TCCA: new strategy, same goal

Mladen Vratonjić, TCCA Board Chair, speaks to Sam Fenwick about TCCA’s strategy and priorities, along with some of the biggest issues in the mission-critical communications market

Tell us about TCCA board’s revised strategy.

We have refreshed and simplified the existing TCCA strategy, acknowledging the changing roles of narrowband and critical broadband, and the state of play across different global markets. The revised strategy will see TCCA extending its relationships with global, regional and national policy-making bodies. We will aim to shape policy that is conducive to expanding critical communications broadband capabilities while at the same time ensuring the longevity of TETRA. Looking to 5G, we will strengthen our liaison with industry-specific organisations to identify and develop common areas of interest that fall under the critical communications field.

We will also work to ensure mission-critical-related 3GPP broadband testing and interoperability gaps are addressed, and support where necessary with additional expert resources, certification processes and systems. TCCA will collaborate with our members and partners to analyse how multi-vendor testing and interoperability testing is best achieved.

The major developments driving this evolution of TCCA’s strategic directions can be summarised as:

  • good progress in the development of critical communications broadband elements of 3GPP standards
  • uncertainty related to the allocation of sufficient dedicated spectrum to PPDR agencies
  • the shift towards public operators as (future) providers of critical communications services.

Our revised strategy will better position TCCA to continue to lead the transformation of critical communications, with the major goal, as ever, to best serve our members and the whole critical communications community.

What is TCCA currently doing to promote the interests of the utilities and transport sectors?

PMR systems are widely used in transport, utilities and many other sectors. This will remain the case for many years to come. There are cases of recent switching from GSM-R to TETRA in railways. TCCA will continue to run TETRA-related activities through TC TCCE in ETSI but also, through its working groups – the Technical Forum, Security and Fraud Prevention Group as well as the TETRA Industry Group – protecting and evolving the standard and promoting the benefits of TETRA to users worldwide. TCCA will also take care that specific business-critical features are implemented in 3GPP standards too. Two pillars of 5G communications: mMTC (massive machine type communications) and URLLC (ultra-reliable low-latency communications) are also of huge importance for non-mission-critical sectors and we’ll make sure that their needs are properly addressed through our SCADA and IoT, CCBG and New Technologies expert groups.

Given that the initial meeting of the International Governmental Operators’ Forum (IGOF) indicated that cybersecurity in the context of broadband environments is the most important issue for its members, what is TCCA looking to do around this?

Because of the interconnectedness and evolving architecture of future broadband networks, security is considered one of the most important topics that must be addressed by TCCA community. Through our SFPG, CCBG and other working groups TCCA works collaboratively with ETSI, 3GPP and other relevant organisations such as GSMA security working groups to ensure all mission-critical-related broadband security gaps are addressed. It will produce appropriate security documentation including that related to the wider security context, and provide professional guidance to TCCA membership.

Part of the rationale behind TCCA’s involvement in 3GPP is to help realise the greatest possible economies of scale for users of critical communications, through better alignment with the wider telecommunications industry. Tell us more.

TETRA, P25, DMR are open standards, but they are dedicated standards for critical communications. By entering the 3GPP world, critical communications are now mainstream. 3GPP broadband standards incorporate critical user requirements and features. With TCCA’s continuous support and involvement as the Market Representation Partner, 3GPP standards are progressing well. With Release 15, we consider the majority of TETRA functionality to be standardised for broadband. The advantages are that many standard elements of broadband networks can be used also for critical communications; the ecosystem is larger, there are more producers, application developers, and operators.

The introduction of critical broadband doesn’t mean that all of the standardised features will be available immediately. If equipment released is standards-compliant, that may mean that only the subset of features and characteristics, that are standardised, will be implemented. There may be a danger that users will have to wait for additional features to be developed, but open standards increase competition, and the support and promotion of all standardisation and research work is the basis for TCCA’s existence.

Due to spectrum and funding constraints, the most popular approach so far seems to be to expand and harden a commercial mobile network operator’s network, adding priority and pre-emption for public safety users and a dedicated core to handle their traffic. However, this could be argued to create issues around control and responsibility. How can these be minimised?

The most important considerations are to have appropriate and solid regulatory and contractual policies in place, with ownership, responsibilities, service level agreements and quality levels clearly defined. The essential service characteristics that must be agreed are availability, resilience and security. The physical redundancy of core elements may also be requested. Access to metadata about users, such as user identities, their locations and traffic patterns must be protected and in general made unavailable within an operator. Only a limited group of certified persons should have such access, based on a need-to-know basis.

What can governments do to ensure that their procurement processes result in good value for money together with high levels of accountability and cost control?

It is all about good and timely planning, and of course open standards enabling a competitive market. Government organisations will have to go through a full procurement process including consultation, planning, testing and learning, tender creation and issuing, contract negotiations, possible legal challenges, implementation, testing and validation and introduction to operational use. This can typically take four to six years. The introduction of Release 15-compliant products by vendors and operators is expected by 2022, although that does not mean a mission-critical service will be immediately available on a commercial network requiring extra coverage, resilience and security to meet the most demanding mission-critical requirements. So our advice is, better get started now!

Is TCCA looking to become involved in new tech such as body-worn video cameras, drones, AI/machine learning and facial recognition?

TCCA is reaching out to and building relationships with key players in emerging technology segments for critical communications such as AR, VR, AI, IoT and drones, and connecting them with TCCA members to proactively drive a rich broadband application ecosystem of complementary technologies. The target is to build critical mass, momentum and knowledge across the end-user, operator, research and vendor community, and to grow the overall solution space for users. For example, there was huge interest in the AI sessions at CCW19 in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, and we will build on that going forward.

What are you currently focusing on?

TCCA will always focus on what is important to its members. These activities include promoting the benefits of TETRA, driving the standardisation of critical features in 3GPP, and developing centres of information and expertise for new technologies. We are also planning and organising CCW2020 in Madrid in June next year. When we choose the location for CCW, we aim to give a boost to the local critical communications market and, at the same time, to find an attractive location where participants would like to come. For CCW in Madrid we will as always work hard to ensure it is a dynamic, engaging and memorable event for visitors and exhibitors, showcasing that TCCA’s perception of present and future critical communications is a perfect ‘20/20 vision’.

Mladen Vratonjić CV

Mladen Vratonjić is chairman of the board at TCCA. He has more than 35 years’ experience in telecommunications, including 15 years in public safety. He was responsible for all telecommunication systems for the Serbian police and fire brigades including the emergency call centres and Serbia’s public safety TETRA network.

Vratonjiić is vice-president at the EENA (European Emergency Number Association). He has worked as an expert for Geneva DCAF (Democratic Control of Armed Forces), as public safety specialist at Motorola Solutions, and served as chair of the Western Balkans Telecommunications Committee for improvement of cross-border co-operation.