Peter Clemons continues his three-part series on the future of public safety communications with a look at the factors that will need to be assessed when benchmarking networks and solutions at the dawn of the 5G era

Peter Clemons continues his three-part series on the future of public safety communications with a look at the factors that will need to be assessed when benchmarking networks and solutions at the dawn of the 5G era

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Across our modern world, there is now the expectation that emergency services will attend incidents within a matter of minutes, protecting property, health and other sources of wealth and well-being, as well as saving lives. Rapid technological progress in recent years has opened up a gap between the data and multimedia capabilities of commercial networks, compared with those of more specialised critical communications networks.

The migration from reliable, highly secure, always available narrowband solutions such as TETRA and P25 towards next-generation solutions based on 3GPP LTE-AP/5G and complementary ICT systems will be no easy task, requiring strong leadership, consensus and careful planning, as well as sufficient funding and cast-iron guarantees for both first responders and the general public that they must protect.

Critical communications users have very specific requirements that must be met by any equipment supplier and service provider. Best-effort service level agreements (SLAs) are not good enough for first responders who regularly face life-or-death situations. The security, reliability and availability of mobile networks has also started to become a more important issue for the general public as we come to depend more and more on our smartphones and tablets for essential services.

Over the past four years or so, the global critical communications community has taken the first important steps towards developing next-generation solutions based on 3GPP LTE/LTE-A/LTE-AP and beyond. The community has had to translate and re-interpret the language, services and functionality of existing critical solutions delivered by TETRA and P25 into 3GPP-speak so that an orderly migration can begin from one world to the other. The latest releases – 12 and 13 – of the global 3GPP LTE standard have incorporated a number of key mission-critical features required by public safety and other critical communications sectors.

Spectrum has been identified within 700/800 MHz bands for use by PPDR/public safety users at the ITU WRC-2015 conference held during late 2015, and a growing number of authorities around the world will be assigning dedicated or shared spectrum with priority use over the coming months and years. Interworking will be required between existing and next-generation solutions for a number of years as migration takes place and the traditional issues of coverage, capacity, reliability and availability of critical services will all need to be addressed fully and comprehensively for public safety LTE to be adopted widely. Although modern ICT standards are becoming global to take advantage of economies of scale, public safety requirements can differ quite considerably from one country to country, and even from one particular user to another within the same department.

There is an urgent need to create a clear roadmap for the global critical communications industry to move safely and decisively from 2G to 5G. This is currently a work in progress taking place across multiple organisations, platforms and sectors – but it is clear that 5G standards must and will include all major critical communications requirements.

Global events such as the recent Critical Communications World held in Amsterdam or IWCE in the US are a good opportunity to keep up to date with the latest solutions for professional users, and there is also an increasing amount of information available on websites and social media. However, it can be extremely hard for users to compare different technologies and business models and decide the best ones to be implemented locally, over a period of a decade or longer. In a rapidly changing world, authorities and end-users can be forgiven for being confused and afraid to make such important decisions with potentially far-reaching consequences.

The Quixoticity Global Index
It’s clear then that the industry is in need of clear and robust benchmarks that allow meaningful comparisons between  different options, choices and decisions from around the world and these could bring enormous benefits to the critical communications community. Reliable, authoritative, trusted information exchange on a global scale could be the catalyst for better, faster and more cost-effective solutions being deployed safely, securely and extensively. For global solutions to be implemented successfully at the local level, decision-makers need the best possible information and advice.

For this reason, I believe the time is right for an index that will assess the performance, resilience and cost-effectiveness of critical communications networks around the globe  – the Quixoticity Global Index. My company, Quixoticity, is dedicated to developing the next generation of critical communications solutions by working together with all the key players in the industry over the coming months and years. We are members of ETSI, 3GPP, the TETRA + Critical Communications Association and the eLTE Industry Alliance. We will work with global LTE suppliers, critical communications solution providers, standards bodies, government authorities and regulators, both specialised and commercial network operators, end-users, analysts and industry experts from around the world to benchmark existing and emerging solutions. An early version of the Index should be launched later in 2016 and will continue to grow and evolve as we move deeper into the process of transforming the way the industry operates.

A number of different models have emerged in recent times for moving critical communications users from existing solutions to future solutions:

  • The US Government created a separate entity, FirstNet, back in 2012, with 2x10 MHz of dedicated spectrum in 700 MHz Band 14, together with $7 billion of seed capital. The award of a nationwide contract will be made towards the end of 2016, although the complexity of this project means that nationwide deployment is still a long way off.
  • The Korean Government has also awarded 2x10 MHz of spectrum in 700 MHz Band 28 for a nationwide public safety network. Trial networks are currently in the process of being deployed with the expectation that a real, nationwide network could be live by the end of 2017.
  • The UK Government has chosen a different model by awarding a contract to a commercial operator, EE, to provide service to emergency services over a new Emergency Services Network (ESN) based on a commercial LTE network. The new service will be deployed on a regional basis from mid-2017 onwards with the expectation that the existing TETRA network can be switched off by end-2019, although there are contingency plans that will allow the Airwave network to continue operations beyond this deadline if required.
  • Most European countries are looking at a hybrid approach with some dedicated spectrum for emergency services together with priority access to commercial networks.

Quixoticity will evaluate these different approaches to determine which model or models are preferred by emergency services and are most likely to lead to the most successful outcomes over the coming three to five years. Then, during the early 2020s, 5G networks (3GPP releases 14-16 as well as other advances in the wider ICT/Wi-Fi/networking communities) will start to become available, opening up even more opportunities, challenges and threats to the community. These will require careful and considered analysis if operators are to respond to them in a cost-effective manner.

The Quixoticity Global Index will create a framework that allows the industry to chart a course towards this brighter, richer future, comparing the multiplicity of potential routes and benchmarking different approaches. The Index will need to weigh up all the options, take into account as many of the decisive factors as possible, and respect diversity, culture, tradition and timeframes, while upholding the value of global standards, availability of spectrum and the importance of authorities guaranteeing sufficient capacity, coverage, availability and reliability of existing and emerging solutions.

In order for the Index to achieve its objectives, Quixoticity will encourage a rich and open dialogue within the community. Key topics/aspirations that will need to be included, discussed and reconciled within the Index will include the following:

  • Robust, universal, secure global ICT standards (3GPP, IEEE, IETF etc.) for critical communications.
  • Sufficient harmonised, dedicated, shared spectrum for critical communications.
  • Longer-term, carefully planned, costed, tried and tested common-sense approaches to migration from existing solutions to next-generation solutions that include
    all stakeholders.
  • Fully integrated solutions for smart nations, smart cities, smart neighbourhoods and smart homes.
  • Innovative business models focusing on social value, public safety, social welfare and well-being.
  • New ways of funding public safety and critical communications networks.
  • Faster response times for Public Protection & Disaster Relief.
  • More open, accessible systems for generating, sharing and processing relevant data.
  • Better governance models, citizen engagement and social inclusion to guarantee safer and smarter cities.
  • Greater co-operation regionally and globally to promote best practice and highlight potential trade-offs between competing solutions and models.
  • Tracking and better ‘visualisation’ of emerging trends, including an assessment of the most appropriate new products, services and applications that add the most value to critical communications.
  • The threat of cybersecurity and long-term solutions.

We have started an exciting new journey towards a hyper-connected and hyper-networked age in which all communications become critical. The Quixoticity Global Index will become a key component in the analysis, explanation and steering of the global telecommunications industry towards better, safer and more sustainable solutions. We need to move away from narrow indicators of economic prosperity towards better indicators of social welfare and well-being, if we are to create a better society.

Author: Tetra Today