Sam Fenwick reports from Critical Communications Europe in Copenhagen, where interworking across borders and the pros and cons of dedicated and commercial networks for PPDR were a focus for discussion

With more than 700 visitors attending the first day of the event, Critical Communications Europe certainly had a buzz about it. Despite the wintery conditions in Copenhagen, there was a great deal of warmth throughout the two-day event, with sessions that could have been overly dry and technical in the wrong hands being punctuated with a surprising amount of laughter – testament to the welcoming nature of our industry.


During the opening panel session on where governments rank PPDR among other national priorities, Lene Gisselø Maaløe, head of the Emergency Communications Centre (CFB) at Danish National Police, said the contract for the Danish TETRA network (which is supplied under a company-owned, company-operated model) expires in May 2020 [with a possibility for a one year extension to May 2021] and her colleagues are preparing a tender that will be announced later this year, with voice functionality as a core requirement. It will be technology-neutral and will stress the need for safety, stability and availability. Following CC Europe, CFB announced that it had completed a technical dialogue with market players in preparation for the tender.

Cecilie Løken, deputy director general, DNK Norway, said it doesn’t think a new dedicated network for PPDR is the way forward for Norway because of its size and its population of just five million people. She also gave a bit of insight into the political thinking behind investing in public safety networks.

“One of our politicians said when he was fighting to get the funds to build Nødnett: ‘You have to understand that we won’t win an election on putting money towards Nødnett, but we might lose [one if we don’t do it].’ A lot of this is about risk; it is our responsibility to tell the politicians what are the risks and try to translate the technical risks into a language that they can understand, and then it is up to [them] to either accept the risk or to take the cost of doing something. This is where it gets very difficult because they see the risk picture and there’s something else that will win the election that they prefer to [spend] the money on – that’s often the balance.”

She also discussed the recent media coverage in Norway over the news that technicians in India were found to have had unauthorised access to Nødnett’s leased fibre links. Løken explained that 60 per cent of Nødnett’s sites are linked by microwave, with leased fibre accounting for the remaining 40 per cent. One of the leased line providers chose 18 months ago to outsource operations to Tech Mahindra and it split the outsourcing in two; it had one operation centre in Norway and one in India – with the transmission lines used by Nødnett to be operated in Norway, not India.

Løken said: “That should not have happened. And we should have found out. So, what should we have done? Should we have said ‘No, you cannot outsource to Tech Mahindra’? Could we have stopped that? This is one of the biggest fibre companies in Norway. What can you do in that kind of operation [if] you’re not building [it yourself]? You can’t have state-owned fibre all over Norway, it’s a cost that is unacceptable. We must be able to trust our providers. It’s apparently very wrong politically to say that because you can’t do it only based on trust. Of course, I can issue security assessments, but there has to be trust.”

Jeppe Jepsen from the TCCA’s spectrum group pointed the audience’s attention to the battle for spectrum for PPDR use in Sweden, “as that is the place in Europe where [it] is being fought hardest”. He added: “You need to get to the political level to get that spectrum, and Helena [Lindberg, director general of the MSB] and her colleagues and the heads of the national police, the army and the secret service have written to the government. I think that’s the only place in Europe that has managed to get to that level and changed the auction process in Sweden.”


Adrian Scrase, ETSI’s CTO, emphasised the need to retain competency within ETSI for TETRA, and highlighted the large list of vendors looking to participate in the MCPTT plug tests which will help ensure that the standards are written tightly and won’t lead to differences in how they are implemented.

On 5G, he added: “We know exactly what 5G is, what we don’t know is the details of exactly which technologies lie behind 5G, but this is a programme that is meticulously planned. We know exactly what we have to do and when we have to do it by.” He explained that 5G in Release 15 won’t be a complete set of standards but will be sufficient for early adopters such as Korea. Within the 5G standardisation work, enhanced mobile broadband is the first priority. In response to a question from the TCCA’s Jepson on the use of 5G in the 700MHz band, Scrase explained that 3GPP is spectrum-agnostic.

