Making the first move

Airbus’s Tapio Savunen, leader of a TCCA task force developing a white paper on MNO engagement in the delivery of critical communications, discusses the factors they need to consider when seeking to work with public safety organisations

CCT: Why should mobile network operators (MNOs) engage with public safety organisations?

TS: Public safety organisations are looking for new applications and smart devices to improve the efficiency of missions and the safety and security of citizens and first-responders. Mobile broadband based on 3GPP standards is a key enabler. In many countries, especially in Europe, public safety organisations lack the spectrum to support the construction of dedicated mobile broadband networks, and their ability to invest in these can be limited. This makes MNOs a natural partner for public safety organisations as they have spectrum and wide-area broadband coverage already in place. This is an opportunity for MNOs to leverage their existing assets, address new customer segments and generate new revenue. In addition, many MNOs are already involved in governmental business, and hence public safety business is a natural extension to that.

CCT: Aside from increased revenue, what are the benefits from an MNO’s perspective of adapting its network to serve public safety users?

TS: Naturally the opportunity to increase revenue is the key benefit. However, the partnership with public safety organisations can provide other benefits. These vary from country to country depending on the starting point and government policy, and can include access to additional spectrum, which can also be used with the MNO’s other customers, government-financed network hardening and/or extended coverage. A network with the improved coverage and resilience required to deliver a proper mission-critical service is at a competitive advantage with consumer and enterprise customers. Public safety capabilities are also an advantage for users within the business-critical segment; that is, critical infrastructure, energy, public transportation, etc. And we shouldn’t forget that winning a public safety contract can bring a significant number of new subscribers on board in one go, typically with very low subscriber churn.

CCT: What advice would you give to MNOs that are only just starting to engage with public safety organisations?

TS: If the MNO in not experienced when it comes to co-operating with public safety organisations, a good start is to find an experienced partner. In many countries there is already a critical communications service provider (aka a LMR/PMR operator) that serves public safety organisations and is a trusted partner for them. A critical communications service provider is a natural partner for an MNO. This helps the MNO to focus on its key capabilities and its familiar business model, while the critical communications service provider takes care of the capabilities needed for public safety.

CCT: What can MNOs do to ensure that they have the best possible understanding of the requirements of public safety organisations and their end-users?

TS: Aside from working with an experienced partner as mentioned, TCCA is a valuable forum for MNOs to join, as it represents critical communications users, operators and industry. As well as maintaining TETRA, the leading narrowband mission-critical technology, TCCA is driving the standardisation of critical broadband to ensure an open, competitive market, partnering with ETSI in the MCPTT Plugtests, and is a partner in the Mission Critical Open Platform project that is developing interoperability for MCPTT applications. TCCA facilitates dialogue between the diverse parties involved in the critical communications sector, acting as a forum for open discussion. By joining TCCA and participating in its activities (such as events, work groups and meetings), an MNO can engage in a large network of highly experienced user organisations, operators and other actors, and leverage TCCA’s world-class expertise in critical communications. If an MNO is thinking of entering the critical communications market as a potential new business opportunity, it is better to become involved in TCCA activities today than to do so later on, as that way it can quickly develop its understanding of the critical communications sector.

CCT: What are the main calls on an MNO’s resources before it starts to provide mission-critical mobile broadband services to public safety organisations?

TS: The usual way, especially in Europe, for an MNO to be awarded a commercial agreement for public safety services is a public procurement process. Reaching this point requires a lot of effort and time from the MNO. Part of the process (and agreement) is to agree on the schedule for building the required capabilities and ramping up services to the standards essential to critical users. So, the MNO needs to gather enough information to be able to estimate the investment required and to build a solid business plan; significant investments in advance are not justified before a commercial agreement is in place. Naturally the needed investments and new capabilities are dependent on the MNO’s role in the value chain. Working in collaboration with a critical communications service provider is less demanding than taking care of the whole value chain (as AT&T is doing with FirstNet in the US).

CCT: What is the most challenging aspect for MNOs in terms of engaging with public safety users and how can this be addressed?

TS: Apart from enhancing the commercial network to ensure it has the resilience and availability required by critical users, one of the key challenges is to build a win-win-win business set-up, which provides value for all parties: to the MNO, the critical communications service provider, and public safety organisations and users. A reasonable contract needs to be put in place that offers sustainable business for the MNO, high-quality services for users at a competitive price, while leaving room for technological evolution and innovations. It is not just the MNO that is responsible for the creation of a sustainable business set-up – all parties need to have the same target; this requires trust between all the parties involved.

CCT: At what point should an MNO that is seeking to provide a mission-critical voice and/or data service start its engagement with the ecosystem of public safety equipment and software providers? What should they focus on while doing so?

TS: The key technological focus for an MNO is the mobile network. MNOs have their existing vendors for the core and radio network. These are natural partners for the additional capabilities (coverage, hardening of the network, QoS, etc) needed for public safety services. The engagement would depend on the timescales laid down in the business plan/contract.

Once again, the needed partners are dependent on the MNO’s role in the value chain. If an MNO is in charge of the public safety services without support from a critical communications service provider, it will need more partners/vendors. A good example of this is the difference between the role of EE in the project to roll out the Emergency Services Network (ESN) in the UK and the role of AT&T within the FirstNet project in the US. While both EE and AT&T work closely with government bodies (the Home Office in the case of EE and FirstNet in the case of AT&T), EE is working together with a critical communications service provider and both are acting as contractors to the Home Office, while in the US, several solution vendors’ commercial relationships are with AT&T, not FirstNet.

CCT: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

TS: As well as the mission-critical user segment, which is the largest user base for today’s critical communications, there is another significant segment consisting of business-critical users (such as critical infrastructure, public transport, air and sea ports, manufacturing and the extraction industries). Coverage requirements can be quite different from those of mission-critical users (nationwide vs local coverage) and the partners can be different. Business drivers are also usually different, with business-critical users being more return-on-investment-driven than mission-critical users. Technically an MNO can serve both segments with the same network, but from a business-case point of view these are different propositions. It’s also likely that an MNO can better serve its enterprise users with the capabilities it has developed to meet the requirements of public safety users.

Tapio Savunen CV
Tapio Savunen works as director, strategic marketing at Airbus Defence and Space in the domain of critical communications. He has been working within the ICT industry for more than 25 years. Before he joined Airbus Defence and Space, he worked for many years for Nokia Corporation, where he held several leading positions within programme and business management. Savunen has an M.Sc from the Helsinki University of Technology and he holds many international patents in the domain of mobile communications.