Testing LTE for public safety in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Police Force tested two potential solutions for providing broadband services in April. The tests were part of a process to identify the force’s future comms strategy, as its chief telecommunications engineer, Jolly Wong, explains to James Atkinson

Testing LTE for public safety in Hong Kong

Mobile broadband services may be the next big thing for the public safety sector, but identifying the most suitable solution is not the easiest of tasks. For public safety organisations on tight budgets, knowing what solution to commit to and when is a tricky business.

In the US, the solution for public safety mobile broadband has been chosen at the highest government level in the shape of a separate LTE network using the 700MHz band. It’s an expensive option and other countries will no doubt find themselves weighing up the various solutions to find one that not only meets their needs, but also their budgets.

That certainly seems to be the case in Hong Kong, as Jolly Wong, chief telecommunications engineer with the Hong Kong Police Force, explains. ‘We are being very careful about how we position ourselves. It is not a case of making good and bad comparisons with what the US or Europe is doing for mobile broadband. It is about trying to identify the most suitable option for Hong Kong after learning from other options.’

Big picture

Wong says he has to build a business case for Hong Kong by looking at the big picture and then working out what is suitable for it. ‘We need to look at how much spectrum we are talking about and how essential that slice of spectrum is for mission-critical industries and public transport.’

He makes the point that the business case goes well beyond public safety. For example, the public transport authorities are talking about driverless trains, so they will need video in each of the train compartments, machine- to-machine (M2M) telemetry on the train’s performance and a very robust and resilient communications network.

Beyond that there is the creation of a utilities smart grid, where the last mile connectivity between individual homes and businesses will create a huge volume of telemetry signals. ‘Every mission-critical industry must have a strong business case to justify its own demand for mobile broadband,’ says Wong.

Mobile broadband

When it comes to Wong’s own organisation, he identifies three main reasons why the police need mobile broadband.

The first reason is video. ‘We have 6,000 public processions every year, not including major public festivals and public order events,’ he says. ‘So, crowd management and public safety is paramount.’

The second reason is the force’s future plans for APLS (automatic personal location systems) for efficient resource deployment. ‘Everyone is facing cuts,’ says Wong, ‘so you can’t increase your headcount. Instead, we must rely on very lean and mean structures, so officer safety is crucial here, especially if we have more single person patrols – we must know their whereabouts.

‘Police forces have to look at how frequently they update their GPS signals,’ he continues. ‘If you do it too often you use up your capacity, so you need broadband. But you must let mission-critical voice through first. The serious challenge for APLS is indoors. When officers go into buildings they lose their GPS signal, so how do we deal with this? Broadband is one answer that will help justify the investment.’

The third reason is M2M, be it telemetry, video, IP cameras on lampposts or cameras on gantries for traffic monitoring. ‘There are a lot of possibilities,’ says Wong. ‘They could open up entire new possibilities for citizens such as real-time traffic information, which will make driving easier.

‘I am looking at this from an end user perspective. Bringing in other industries creates a bigger voice for justifying the investment. It is not just about my officers’ safety, it is for the good of society as a whole. So we need to ensure that a fair share of any new or refarmed spectrum goes to government, public safety and the emergency services,’ says Wong.

Spectrum alternatives

Looking at its immediate neighbours in Asia, Wong says China, Australia and New Zealand are quite different. The recent Australian APCO conference discussed the possibility of using the lower part of 800MHz spectrum for mobile broadband.

China’s Ministry of Public Safety, on the other hand, is trialling mobile broadband in the1.4GHz band. ‘But because China is so large, there are various possibilities: 400MHz, 700MHz or 1.4GHz,’ says Wong. ‘From a political perspective, I think 1.4GHz is the most likely as it is a homegrown solution developed by Chinese manufacturers, so that is probably the way forward for them.’

Wong says that while Hong Kong will take note of what its neighbours do, and interoperability with mainland China is an obvious goal, its strategy is to test the different options for mobile broadband to see which wavelength will be the most suitable for progress and development in Hong Kong.

For this reason, Hong Kong tested two different LTE solutions, one in 700MHz from Motorola Solutions and Ericsson and one in 400MHz from Cassidian and Alcatel-Lucent on13-14 April as part of the Asia Pacific Radio Spectrum Conference 2012 (APRSC). Speaking to Wireless ahead of the live demonstrations, Wong explained why he was so keen on the tests.

‘Nothing is ruled in or out yet for mobile broadband in Hong Kong’, says Wong emphatically. ‘Hence, I wanted demonstrations from two different leading suppliers with two different solutions in two different wavebands. I will test these in actual performance and make a report looking at the technology, cost and performance. Then we can make a more rational decision.’

