CCW: Broadband is just around the corner

This year's Critical Communications World was full of energy and buzz, aided in no small part to the growing maturity of LTE for mission-critical applications, and it accounted for many of the new products and exhibitors on the show floor. Sam Fenwick reports

This year’s Critical Communications World was full of energy and buzz, aided in no small part to the growing maturity of LTE for mission-critical applications, and it accounted for many of the new products and exhibitors on the show floor. Sam Fenwick reports

20160531_094424_1.jpgThis year's CCW took place at RAI Amsterdam in the Netherlands

During the Evolution to Broadband masterclass on the first day of the event, Barbara Held, head of directorate – operations at BDBOS, said she and Jarmo Vinkvist, CEO of Virve, are co-ordinating a study of combinations of dedicated and commercial broadband business models for PPDR use, in a scenario in which LTE is solely responsible for voice and data. The project’s objective is to produce advice for PPDR operators and politicians on how best to implement broadband for critical communications. It will draw on existing literature (such as Finland’s Strategic Guidelines) and interviews with experts. Held said that purely commercial or purely dedicated PPDR networks are unlikely due to the difficulties in meeting user needs and their cost, respectively. The team’s study will be presented at the EU Operators’ Forum in Amsterdam next January.

The Finnish approach to mobile broadband for PPDR use is of interest given that it will involve prolonged use of TETRA with the transition to LTE for critical voice and data taking place once at least 3GPP Release 14 is available. As a consequence, it contrasts sharply with the swift transitions taking place in the UK and South Korea. According to a presentation from Tero Pesonen, the country uses TETRA and a MVNO’s LTE mini core to provide additional data services. The intention is to move to a full LTE core and a dedicated LTE commercial network, followed by hybrid TETRA and LTE talkgroups and then full transition to LTE radio access with the TETRA core acting as a voice application server.

Malcolm Quelch gave an update on TETRA/LTE interworking standardisation, noting some organisations see a sustained need for this. He explained an ad hoc industry working group facilitated by ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) has been active since autumn last year and that LMR/PMR-LTE interworking should target 3GPP Release 14. Quelch revealed that a common terminology document has been agreed for TETRA, P25 and 3G MCPTT and submitted to SA6 and SA1. He added that SA6 will now work to standardise interworking and will be assisted by the TCCA’s CCBG, together with the ad hoc group, ETSI’s TC-TCCE01 and TCCE04.

As noted in our last issue, Hans Borgonjen, the last active founding father of the TETRA Association, was due to retire during CCW and the TCCA gave him a great send-off with Mladen Vratonjić, the association’s chair, highlighting his achievements, including his work to secure spectrum for TETRA in an agreement with NATO. Vratonjić also said that Borgonjen predicted the demand for mobile broadband and 10 years’ ago started to organise the push for harmonised spectrum, which led to important recommendations being made at WRC-19 and to be finalised this year within CEPT. In a nod to Borgonjen’s energy and longevity, he was presented with The Hans Borgonjen Never Give Up Award, in the form of a Duracell Drumming Bunny by Maarten Nacinovic, head of the MDC division at Politie IV-organisatie on behalf of Borgonjen’s parent organisation, vtsPN.

Both operators and manufacturers had plenty of time to voice their thoughts on the current direction of the critical communications market. Vinkvist highlighted a university study on commercial networks’ broadband data service reliability. “The message was that at this moment you can’t rely on the commercial services… Due to these results… we got the best growth in our subscriptions last year… the social healthcare sector is increasing their TETRA usage…”

Tor Helge Lyngstol, director-general of DNK Norway, said telecoms infrastructure is invisible to politicians compared with traditional infrastructure such as roads, but that has to change due to its importance. Lyngstol believes that we will use TETRA and LTE in parallel for a long time and therefore there will be a role for dual-mode terminals.

“As a TETRA community we have the most advanced open innovative standard there is in the world,” said Steve Barber, vice-president – group strategy at Sepura Group. “And the data capabilities of TETRA are pretty much on tap for a lot of customers; 90 per cent of use cases for data can be done over a narrowband system. But a lot of us don’t do that. One thing that is holding us back as an industry, but also as a user group, is at the same time you need some kind of operational process change as well. A lot of the people we sell into are used to voice and a small amount of data.”

