Driving the agenda, delivering the results

TCCA’s Tero Pesonen and Jason Johur provide an overview of the work of its Critical Communications Broadband Group and Broadband Industry Group

Members of TCCA's Critical Communications Broadband Group

Last year was truly busy for TCCA and the global critical communications community. Critical Communications World (CCW) in Helsinki was an incredibly well-attended event, with the highest turnout for many years. The heightened interest in mission-critical mobile broadband communications was palpable, and is only increasing.

TCCA Working Groups drive the work of the association, and the key meetings for 2023 were the Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG), chaired by TCCA Board vice-chair Tero Pesonen, and the Broadband Industry Group (BIG), chaired by TCCA Board member Jason Johur. The meetings took place in November 2023 in Krakow, hosted by TCCA member Motorola Solutions. Many active initiatives were discussed, and further progress will be presented at Critical Communications World 2024 on 14-16 May in Dubai, UAE.

CCBG is TCCA’s Working Group in charge of co-ordinating all the critical broadband-related activities. It operates internally via taskforces, and externally represents TCCA in 3GPP standardisation as well as at various other meetings and events. 

The baseline is a common open standard that continues to evolve to meet current and future mission-critical communication requirements. Connectivity everywhere is the fundamental need as it forms the lifeline for first-responders in the field. But, of course, this can only be achieved if appropriate capacity and robustness of the service are available at all times – even, or especially, during disasters. TCCA is advocating in 3GPP Release 19 network-to-device and device-to-device (D2D) connectivity over multiple hops to extend network coverage, for instance underground.

Another priority topic to improve coverage and resilience is non-terrestrial networks, that is satellite connection to enable connection wherever the sky is visible. For both features, CCBG has a specific taskforce in place.

NTN is on the brink of finalising its work to provide mission-critical communications requirements for NTN services in order to help the satellite industry to work on solutions that will also serve public safety. For D2D, the taskforce was founded in February this year, together with Qualcomm. This is to specify and prioritise the use-cases, and define as far as possible common global markets and items such as spectrum need and potential frequency bands. Once the NTN and D2D requirements translate into products, these previously foreseen key functional services should be available.

Looking to the future, CCBG and BIG are in the process of forming TCCA’s 6G common position around the theme of ‘trust’ – seen through the lens of availability, robustness, recovery, integrity and security, all these being aspects that our communications-dependent society and economy are heavily reliant upon to stay functioning under all conditions.

Information security

In parallel to the aforementioned initiatives, other 3GPP-related topics being worked on by CCBG include the Mission Critical Broadband Callout service. This should be thought of as a rich paging experience, providing alerts – for instance – to standby first-responders in a call to duty; plus the interworking function (IWF) that defines the mission-critical services (MCX) connection between TETRA and 3GPP broadband networks.

In addition to the standard, there are plenty of other actions also required to ensure MC broadband services. The need for information security is paramount considering the often-delicate nature of the content that is being shared via critical communication systems. The Cybersecurity Task Force is preparing guidelines to raise stakeholders’ awareness of international organisations contributing to security standards. It is also raising awareness of established cybersecurity frameworks, as well as identifying assets of the new critical communication broadband networks to ease the verification from an end-to-end service point of view.

There is a need for such guidance, as the value chain becomes more complex and the number of stakeholders – and correspondingly the threat vectors – increases.

CCBG’s MC Applications Task Force is looking into issues related to mobile operating systems to ensure they support field operations, and that, for instance, updates can be made available in a controlled fashion, and first-responders’ equipment upgraded when it is safe to do so.

The taskforce on massive MC video, in turn, addresses the community’s key challenges regarding the widespread use of video by first-responders during high-intensity events, through examining network and application solutions as well as operational aspects.

New spectrum actions

In the US, FirstNet users have the possibility to utilise high-power user equipment (HPUE), providing significant and highly improved coverage and throughput extension at the cell edge when there is otherwise a risk of losing connectivity.

CCBG’s HPUE Task Force seeks solutions as to what form and shape HPUE could be realised in other parts of the world, especially in Europe and Australasia. This may require new spectrum-related actions on the agenda of the Spectrum Task Force.

The Spectrum Task Force’s goal is to promote the importance of spectrum for critical communications. For the past couple of years, this has been most of all establishing TCCA’s joint position for the WRC2023 (World Radio Conference), which took place at the end of last year.

The key interest was in the allocation of 600MHz for mobile broadband communication as the primary service to enable more spectrum to be allocated for mobile services and to critical communications as a dedicated or shared resource. This demand was heard, but only partially implemented, thus the work on this needs to continue in subsequent WRCs.

The Spectrum Task Force is also preparing TCCA’s position for the future of the 380MHz band that had been harmonised decades ago in Europe for PPDR narrowband services. Eventually, when European nations have moved from narrowband networks to MC broadband, this frequency band becomes available for new services. It is an opportunity that needs to be managed carefully for the benefit of critical communications users.

The Spectrum Task Force is also committed to address questions concerning air-ground-air (AGA or A2G), D2D sidelink and HPUE.

The ability to operate across borders to provide support during incidents has been a desire for many years. In TETRA, this has been operationally established between Finland, Norway and Sweden.

To enable broadband MCX services across networks, both nationally and internationally, TCCA has a taskforce on 4G/5G mission-critical roaming, jointly with the GSMA and the European Commission’s BroadEU.net project, managed with PSC-E.