Commercial networks

In Hong Kong, the 700MHz band is used for analogue broadcast and TV, but Wong is refusing to rule out 700MHz as an option just because the spectrum is not available at the moment. It is all part of the process of carefully assessing each option on its merits before making a decision on the best way forward.

But the 700MHz demonstration is a bit of a headache, as any test would disturb the analogue broadcast signals. Wong’s solution is to hold the demo in the deepest tunnel of the Mass Transit Railway system where there will be no signal leakage.

‘That will be the first 700MHz demo in Hong Kong,’ says Wong, who also points out that the Cassidian/Alcatel-Lucent 400MHz LTE live demonstration will be a world first.

The demonstrations will help Hong Kong decide on the route it will eventually take for public safety mobile broadband. But Wong says he will also examine the pros and cons of using commercial networks. If mobile networks have enough capacity then perhaps public safety can borrow from them in times of need.

‘Or you might subscribe public service spectrum to someone else’s network through a partnership project,’ he offers. ‘As long as the usage is exclusive to PPDR with full encryption and security measures there may be no difference between building my own dedicated public safety network or using someone else’s.’

The point being that Hong Kong must look at all the options using a transparent process before going to the regulator and government with its public safety mobile broadband recommendation.

‘I am putting up the options now and demonstrating them to the regulator,’ says Wong. ‘We are looking at the business case and the technical options, but we are not ruling anything out at this time, nor are we subscribing to any one option. We are undertaking a practical evaluation and financial assessment and comparing them before we come down to choosing which is the most suitable option for the circumstances in Hong Kong.’

It’s a process that many countries and public safety organisations are likely to be following over the next few years. In the meantime, Wong will report the results of the demonstrations at the TETRA World Congress in Dubai in May 2012.

Motorola Solutions and Ericsson present 700MHz broadband solution

Motorola Solutions presented its new public safety optimised LTE portable, the LEX 700 mission-critical handheld, at the Asia-Pacific Spectrum Conference in Hong Kong. As the first in a new category of standards-based, public safety LTE devices, the LEX 700 is designed to run applications that deliver data, photos, video and voice quickly over public safety broadband networks. The device also allows users to securely roam onto public carrier networks for expanded coverage.

Motorola, together with partner Ericsson, is demonstrating a live LTE network to the Hong Kong Police and has showcased a fully operational, ship-ready LTE system operating at 700MHz together with a range of client devices and applications. The system demonstrates the capability of LTE to deliver rich multimedia content to public safety personnel reliably and securely on a dedicated, private network.

Most public safety organisations today already view data as mission-critical and state that their current data connectivity over public carrier networks is not reliable and secure enough. Harmonised LTE spectrum dedicated to public safety and standards-based systems will cultivate innovation while driving down costs.

Access to media-rich applications on a dedicated, secure and reliable broadband LTE network will give agencies access to unprecedented use cases such as:
• A shared operational view of an incident with real-time video streamed from fixed and mobile cameras to the field and command centre.
• Tracking information from mobile computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and real-time collaboration software that lets everyone see the positions of field assets and know where they need to be next.
• Everyday tasks like ticket writing, identity verification and suspect booking handled within minutes on the scene, and transmitted directly to headquarters and into back office systems so there’s no need to file paperwork.
• Motorola will display its LEX 700 mission-critical handheld at TETRA World Congress 2012 in Dubai.

Cassidian and Alcatel-Lucent demonstrate mobile broadband services for TETRA networks at Asia-Pacific Radio Spectrum Conference 2012

Cassidian and Alcatel-Lucent conducted the world’s first demonstration of mobile broadband services for TETRA networks using lightRadio Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology in the 400MHz band at the Asia-Pacific Radio Spectrum Conference (APRSC) in Hong Kong on 13 April 2012.

The demonstration showed two-way video being streamed in real-time between a patrol car and a command and control centre using Alcatel-Lucent’s LTE base station engine and Cassidian’s new radio heads and terminals. The demonstration paves the way for integrated TETRA/LTE solutions that will enhance operations for public safety agencies, transport companies and energy providers.

By using the same frequency band, LTE broadband capabilities can be added to existing TETRA networks in a non-disruptive, cost-effective manner. 

TETRA provides a full range of mission-critical voice services for group communications and efficient data services for location updates and the provision of mission data to mobile units responding to critical situations. LTE technology supports a new array of mobile broadband applications using video, voice and other media.

• Cassidian and Alcatel-Lucent will both be present at the TETRA World Congress 2012 in Dubai and will use the event to unveil more details of their joint solution.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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