Still much to learn
Norman Frisch, marketing director, Enterprise Business Group and Transport Sector, at Huawei said there needs to be a standardised interface between TETRA and LTE. He also noted that the Copenhagen Fire department has been using UAVs to provide better situational awareness for fire-fighting but one issue with this approach is relaying the information from the UAV operator, noting that while it was “very impressive to see, they pointed out that the person controlling the drone was automatically becoming the bottleneck of the whole project because he saw everything, he knew everything, but he had to transmit that information via voice”.

Jeff Spaeth, corporate vice-president – systems & software enablement at Motorola Solutions, said that the PMR industry still has a lot to learn, particularly in terms of understanding how workgroup applications should work over broadband. “Tor Helge mentioned this morning that we’re beginning the refinement process for how workgroup communications should work over broadband, and that’s going to continue to be refined. I think a lot of customers using both those technologies [LMR and mobile broadband] well for multiple types of functionalities is what we’ll be seeing in future.”

Sepura’s Barber noted the fact that future systems need to work for both mission-critical and non-mission-critical applications and “all you need is some kind of simple rules database that matches bearer with the operational requirement… There’s going to be 10,000 application providers wanting to write applications, in future, for our industry… I suspect a whole ecosystem will grow up around using the different wireless technologies that are open to our customers... I think the associated market around applications could be a lot larger than [the critical communications market]. That’s key because if you don’t get that ecosystem around what we provide as manufacturers then you are not meeting customers’ needs and they’ll look elsewhere. It’s key for us as suppliers to understand user requirements and to feed that ecosystem to deliver solutions.”

20160601_101942.jpgGordon Shipley provided delegates with an update on ESN/ESMCP, including details of the current timetable for the transition from Airwave to ESN

Gordon Shipley, programme director, ESMCP at the UK Home Office, gave an update on the UK’s Emergency Services Network (ESN), saying that “the reference system is being built out in Basingstoke by Motorola Solutions and in Bristol by EE. [They] will be connected together so we can start tests in August and that will run for about six months followed by some functional and some operational trials. There will be a major acceptance into service trial before the first region goes live in about August next year, with mobilisation we hope complete by the end of September and transition complete by the time the Airwave network has a national shutdown [31 December 2019].”

Quixoticity’s Peter Clemons asked Shipley: “Is there a Plan B here if things don’t quite go right?” Shipley responded by saying “Yes”, before elaborating: “We have a contract for Airwave services with Motorola Solutions as the owners and that contract runs… we are entitled to stay on Airwave for as long as it takes us to come off. We’ve got our plan and we’ve got fallback, which would be we know what the cost of doing a national extension would be on a monthly or annual basis, we know what the cost would be for a regional extension… or in fact a local, individual force within reason, we know exactly what the cost of each of those extensions is.

“If we are not ready or the users are not ready to start transition then we will have to stay on Airwave and we can stay on Airwave and we will stay on Airwave. It seems a perfectly reasonable fall-back position.”

On the final day of the event, Dave Chater-Lea, vice-chairman of 3GPP SA6, spoke about the work to standardise mission-critical features for LTE. He said that while TETRA’s specifications were set by the critical communications community, in 3GPP it has to compete with the interests of the commercial operators.

With this in mind, Chater-Lea noted that an important step for the community took place when 3GPP made the decision to deal with mission-critical applications in a single group (SA6), and that since its formation, the group’s overall scope has been expanded to cover whole systems as well as over-the-top applications.

Chater-Lea also said that of the 840 requirements specified for mission-critical push-to-talk, 70 per cent are covered in Release 13 and 10 per cent are partly covered. He also said that mission-critical data and video features will be introduced in Release 14 and that Stage 1 was about to be signed off, with stage 3 scheduled for March 2017. Vratonjić asked Chater-Lea if Release 13 is providing enough functionality for manufacturers to make new devices, or if they will have to wait for Release 14.

“I’d say that where we are now is about where the first release of the TETRA standard was, about 1995, 1996. [It] took us five years to get there and this [Release 13] has taken us 18 months… [TETRA at that point] was good to make demos, pilots, alpha reference systems and so on. It wasn’t at the stage you would give to a policeman and say ‘There you go, put your life on the back of the communications in this’. I’d say that’s about where we are now.”