Erik Guttman, 3GPP’s TSG SA chairman, highlighted the need for the public safety community to participate in the development of Release 14, which will enhance the MCPTT features included in 3GPP Release 13. “We do not have the huge focus on [public safety features] in Release 14 for stage 3 that we had in Release 13. In Release 13, it was really the biggest focus we had in 3GPP, along with some IoT work. Whereas here, there’s been a shift in focus towards the 5G work. So we really need experts [to participate]. I’m not saying that we don’t have heroic experts by some companies, but we need more,” he said.

ESN update

Steve Whatson, deputy director of the ESMCP, gave an update on the work being done to transition the UK’s emergency service from the Airwave TETRA network to the Emergency Services Network (ESN), with some more detail on the work being done to roll out the 230 masts in 38 rural areas on the Extended Area Services programme. The delivery contract for acquire, design and build (ADB) services was awarded to Lendlease last October for Lot 1 (Scotland and Borders) and Lot 2 (England and Wales), and there will be further lots to include transmission, with the Home Office acting as the prime contractor for ADB services. March will see community and local stakeholder engagement to inform planning decisions, and planning applications will be submitted in April and May this year, with site acquisition from landlords continuing throughout.

With the London Underground, a solution that will provide ESN coverage is needed for the start of London’s transition in January 2019, and Whatson said Transport for London (TfL) is investigating two options, both of which are being progressed: MORAN and active DAS (with BTS hotels). Whichever is used, TfL will install new high-capacity leaky feeders in the Underground’s tunnels. Whatson said he had seen Release 12 devices from three different suppliers.


On the first day of the event, Jarmo Vinkvist, CEO of Suomen Virveverkko Oy, the Finnish TETRA network operator, and DNK Norway’s Løken signed a letter of intent to connect their respective national shared authority networks using a TETRA inter-system interface (ISI).

On the second day, during a panel session on interoperability, Leonardo’s ISITEP project co-ordinator Claudio Becchetti said in Europe there are the necessary legal agreements to allow police co-operation between borders, but: “[We must] now cope with the European citizens who say that the first priorities are immigration and terrorism, now there is a political need to do [ISI].”

Phil Kidner, CEO of the TCCA, agreed with this, adding: “The world has changed; Europe has changed – whereas the requirement was originally ‘Let’s chase this guy across this artificial line on the map’, that’s not what it is any more. The incidents in Paris, Brussels and Germany changed the map. Jeppe [Jepsen] constantly tells me it needs a disaster for this to happen and we’ve had those disasters, and this is what’s going to happen. We have to work more closely together to address the issues, and this is one of the tools that will enable that to happen.” Kidner added that he doesn’t expect the agreement between Finland and Norway [that was signed during the event] to be the last of its kind. “I expect to see several other countries in Europe working with their neighbours,” he said.

Eric Davalo, CTO, Secure Land Communications, Airbus Defence and Space, was asked what were the main technical issues that had to be addressed as part of the ISI Norway-Sweden project. He explained there is always a need for users and trials to work out which parts of the protocol have been interpreted differently by the manufacturers.

“It took a significant amount of day-to-day work to test all the different features that [they] want to implement to make sure that all the interpretations were correct. It wasn’t only between the switches... everyone had to make some adaptations on the device side to make sure that the end-to-end ISI was working. I don’t think it was terrible work from an R&D point of view… I think the people defining the operational model had a much more challenging task, and what we have seen, all this, was done in a very detailed [way], so that everything worked pretty well.”

He added that during the official demonstration of Norway-Sweden ISI on 18 November, the end-users, rather than engineers, could show and explain how group communications would work when crossing the border. “This was the real proof that ISI was completely understood and adopted [by the end-users].”

Barbara Held, director of operations at BDBOS, said “sometimes just along the road and timeline, things just don’t come together”, noting that Germany was the first to invest in ISI and “we didn’t quite manage to come up with a sustainable business case”. She also noted that Germany is a “very complicated partner because we’re very security-conscious and our end-to-end encryption is always a problem with every kind of communication with another network, so we have a lot of individual solutions with the Netherlands, with Austria, with Switzerland and so forth.

