Selecting networking platforms for future critical communications

Selecting networking platforms for future critical communications

Middle East was an early adopter of the TETRA narrowband networks that are in continued use and was one of the first regions to deploy hybrid networks where LTE Advanced 4G critical broadband networks were overlayed and interconnected with the TETRA network. TCCA’s Kevin Graham gives an overview of this evolving global ecosystem.

The annual Critical Communications World event, to be held this year in Dubai, sets the agenda for the future of critical communications. Critical Communications World 2024 takes place at the World Trade Centre, Dubai, from 14-16 May 2024. The Dubai Government’s Secure network provider Nedaa will support CCW 2024 as Host Operator in collaboration with the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism.

The Critical Communications Association, TCCA is the longest-established member-driven critical communications association in the world. Bringing together stakeholders in critical communications, the global membership includes end users, critical network operators, government authorities, manufacturers, solution providers, system integrators, with a common interest in enhancing critical communications.

TCCA believes in and promotes the principle of open and competitive markets worldwide through the use of open standards and harmonised spectrum. Through working groups and task forces, TCCA drives initiatives and share knowledge and experience.

The status of critical communications deployment varies around the world. From FirstNet’s operational nationwide broadband network in the US built specifically for first responders, to Finland and the UK in various stages of moving to broadband networks while still maintaining their narrowband networks, to Malaysia which is enhancing its TETRA network and Denmark which has extended the nationwide TETRA contract through to 2034.

Middle East was an early adopter of the TETRA narrowband networks that are in continued use and was one of the first regions to deploy hybrid networks where LTE Advanced 4G critical broadband networks were overlayed and interconnected with the TETRA network. These deployments were the first to utilise dedicated radio spectrum to build secure networks.

This hybrid integration has enhanced the flow of voice, messaging, data between agencies between LTE and TETRA user devices and control rooms, geographical information systems, GIS and other networks and databases. The networks are evolving into collaboration platforms where critical broadband is enabling a richer suite of data capability including sharing of real time video and other data-intensive applications to evolve between end user devices.

Kevin Graham, CEO The Critical Communications Association, TCCA
Kevin Graham, CEO The Critical Communications Association, TCCA

Supporting platforms

Together with the IoT, the greater integration of sensors, CCTV, voice, data and video communication is providing improved situational awareness across operational teams and enhancing their working environment. There is a growing ecosystem supporting the platforms listed below.

  • 3GPP mission critical services MCX
  • Mission Critical Push to Talk, MCPTT
  • Mission Critical Data and Mission Critical Video
  • Future Railway Mobile Communication System, FRMCS services

Early mission critical broadband deployments are progressing from networks initially providing data and video services to supporting MCX services. Several have enabled Quality of Service, Priority and Pre-emption, QPP, with networks such as FirstNet now allowing critical users to access both 4G and 5G services.

The trend in critical communications applications is for a separate core network to be operated by the governing agency, mobile network virtual operator, MNVO or as part of service contracted with their commercial mobile network operator, MNO. In some jurisdictions a multi operator carrier network, MOCN model is being adopted or contemplated.

Multi-mode devices, supporting narrowband and broadband networks, and a greater range of ruggedised broadband devices supporting MCX are being introduced into service, and there is significant growth in the application space. MCX servers are maturing and commencing deployments, and hybrid networks service integrations are evolving.

In parallel, control rooms are evolving to integrate the mission critical broadband services and the emergency number answering points that are moving to next generation 112, 911, 000.

Communication standards

Technology standards provide the assurance that products, services, and systems are compatible and will interconnect. They create a constantly evolving ecosystem of investment, innovation, development, and manufacturing, and can signify confidence and security. Importantly in the critical communications sector where economies of scale are nowhere near those of the commercial market, standards create a competitive cost environment.

Narrowband, wideband standardised technologies for critical communications include TETRA, DMR and P25. For critical broadband, TCCA in its role as Market Representation Partner, MRP for critical communications in 3GPP, catalyses the standards development organisations to develop and enhance the LTE standard to ensure the incorporation of the unique features required by critical users.

Market Representation Partner status in 3GPP is given to organisations which have the ability to offer market advice to 3GPP and to bring a consensus view of market requirements such as services, features and functionality that fall within the 3GPP scope.

TCCA works closely with its members and other industry stakeholders and partners such as UIC, EUTC, 450MHz Alliance and BAPCO, to name just a few, to ensure a comprehensive and consolidated view of end user needs is brought to the 3GPP meetings.

Global partners

TCCA’s Interoperability Certification process, IOP was developed to enable an open multi-vendor market for TETRA equipment and systems. This gives concrete benefits both to the users in terms of a wide portfolio of compatible equipment, competitive pricing and rapid development of new product models; and to the industry in terms of a wider accessible market, faster market take-up and better possibilities for investment in new development.

TCCA’s IOP process underpins the strength of the TETRA market. As the critical communications sector adopts broadband technologies, a similar approach is needed. There is the requirement not only that the dependability and resilience that are core characteristics of TETRA are carried forward into the 4G, 5G ecosystem, but that in a multi-vendor environment, interoperability between different solution providers is present.

An industry certification programme for MCS products and solutions is required, where both conformance to the standards, and interoperability between various solution providers is checked. TCCA has therefore partnered with the Global Certification Forum, GCF, to establish such a certification programme, establishing a joint task force, and subsequently a permanent Mission Critical Services Workstream, MCSWS within the GCF comprised of key industry players and subject matter experts from GCF and TCCA member companies.

The Workstream is in the process of developing the key requirements for testing mission critical services as well as defining the policies and procedures for the certification programme that should be available to industry later this year.

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