Chater-Lea addressed end-users, saying: “If there’s something out there that you need and you need 3GPP to provide, SA1 is the group to do this, so consider going along, getting involved, or consider getting involved with your government representatives. The TCCA as a market representation partner can also bring things into 3GPP and make them aware of market needs.”

Mansoor Hanif, director of radio access networks at EE, gave his company’s perspective on ultra-reliable networks. He said that as part of its resilience planning, it is planning for increased rainfall, with mobile base stations based on weather forecasts to make sure that they are on the right side of bridges as a precaution. He added that EE would not have bid for the Lot 3 ESN contract if it did not believe that its network could deliver the required level of service. He also said that EE is proposing to work with regulators to “pilot, socialise and industrialise” UAVoLTE networks and believes a mission-critical 4G network is the best means of preventing UAV-related accidents and enforcing no-fly zones.

On the exhibition floor
At the show, Motorola Solutions introduced its ST7000 small TETRA radio. Interestingly, the device owes its existence to user feedback, as Nippon Airport Radio Services approached Motorola Solutions, saying that its customer-facing staff wanted small radios that would not obscure their faces during use. Motorola also presented its Si500 combination body-worn video camera, radio speaker and microphone, together with its CommandCentral Vault solution, which integrates with computer-aided dispatch and records management systems and allows users to search, review and annotate evidence.

Sepura showcased MBS lite, a standalone outdoor TETRA base station which has a fanless design to cut down on maintenance costs and does not require a shelter. Two units can be linked together if two carriers are required and, if availability is a priority, one can be configured to be a hot stand-by redundant unit. The company also launched eNEBULA, a hybrid TETRA and LTE infrastructure solution for tactical operations, intended for use by the public safety and defence markets. It supports both TETRA and LTE radio access in the same system, with a network management system to provide network administrators with a “seamlessly integrated experience”.

Airbus Defence and Space introduced a number of new products: Tactilon Dabat, TPH900 Tetrapol desktop adaptor and the Claricor Cell, which it claims allows a TETRA system to be deployed within 10 minutes. The Dabat is Airbus’s first TETRA-LTE integrated handset and has the look and feel of a smartphone with a 4.7-inch touchscreen.

The TPH900 features voice recording, a PTT button and a USB port to allow police commanders and firefighters to communicate more flexibly. The Claricor Cell is a compact standalone network based on TETRA technology and can be integrated into an existing network. It can be transported in ruggedised boxes and its TETRA system is pre-configured and designed to be plug-and-play.

Karim El Malki, CEO of Athonet, demonstrated his company’s eMBMS (LTE broadcast) system to me, saying that the technology is commercially available. eMBMS allows multicast broadcasting, allowing content that needs to be sent to multiple users over the air to be done in a much more spectrally efficient and cost-effective way. “What we provide is a complete software-based, virtualised, core solution that implements the full LTE packet core, [with] VoLTE, eMBMS, SIM-based authenticated Wi-Fi – very broad functionality,” said Malki. “And we’ve built it in a very simple software-based manner. It’s very easy to manage through a web-based interface and therefore very easy to use by people in verticals, utilities, public safety and so on… In 2012 we did a public safety, maybe the first LTE real emergency deployment, for the earthquake in Italy.”

Malki continued that Athonet is seeking to implement 3GPP Release 13 early and works to anticipate the standards as much as possible. Athonet worked with Rai Way, Italy’s state-owned transmission and broadcasting network provider, to provide a private LTE network at the EXPO 2015 World’s Fair in Milan for video and audio broadcasting. The company also provided its PriMo EPC at the Nürburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix in 2014.

UAVIA, which is collaborating with Air Lynx (an LTE private network provider), demonstrated its remote UAV control technology, which can work over both private and public LTE networks and uses UAV charging stations. The two main use cases it is designed to serve are critical infrastructure monitoring and security for sensitive sites. In the case of the latter, UAVs can automatically be dispatched in response to
an intrusion.

It is clear that the industry has fully embraced mobile broadband’s potential, while being aware of its limitations and the value of existing tried and tested narrowband technology. It will be interesting to see how much progress will be on display at next year’s CCW and it could shed some light on who will be first to market with Release 13 devices.