As Berlin hosted Critical Communications World 2018, it was only fitting for Critical Communications Today to cover Germany and Austria in its show issue, with a focus on TETRA’s status and the first steps towards the use of LTE by public safety organisations

When it comes to critical communications, there is something of a ‘holy trinity’ that is present in every country and every region: infrastructure, terminals and control rooms. Every tale has to start somewhere, so let’s begin with the first two.

According to Markus Kolland, head of sales and program delivery for Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, Secure Land Communications at Airbus, both Germany and Austria have opted for a very similar route in terms of public safety communications. “Both countries are federal, so the first thing they decided was to put all public safety users on one network organised at the federal level. That was a good decision and it has really paid off, as seen by the G7 and G20 summits Germany has recently hosted, where the interworking between all the public safety forces over a single network was extremely helpful and highlighted as a big contributing factor to their success.”

He adds that while both countries started roughly around the same time (Austria began roll-out around 2006, while Germany “kicked off its mass roll-out in 2008, but more in 2009”), their federal structure means that “it takes some time to build up their networks” and Germany has built out its network faster than Austria, which still has to roll it out across two States. Hooman Safaie, regional director at Sepura, lists these as Vorarlberg and Carinthia. “These two are working to complete the network infrastructure and they’re planning to start working with TETRA around 2020.”

Kolland says that because of their similar timescales, both countries’ TETRA networks are soon due for mid-life upgrades, including the move to IP, and that this programme of work includes “very strong preparation for the move into the broadband services world”.

Safaie says the federal networks in both countries cover both police and non-police organisations, such as fire and rescue services, and in the case of the latter, there are some disparities between different states when it comes to their access to TETRA terminals. Those in states such as Thuringia in Germany are just starting to receive them, while “there are some regions in Germany, including Baden-Württemberg, that have not even started to look at this for their non-police forces”. This means there is a mix of states that are close to replacing or refreshing their current fleet of terminals, “those who are just about to get them and those who have not even decided to change to TETRA, which is good but at the same time it’s a challenge. The good part is that for both Austria and Germany, this indicates that TETRA is going to last beyond 2030.”

He adds that those regions that have come late to TETRA aren’t wanting to skip it in favour of broadband services, and one reason for their slow adoption of TETRA is the lack of government-based subsidies to help the local public safety organisations buy the terminals. “In [Baden-Württemberg], it seems that the government is not there yet to make any decisions; they have just announced that for some of the regions they are going to subsidise the mobile terminals for non-police forces, and that could help some of the regions looking at it, but as of today they are not going to pay for handset terminals, which is actually delaying the whole roll-out. [It is a] similar situation is in North Rhine-Westphalia, where something like 25-30 per cent of non-police users have not been purchasing TETRA terminals. A further issue is the lack of TETRA command and control centres for non-police users in the region.”

Kolland says: “Terminal and control centre procurement is completely decentralised in Germany and fully in the hands of the user organisations. In Austria, terminals are part of a central frame contract with different vendors from which the user organisations can choose, so the two countries are a little bit different.”

While the network is managed at the federal level in Germany, TETRA terminal procurement is up to the individual user organisations

Kolland notes that the use of commercial broadband in these two countries, especially in Germany, “is very much in a pilot and trial phase, it’s not centrally organised, with a mix of small trials and big pilots by the states. There are lots of reports in the press about smartphone and tablet procurements, and both Bavaria and Berlin have been in the press quite often in the past two years regarding their experiments with commercial broadband, but for purely non-mission-critical [applications], mobile office-type of work and some specific applications. Yes, there are a few large trials and a lot of experiments with mobile data, especially by police forces, but there have also been some very small pilots by fire brigades – but again, all on commercial broadband and all with non-mission-critical applications.”

“Especially in Germany, we are a couple of years away from using broadband in a hybrid terminal or similar in the public safety market,” says Sepura’s Safaie. “We need to educate the users about what broadband is, how they can use it, and the kind of services they are going to use. Many customers say that they want to have broadband, but when you ask them why, you don’t get any specific answers, which makes it very challenging.”

Safaie adds the fact that many public safety organisations in both Germany and Austria are at different stages in their adoption of TETRA makes it difficult for vendors when it comes to discussing hybrid terminals and other new technologies that blend the cellular and PMR worlds together. He also notes that in Germany, every type of terminal must be certified by BDBOS for use on the BOS digital radio network – and in the case of hybrid terminals, BDBOS needs to be in the position to define the IOPs for such a device, which Safaie does not see happening within the next three to four years. “So, we were left asking ourselves what we are going to sell [to that market]. We decided that we need to focus on supporting the users – both those who have been using TETRA terminals for some time and those who are still in the process of receiving them for the first time – by offering some additional software functionalities that we have been developing based on the feedback we’ve received from our German customers, then showing them how they can work with Bluetooth and then take it from there and evolve it to something that could be broadband in a later phase.”

Safaie explains that one barrier to the expansion of the current data services that run over the federal TETRA networks in both Austria and Germany is that their operators are “very hesitant to put any additional load onto the network because they say their networks are running on the edge with their current number of users”. That said, he believes there are things that can be done to increase the acceptance of data services. He adds that one clear message is that “with a substantial user base of more than 380,000, we need to have more accessories for them that help deliver better voice quality and are designed to work best with the terminals”.

Kolland highlights BDBOS’s long-term goal to eventually “offer access to commercial broadband services augmented with the strength of what they have today in BOSNet – central tactical management, which is essential for the smooth running of large security events; and it knows that using commercial networks will not be as secure or as reliable as it is for mission-critical networks, but at least it can establish the same standards of security management, the management of keys, access rights, etc, that it has on the BOS network. That’s its idea for a first step to move into this hybrid world, even becoming a secure MVNO to some extent. As a long-term goal, the agency is very open about the potential use of 5G technology, which gives more flexibility, functions like RAN sharing, and the other benefits 5G will bring to commercial broadband services.”