“Perhaps the next step will be to have a more central solution for ISI, a sort of hub, to which countries can go to get modules and maybe guidelines and standardised concepts for implementing something like ISI. Maybe this is lacking because I’m convinced that if we implemented an ISI solution with Austria, it would look completely different from the one that [Norway/Sweden] have implemented, because our users would think that East Germany and Austria would need something very specific.”

Marianne Storrøsten, the project manager for the Norwegian part of the Norway/Sweden ISI project, said: “It’s not a border region set-up, we do envision that when the Swedish prime minister visits some far island on the western coast of Norway that he can take his bodyguard and [security team] with him and they can talk to [both] the local police [who] will also guard them and [their control room back home]. They also envision using this for national authorities [so] they can have conference calls when crises appear. This is not planned yet, but we are talking about it.”

Storrøsten added she is worried that the walls between different countries’ TETRA networks will be replicated with the move to LTE, and that it is much easier to combine the necessary procedures if it is known “they will carry through many countries”.

Speaking of many countries, David Lund, BroadMap co-ordinator, and Sanja Holen, radio communication system designer at the Croatian Ministry of the Interior, discussed the pipeline of work that is looking to enable public safety officials to roam securely on LTE devices across Europe. The BroadMap project will establish the PPDR requirements, a core set of specifications and a roadmap for this to take place, with the results being presented to non-industry stakeholders on 6 April. The European Commission will then begin the three-year BroadWay project in 2018, which the BroadMap organisers are looking to run, for the R&D and pre-commercial work needed, before full commercial procurement and deployment begins under the BroadNet project around 2020-2022. Holen said the users involved in BroadMap say it is the right way to gather their requirements and welcome its decision to not involve industry in the process.

BDBOS’s Held presented the conclusions from the TCCA’s CCBG study on hybrid broadband networks for public safety use. It notes that the security of commercial networks is a potential risk compared with their dedicated counterparts, and that if a government is concerned about the control of public safety communications, some dedicated network capacity is essential because commercial businesses can be bought and sold, new owners might have different priorities and there can be concerns about some foreign suppliers.

The study also states that it should not be assumed that all MNOs would wish to take on the task of meeting public safety users’ needs, so early engagement with them is strongly recommended. The study also concludes that there is little benefit in waiting for 5G to arrive, noting that public safety users are not a target group for 5G and that 5G in 700MHz will be closely based on LTE Advanced Pro. The report says there is no ideal solution for every government – decisions will be different depending on the age of each country’s current public safety networks and the availability of spectrum for PPDR.

The French way

Emmanuelle Villebrun, co-ordinator in network development at the French Ministry of the Interior, discussed her country’s situation, noting that at present Tetrapol is used in 400MHz and 80MHz, alongside Neogend and Neopol for data applications. Therefore France is already operating a hybrid model, but Villebrun said there is a need for voice/data convergence and highlighted the possibility of Tetrapol becoming obsolete, capacity issues, and its lack of indoor coverage.

When talking about the next steps, she noted that any replacement would have to take place under very strict budgetary constraints and avoid the use of proprietary fall-back modes that limit the number of manufacturers and interoperability. Villebrun said the range of LTE’s ProSe feature for device-to-device communications is not enough for France, being 500 metres when its public safety organisations require 5km, with tactical networks being a possible alternative if the price is not prohibitive.

France is looking to migrate to LTE for public safety with the potential subsequent introduction of 5G services in two phases. The first phase will be the PC STORM project, which will tender for a solution for 10,000 special forces users, to provide visibility of the complete architecture and a real-world proof of concept, with a total cost of €5m, potentially going up to €20m. It will be split into seven lots. Villebrun said this tender is expected to be completed by the end of this year and that there are no plans to buy equipment using the 450MHz band as no terminals are currently available. She added that a cost of around €2,000 per terminal would not be acceptable. The operational and financial feedback from this project will be used to inform the second phase, which will start with a tender in 2020 for the extension of this service to all PPDR users and the migration from LTE to 5G.

