how can critical communications help to address those?

Technology is evolving at a rapid pace. Video, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of things will increasingly become more important for the optimal functioning of our emergency and security services in the coming years.

The TETRA technology, which remains the standard for critical communication of emergency and security services in most European countries to this day, is primarily focused on voice. Voice will continue to be essential in the future. However, there is a clear shift towards broadband applications underway. Consider situational awareness through drones and camera footage. These are the key challenges for our critical communications community today.

One of the key challenges that most countries face currently is the challenge of transitioning from TETRA to the future 4G/5G MCX network, while keeping smooth and reliable communication between emergency services roaming on those two infrastructures.

What are the benefits of CCW as an event to ASTRID and its stakeholders?

CCW serves as a valuable event for ASTRID and its stakeholders in several ways. Firstly, it provides a platform to showcase ASTRID’s achievements and innovations in critical communications. This helps raise awareness about our network's capabilities among industry professionals, potential partners, and decision-makers.

Secondly, CCW offers an opportunity for knowledge sharing with other experts in the field. By participating in discussions, workshops, and presentations at CCW, ASTRID can stay up to date with the latest trends and best practices in critical communication technologies.

Lastly, CCW facilitates networking with international stakeholders from both public safety organisations and industry suppliers.

Overall, CCW serves as an important event for ASTRID by enhancing our visibility within the critical communications community, while fostering collaboration for advancing public safety communication systems.