Multinational co-operation is also at the core of the decision to establish a new taskforce to define common requirements for MC broadband devices. It has been decided to take the benefit of the Nordic Rugged Device Requirements specification published at Critical Communications World 2023. The baseline specification has been created as a joint effort between the Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish public safety operators and users.

Co-operation in certification

Similarly, a decision has been made to establish a new taskforce for addressing control rooms and the certification of the control room MCX connection. This will complement the work being done in the joint Global Certification Forum (GCF)–TCCA Mission
Critical Services (MCX) workstream for MCX 3GPP conformance certification and, in due course, for MCX interoperability certification.

Furthermore, many public safety operators are gaining practical experience, either from operational broadband services like Virve 2 in Finland or from test networks. To address the need to exchange findings in a confidential environment, a Broadband Practical Problems Evaluation Task Force has been
newly established for TCCA’s public safety members.

The objective of this taskforce, in addition to facilitating information exchange between those responsible for MC broadband networks and services testing, is to formulate TCCA guidance for the critical communications community to enable others to avoid or solve similar issues.

An important part of CCBG’s work, and in particular its plenary agendas, are the updates from different nations on their critical broadband implementation status and any issues identified.

Also, briefings from other TCCA working groups such as the Legal and Regulatory Working Group (LRWG), and updates from TCCA’s partners EUTC on the utilities sector, the 450MHz Alliance on 450MHz broadband worldwide ecosystem development, and BroadEU.net on its progress. This is to mention just a few.

Plenty has happened, plenty is happening and plenty will happen. The success is in co-operation.

Vendor community

Complementing the role of CCBG is TCCA’s BIG, which represents the common voice of the 3GPP broadband industry vendor community within TCCA. It addresses key topics of interest from user, operator and industry perspectives.

On the agenda for the BIG meeting in Krakow were a range of topics that included QPP (quality of service, priority and pre-emption) and evaluating the merits of creating an associated implementation guide. QPP is particularly important when deploying MC communication services over commercial mobile networks.

In addition, we discussed the latest findings from the Massive MC Video Task Force, updates from a host of other CCBG-led taskforces and general market updates on broadband spectrum trends. Another key topic of interest revolved around news emanating from the latest ETSI MCX Plugtests, where Qualcomm, Softil and Leonardo – in partnership with Texas A&M University – showcased an early prototype of 5G sidelink capability (D2D communications). This created significant interest and fervent questioning in both the BIG and CCBG meetings.

Since the beginning of this year, in addition to work continuing in existing taskforces, work has also begun in earnest on several new topics, some driven by BIG, with others requiring the active contribution of all CCBG members. These include:

Supporting the creation of a new taskforce to co-ordinate widespread user and industry efforts to reach consensus on D2D sidelink market requirements. This taskforce is led by Thibault Holley.

Similarly, another kick-off session was held to scope the creation of a QPP implementation guide. This follows in the footsteps of the work previously done by TCCA in 2023 defining the QPP term more strictly – the latter being referred to by the LRWG’s QPP white paper. This taskforce is led by Jason Johur.

A kick-off session was held to begin the process of forming the TCCA 6G common position referred to earlier. This will outline the high-level themes that TCCA membership would like conveyed as input to this summer’s 3GPP SA plenary discussion on scoping 6G standardisation priorities. This taskforce is being led by Ricardo Blasco and Jason Johur.

BIG/CCBG members continue to contribute to the valuable work of various ongoing taskforces. These include mission-critical roaming (led by Renaud Mellies), PPDR B68/28 enhancements (Jason Johur), broadband spectrum (Luz Fernandez del Rosal, Noel Kirkaldy), non-terrestrial networks (Renaud Mellies), cybersecurity (Filippo Gaggioli), MC broadband apps and devices (Tim Clark), high-power user equipment (Tim Clark) and massive MC video (Sami Honkaniemi, Sanne Stijve). The latter aims to conclude its findings and recommendations for publication at CCW24.

In addition to the above, there is also an intention to update TCCA’s Mission Critical 5G white paper, originally published in 2021. This is to bring it in line with the latest changes agreed in 3GPP, and also incorporate more details in the area of MCX services migration from 4G to 5G Non-Standalone and eventually 5G Standalone architectures.

CCW 2024

For those familiar with the wider telecommunications industry, CCW can be thought of as the Mobile World Congress of the global critical communications sector. For this community, it is the pinnacle event of the year, bringing together most regions of the world to discuss matters affecting current and future mission-critical mobile communications.

At CCW this year - which took place in Dubai - BIG, in co-operation with CCBG, organised Focus Forum sessions covering themes and topics around 3GPP standards, technology and implementation aspects related to MC broadband solutions.

The intention behind these sessions was to provide interactive presentations with leading experts in the field. The audience was encouraged to participate, speak up and challenge these experts with pertinent questions related to the topic at hand.

Specific topics included:

  • Executive briefing regarding ongoing broadband-related task force
  • What is QPP and why it matters?
  • Key findings and recommendations from the massive MC video study
  • Developments in the field of MC devices and applications.

Attendees at Focus Forum sessions have said they leave with a greater connection to the major topics of interest. They also leave with a better understanding of the key issues currently facing industry and the user community, and how these are being addressed primarily through TCCA.

As the leading critical communications association, forum and platform, our members and partners collaborate and co-operate to drive change and enhance critical communications for the benefit of all.

Pesonen is TCCA’s Board member representing Erillisverkot. Johur is TCCA’s Board member representing Ericsson.