Dare to dream BIG

Philippe Agard and Jason Johur of TCCA’s Broadband Industry Group (BIG) speak to TETRA Today about how 5G may benefit critical communications users, BIG’s activities and the challenges ahead

To what extent do you feel that the amount of attention the big cellular network vendors can pay to critical communications products has been affected by the race to be first to market with 5G?

In many ways, the interest in 5G by industries, government, operators and equipment vendors has benefited critical communications. Globally, demand is clearly growing for higher performance, greater capacity and lower latency services that will be required by future industries and critical national infrastructure. Governments in Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific recognise the increasing importance of 5G.

While the initial focus for 5G is for enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), we can also see a lot of attention on the ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC) characteristics that are central to many critical communications requirements. We also believe that there will be more interest in the enhanced Machine-Type Communication (eMTC) that is central to many other critical communications markets, such as energy, mining, oil and gas, etc., and will have a transformational impact towards Industry 4.0. So, the work of the standardisation community continues to benefit critical communications.

The pace of introduction to market of mission-critical features is not so much a push from the vendors as some may think but mainly a pull from industry and governments, particularly when the major public safety LTE networks start to roll out.

Conversely, are there any non-public-safety-specific features of 5G that BIG sees as offering great value to MNOs looking to serve mission-critical users?

As mentioned, the targets of IMT2020 (5G) are for eMBB, URLLC and eMTC. All these developments will be able to benefit critical communications users that have been in niche markets. Wider industry support will open up a whole host of solutions and applications that critical communications operators will be able to use for their own specific critical communication requirements.

Vehicle-to-X and network slicing are capabilities that could bring significant benefits to the critical communications community. For network slicing, it could provide the necessary element of control that most customers with dedicated networks today are used to [and] will enable them to adopt and benefit from hybrid or commercial implementation models.

What role does BIG play in the effort to produce standardised solutions that will offer the public safety features present in 3GPP Releases 13, 14 and 15?

BIG was established on 1 September 2017, i.e. towards the end of the release of 3GPP Release 15. Given some temporary resource constraints in 3GPP, the BIG aided the process of prioritisation for standardisation of the remaining mission-critical features based on a consolidated view of market demand. Those features that did not make it in Release 15 will automatically be considered for Release 16.

Furthermore, we must recognise the considerable effort that has been provided by members of 3GPP. Without a co-ordinated and focused effort, we would not be in the position today where the bulk of mission-critical services have been standardised and are enabling 3GPP mission-critical networks and services to be rolled out. That said, like all standards, they are continuously evolving and further enhancements and features will be added in subsequent releases.

BIG will engage at the start of the 3GPP Release 16 planning phase, with the aim to provide a consolidated feature prioritisation for the first meetings in April.

What is the focus of BIG’s work at the moment?

BIG is currently looking at a diverse range of initiatives. Other than those already mentioned, these include (but are not limited to): the creation of BIG-authored whitepapers; reviewing other draft TCCA papers to ensure that broadband aspects are appropriately covered; reviewing and updating (if necessary) TCCA’s broadband implementation roadmap given recent milestones being achieved with 3GPP standards and harmonised spectrum; organising a masterclass for broadband practitioners at CCW 2018; and reaching out to more device and chipset vendors to join the BIG.

The BIG already has participation from the largest LTE/5G infrastructure vendors, namely Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, as well as other major equipment and device vendors such as Airbus, Bittium, Etelm, Leonardo, Motorola Solutions and Thales.

Which of the mission-critical features that have been standardised by 3GPP appear to be the most challenging to implement, from a technical perspective?

Proximity services is an area which has been standardised; however, take-up of this functionality by chipset vendors has been slower than expected. That said, given the ringing endorsement of US, UK and South Korea for nationwide public safety broadband networks, and with many more planned in Europe and elsewhere, it is likely that we will see developments in this area with the support from BIG members. The existence of deployable LTE systems provides another way to address the use-case.

Furthermore, new functionality is being developed in Release 15, and planned for Release 16, in the area of Vehicle-to-X communications that is expected to bring further advancements that will close the gap further, as well as expand in many other directions that traditional Direct Mode Operation (DMO) was unable to offer.

To what extent does the BIG work to promote the use of harmonised spectrum and other approaches intended to prevent the relatively small critical communications market from fragmenting?

The BIG is part of TCCA, which promotes the use of 3GPP harmonised spectrum, and this is naturally central to the efforts of the BIG vendor participants. This applies whether this spectrum will be used for commercial, hybrid or dedicated LTE deployments.

Does the BIG see a potential obstacle to the success of public safety LTE in the cost of providing in-building and nationwide coverage (especially for nations with large territories and low population densities) and, if so, is it working on any potential solutions, such as advocating a modular/pre-fabricated approach to radio site construction?

BIG does not see an obstacle to the success of critical communications in being able to provide the necessary coverage and capacity solutions required by customers. In many cases, adopting a ‘hybrid’ approach, leveraging MNO infrastructure assets wherever possible, combined with elements of dedicated infrastructure, will provide a cost-effective approach to provide in-building and nationwide coverage.

We do not view spectrum as an issue either, now that we have coverage bands available in 3GPP such as 450MHz, 700MHz and 800MHz, as well as capacity bands in 2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz.

In addition, the use of deployable LTE systems is being considered by public safety agencies as an extra tool to provide coverage in all circumstances.

Philippe Agard is chair of TCCA’s Broadband Industry Group (BIG), a TCCA board member and Nokia’s public safety and defence segment leader. Jason Johur is vice-chair of BIG and head of market development, mission-critical and private networks, Ericsson.

The Broadband Industry Group (BIG) is a working group of TCCA. It was formed to drive market adoption of standardised mission-critical LTE/5G capabilities for the benefit of critical communication operators, service providers and users.

The work of the BIG builds on the achievements of TCCA, which includes TCCA’s role as 3GPP Market Representation Partner. The latter is the specific responsibility of TCCA’s Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG), which enables and supports the development of open standards and interoperability, and undertakes research.

Image credit: Erillisverkot