Helicopters in Bavaria
If you have an excellent memory and read “Germany says ‘Auf wiedersehen analogue’” in our piece back in November 2015 on the final part of the roll-out of the German BOS digital radio network, you’ll know that one of the last areas of Germany to be covered were some regions of Bavaria. “Bavaria at the very beginning decided to do its mountainous areas very late in the process for very obvious reasons, but given that the G7 Summit in 2015 took place in the midst of the mountains, it had to accelerate its plan,” explains Kolland. This involved Airbus flying equipment to sites via helicopter and the use of special four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Kolland says this experience was recently put to good use during the roll-out of the regional TETRA network (which is still ongoing) for the autonomous region of Bolzano, South Tyrol in the Italian Alps. He explains that given the importance of tourism and skiing to the region’s economy, coverage for the mountains to support the work of its mountain rescue services was a must.

In addition, while this made for challenging work – “site surveys weren’t done by car, they were done by helicopter” – Kolland says the project was made easier thanks to “an extremely effective and well-organised customer; they have good policies and were good at making quick decisions. They’re already thinking about how they can move into the broadband service world and thinking about the next steps to come.” For example, it will be possible to integrate Airbus’s Tactilon Agnet application into the TETRA system, which allows secure multimedia group communications between broadband and TETRA networks.

“There was also an extreme openness and eagerness of the user organisations to get this network. There was no resistance along the lines of ‘oh, we have analogue, why should we move to TETRA?’ – and these traits made it quite easy for us to overcome the obstacles that we encountered.”

Kolland adds that BDBOS’s appetite for innovative solutions, the BOS digital radio network’s status as the largest TETRA network in the world and the effectiveness with which it and German public safety organisations have turned the lessons learnt from hosting huge security events and dealing with “unplanned incidents like the shooting we had in Munich two years ago” into feature and tool requests for the network have been a “big benefit” to Airbus and all of its other TETRA network operator customers.

The control rooms piece
As with the majority of countries around the globe, one of the clear priorities for mission-critical comms in both Germany and Austria is exploring opportunities to augment – and eventually replace – the countries’ narrowband capability with LTE. This desire to swim in the LTE water has also, fairly predictably, had a knock-on effect when it comes to control rooms.

Speaking of what German and Austrian emergency services customers currently require from its systems, Hexagon’s sales manager for public safety and utilities, Norbert Habermann, indicated that the incorporation of ever-increasing broadband capability is now integral to the company’s efforts in both countries. “The key at this point is parallel usage,” he says. “What they require from us is a system which is designed and configured so that information from and to LTE and TETRA devices can be incorporated without any conflict.”

He continues: “To take a relatively straightforward example, control room operators can now communicate an event, via the computer-aided dispatch system, to both TETRA and smart devices in the field simultaneously. It’s a symbiosis of the two worlds, but with TETRA at this point still positioned as the leading system, which has to be available 100 per cent of the time.” This ‘symbiosis’ is made considerably more straightforward due to mission-critical push-to-talk over LTE residing only at the very periphery of the conversation, at least for the time being.

Another way in which LTE – or in the words of Frequentis Deutschland managing director Reinhard Grimm, “new media” – is impacting on control rooms is in the increasingly intuitive ways in which the public are now able to contact the emergency services. Speaking of this, he says: “For us, the two big things essentially driving the future are LTE and, in Europe, next-generation 112. With that in mind, we recently carried out the first end-to-end use of eCall, which is an M2M-based solution enabling cars to automatically contact control rooms if they are involved in a crash.”

The test, which took place at the company’s Viennese headquarters in March last year, demonstrated the whole process, from the triggering of the call itself to data processing within the emergency call centre.

Another area in which German and Austrian public safety are making what could be argued as tentative steps is in the use of the cloud which, as with smart devices being used by emergency services personnel, is also looking like it will play a key role in the future of mission-critical control rooms. According to Hexagon’s Habermann, while the will is certainly there on the part of police forces in particular, it’s still something that should be considered a work in progress.

He says: “My impression of the market is that they’re very interested in web-based solutions, but never in the public or hybrid cloud space. For instance, the police force in Saxony is currently building its new on-site computing centre, which will in essence act like an internal cloud for the organisation. It’s certainly a vision for the future, but as you can understand, they’re desperate to protect their own systems and their own information.”

Speaking of the political context underpinning these decisions, Frequentis’s Grimm says: “In Austria and Germany, we generally like to have things on-site in our own buildings, although that depends very much on the cultural background. In Germany, there are areas which are using private clouds, and it’s the same in Austria.”

With the above in mind, an exemplar of a current mission-critical control room roll-out taking place in the region is the Austrian government’s establishment of a nationwide system of integrated command centres (otherwise known as Project ELKOS). Technology for the initiative is being supplied by both Hexagon and Frequentis in collaboration, with the former providing its Intergraph Computer-Aided Dispatch (I/CAD) and Intergraph Planning & Response software, and the latter contributing its ‘multi-media collaboration platform’ 3020 LifeX.

For Habermann, ELKOS not only symbolises the state of play when it comes to the technology, but also how manufacturers are likely to have to work together heading into a more integrated future. He says: “In the past, most control room projects have consisted of two RFPs [requests for proposal], involving both the CAD and then the communication system. With everything coming closer together, procurement is now often being covered in a single request, which means that companies – which generally specialise in a single area – will have to collaborate. Things are becoming increasingly seamless.”

Author: Critical Communications Today