TCCA CCBG's Pesonen: mission-critical broadband – challenges and priorities

Tero Pesonen was recently re-elected as the chair of TCCA’s Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG). Critical Communications Today catches up with him to learn about its work and the challenges ahead

What are the CCBG’s immediate priorities?

The group will be discussing its future targets at its 19th meeting in March during Critical Communications Europe in Coventry. Over the next two years we will see the bulk of previously identified requirements being addressed in 3GPP standardisation, an increasing number of critical broadband projects will be in the implementation phase and even more will be starting their procurement. There will also be greater understanding of how broadband access enables new solutions and capabilities.

Some of the topics that will be discussed are:

  • Testing and certification
  • Renewal of procurement models
  • Methods for the governing, operation and control of broadband systems in an environment that includes participation from commercial MNOs
  • Deeper and faster co-ordination of 3GPP activities for the entire global critical communications sector
  • Building mutually beneficial relationships with vertical Market Representation Partners in 3GPP and beyond.

It is vital to recognise that the achievements of the CCBG stem from members’ contributions. I am proud and thankful of the efforts given by experts from different stakeholders representing all sides of the table.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenges for mission-critical operators as far as the transition to mobile broadband for mission-critical voice and data is concerned?

I have divided the challenges into four baskets: technology – standards and implementation; service – the roll-out of technology and ensuring network availability, including the introduction of relevant applications; usage – the capability to use the service in the field (including during the transition from narrowband networks); and governance – the legal framework, the mandate to procure according to it and the allocation of resources.

As we have already done quite a lot of work in terms of standardisation, it is high time to advance the three other categories. Governance topics, as they’re tied to political and national budget considerations, tend to be very time-consuming, but are a great opportunity to create a common voice and roadmap with stakeholders, which also helps them to resource and proceed with their operational planning.

What kind of preparatory work can mission-critical operators do to ensure they migrate in a timely manner?

In my home country of Finland, one of the first key activities was to understand how long narrowband can be used for and what needs to be done before technical end of life to ensure there is sufficient time to migrate in an orderly fashion. The next activity was to create a roadmap outlining the different scenarios. Then we started working on the legal aspects and preparing for procurement. At the same time, we encouraged user organisations to upgrade their working procedures and support systems for broadband as well as to support the potential intermediate steps such as complementary broadband data. Also, right at the beginning, at the mission-critical operator level and to a degree in user organisations, Virve, Finland’s nationwide TETRA network, began developing its broadband-related competencies and personnel resources to be ready to take on its role as the mission-critical broadband service operator.

How do you expect public safety organisations’ approach to procurement will change as they start to transition to mission-critical broadband?

Changes are already happening. For instance, critical communications in the broadband era will follow mainstream consumer technology, and the components for each new generation of consumer 4G/5G devices are only available on the market for a few months. This means that if a mission-critical customer were to stick to the traditional approach to procurement, they might end up getting products with end of life components and at a higher cost even before delivery. This means that a different (and much higher) level of agility will be required. With the greater mixture of mission-critical operators, commercial operators and potentially thousands of different applications, the number of interfaces, software versions and related procedures to manage procurements are quite different from the fairly stable and controlled narrowband network environment. It is essential that there is clarity when it comes to the division of responsibilities. However, we should not be too afraid of the future by limiting the innovation space for user organisations. There should be processes in place to efficiently enable trials and development addressing practical ideas from the field.

What is the CCBG currently focusing on in terms of its engagement with standardisation bodies such as 3GPP?

Two very important actions in 3GPP are first to increase the co-ordination between critical communications stakeholders, and secondly to build co-operation with other verticals as well as with the GSMA. I hope to continue our work with 3GPP to encourage new countries and territories to become involved in standardisation. In September 2018, we jointly highlighted the importance of standards work in general, and the work being done for critical communications in particular, to governmental and resource industry stakeholders in Australia. Perhaps this year there will be another opportunity to do something similar in another part of the world.

What do governments need to consider before telling MNOs to meet mission-critical requirements as part of 5G spectrum auctions?

Governments need to have a roadmap to protect society in the long term and understand how to guarantee service availability to all critical communications sectors. Once those are in place it is much easier to draw up balanced and justified requirements for mobile network operators (MNOs). 5G spectrum auctions as well as renewal of current spectrum licences are rare opportunities to address critical communications needs. However, every regulator needs to assess their national situation and decide if some requirements are better funded directly by central governments and which should be left to impact the value of spectrum licences.

I expect that mobile network availability and security requirements will increase as all sectors become more mobile and dependent on data. Public safety, energy and transport may well be the lead verticals on this, but others will follow.

Working with governments to meet the needs of public safety users is a way in which MNOs can differentiate themselves and have at least part of the investments that they will eventually need to make funded publicly.

How do you rank the following: the lack of a perfect substitute for TETRA’s direct mode, the absence of support for Band 68, and the lack of interest from T&M vendors for MCX interoperability testing? Which is the most intractable problem?

The ability to test and certify MCX interoperability is crucial. In TCCA/CCBG we are advancing the ability to enable interoperable system procurement through participating in the ETSI Plugtests™ and co-operating with the Global Certification Forum. We’re also part of the NIST-funded Mission Critical Open Platform project to simplify and streamline mission-critical application development. Without proven multivendor support, national legislation may prevent organisations from moving ahead with their migration to mobile broadband. Naturally, device-to-device communication is a traditional requirement, and on the spectrum side we continuously promote harmonisation.

What is the critical comms community pushing for in Release 17 and beyond?

In 3GPP Release 17 there are ongoing and interesting studies on topics such as asset tracking, critical medical applications and UAVs, as well as support for mission-critical services over 5G systems. There are also studies from Release 16 that will be part of the normative work in Release 17. Release 17 is the Release for the many non-public safety verticals that require very useful features and capabilities for “traditional” critical communications users. For Release 18 and beyond I expect us to come up with a new round of information-centric requirements as we gain experience from mission-critical services in use.

Tero Pesonen CV
Tero Pesonen has been involved in various management tasks in global positions involving strong customer intimacy, strategic business orientation and wide-ranging solution development. He has been involved with the professional mobile radio communication business since 1997 and in particular with promoting and organising TETRA interoperability activities.

Most recently, Pesonen has been involved in groundbreaking work related to new opportunities in mission-critical broadband. He works closely with major public safety and critical infrastructure operators and users in creating advanced solutions to meet mission-critical requirements.

Pesonen has been the chairman of TCCA Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG) since September 2014 and is a TCCA Board member.