From the exhibition hall

There was much to see and do in the exhibition hall. Motorola Solutions’ senior product marketing manager Richard Bennett showed me DIMETRA Express, his company’s new expandable single-site, fully integrated TETRA system that can be deployed within 15 minutes, though it is not primarily intended for fast response scenarios. It provides all the voice, short data services (SDS) and telephony services users require in a small physical footprint. The system is both light-weight, weighing around 45 kilograms, and energy-efficient, and can be set up and configured by a Windows or Android laptop or tablet, removing the need for cumbersome consoles.

The system is then managed and operated through intuitive web-based applications and tools. It requires a single IP address, reducing set-up and ongoing maintenance costs. To address a range of capacity requirements, it is available as a TETRA switch with either one or three base stations in the same box. Bennett explained that part of the thinking behind DIMETRA Express is to reduce the perceived complexity of TETRA as a communications technology. It will ship in the third quarter of this year.

Martin Whitcroft and Todd Bridges discussed Motorola’s LXN500 ultra-portable LTE network in a box, which at the time of the event was in beta, and the company is looking to commercialise it in Q3. It is designed to provide coverage in a 1km radius to around 100 subscribers for tactical teams dealing with incidents, and will provide PTT over cellular and video-streaming. In addition to the form factor on display, the company is considering a backpack version with hot-swappable batteries.

Hytera’s marketing manager, Robert Green, and Tony Li, sales manager for Nordic countries, showed me a pre-production version of its combination body-worn video camera and speaker microphone, which will support Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Both it and the company’s dual-mode handsets will be made available this summer. They explained that in the case of the handsets, the PTT button will use the PMR bearer, with LTE voice working via an app.

Rod Stafford, Sepura’s director of applications discussed Portalify, an application that sends images over TETRA via SDS. The whole process – converting the image to be sent into 15 SDS messages, sending it to users and then converting it back, takes around 20 seconds, depending on the device’s processing power. Stafford added that the biggest challenge is people’s perception – that you can’t do this without broadband or killing the network, when in fact neither is the case.

I tried out the CCF Hands-on Training web-based course for TETRA radios provided by TETRAsim. It was an interesting guide to the fundamentals, though I confess to finding it hard to quickly remember all the pre-saved quick response messages that were tied to different number keys, making me wonder if a mnemonic might be of use. While I realise that TETRA radios can vary in how they are configured, it seemed counter-intuitive to use the arrow keys to select categories of talk groups and then the dial to change between talk groups, making me wonder if a two-tiered dial might be easier to use.

Ole Arrhenius, operational marketing manager at Airbus Defence and Space, explained how his company has moved from using Nokia’s DX200 platform for its TETRA switches to using virtualised switching running on commercial servers, starting with its Taira range of TETRA servers, which are just starting to be delivered. Rahim Zaknoun, business solutions manager at Airbus DS, also showed me a link to a 360-degree camera back at his lab in Helsinki and suggested that this technology might have a role to play in providing additional situational awareness.

Over at the DAMM stand, Per Holgersen, system solution manager at Semco Maritime, talked to me about his company’s SemPAM people and asset management solution for working 5-100km offshore where there is no pre-existing telecoms infrastructure, which it developed in co-operation with software company Systematic. He discussed the system they have implemented for the Vattenfall Horns Rev 3 offshore wind turbine project off the Danish west coast.

The system uses VHF radios and TETRA (with three IP65 base stations supplied by DAMM and connected by 7GHz microwave links) to allow managers and co-ordinators to communicate with personnel and see their locations in real time (using RFID technology, with TETRA as the carrier) and to be able to click on an icon of a vessel on a real-time map in order to call them. SemPAM’s product suite is designed to make it easy to check that everyone on a task has the correct certifications, and can be used to send a link to first-time-on-site employees for site induction.

Critical Communications Europe had a huge amount of content, and this review barely scratches the surface. While there may be no one-size-fits-all answer to the riddle of how countries should deploy broadband for public safety users, it will be interesting to see further details emerge and the extent to which the desire for working across borders will influence their choices in the years to come.

This article has been corrected - the orginal version incorrectly stated that the French Tetrapol network operates in 800 MHz.

Author: Tetra Today