With LTE selected as the future core technology for emergency services and other critical infrastructure organisations in the US, it is now clear that it will become the bearer for public safety communications across the world. However, to fulfil that potential, harmonisation of national and regional approaches to deployment must be encouraged and maintained.
‘The TETRA Association has changed its name to the TETRA + Critical Communications Association (TCCA) because we recognise there are major organisations among our membership that are looking at their long-term development and that long-term is LTE/4G,’ says Jeppe Jepsen, board member of the TCCA. ‘They are looking to the TCCA to assist them in making the right choices.’
A critical issue – and one that must be among the first to be resolved – is the securing of access to spectrum for critical communications. That can’t be done in a piecemeal fashion from nation to nation if the benefits of a standardised global market are to be achieved.
‘The industries involved have come together to lobby the spectrum sector for the spectrum required,’ explains Jepsen. ‘The PPDR (Public Protection and Disaster Relief) community has been mentioned as a sector that needs more spectrum in the future, but it is extremely difficult to secure it because regulators can see they can make real money out of selling spectrum to commercial telecoms operators and here we are saying that we want both more spectrum and also money to build the networks with.’
Jepsen sees critical capacity being made available to not just PPDR organisations but also for other critical services such as utilities, railways and transport. ‘When we are talking about securing 2x10MHz capacity for PPDR, we’re talking with the expanded view that it won’t be just for PPDR services,’ he adds.
‘Creating one government-level network per country that serves all the critical infrastructure suppliers will make sense and that is what the TCCA is trying to do. The benefits we’ve been trying to produce by combining police, fire and ambulance communications should go one step further in the next generation.’
However, the challenge isn’t just in securing access to specific amounts of spectrum. It needs to be made available in the same band globally. ‘The spectrum band has to be chosen cleverly,’ says Jepsen.
‘North America has said that it will do it in the 700MHz band and Asia is preparing that as well. Africa and the Middle East said at the last World Radio Conference that they want a second digital dividend and that was agreed. In Europe, we now have an opportunity to get global harmonisation on spectrum and a common technology. That would be super for everybody – we don’t want LTE with an Asian version, a European version and an American version.’
In contrast to the US and Canada, Europe is a fragmented market composed of 27 different countries. That breeds complexity and threatens harmonisation. ‘It is essential that the critical communication sector acts now,’ confirms Jepsen. ‘The policy that has been accepted now by the 27 countries is to work towards harmonised and sufficient spectrum, but there are countries that are promising to do it in the 400MHz band.’
Jepsen cites an example. ‘In France, the Government is moving PMR users to the 450-470MHz band to free up 410-430MHz for this, but in Germany, for instance, they need to keep the 410-430MHz band for today’s users, but could potentially use parts of 450-470MHz for broadband critical communications. There would be conflict across the two borders where the two systems meet,’ he says.
‘That’s not harmonisation and it could only be a temporary solution. Ideally the permanent answer is the 700MHz band. Harmonisation and the drive towards it is what everyone should be focusing on.’
Harmonisation of approaches to LTE deployment will also simplify the challenge for the vendor community so it can develop systems, devices and solutions for a global market, thereby establishing a market with an attractive business case and cost-effective products and services.
‘Standard LTE as it is today doesn’t do what mission-critical organisations need,’ adds Jepsen.
‘LTE has been developed for commercial users, and one of the things that needs to change within the LTE environment is the requirement for direct mode, which is essential for professional users. Another thing is that you design a system for mission-critical communications differently. Mission-critical networks are designed with high resilience. LTE is an IP-based technology, which is only best effort in terms of resilience. That is not good enough for a professional world. Our vision of the future is where the TETRA, TETRAPOL and GSM-R community all come together to help define what the professional aspects of LTE need to be. Then we have the possibility to do what we’ve done so well with TETRA,’ says Jepsen.
‘By creating the bigger market, we have the opportunity to create a specialist market where products, such as motorbike radios or undercover operative communications, can be created profitably for a global market.’
With its awarded spectrum and funding, the US market has taken an early lead and will set much of the pace of development as a consequence. However, LTE’s technical challenges mean that the time it takes to resolve those will take many years, during which other regions will be able to sort out their spectrum and funding issues. For years to come, critical communications will be a multi-technology environment.
‘TETRA remains our primary focus because that’s what we will live for many, many years,’ says Jepsen. ‘We know TETRA doesn’t allow broadband data, but it does many other things
very well and will continue to do so.
‘The drive towards LTE will come from North America,’ concludes Jepsen. ‘They have the spectrum and the funding to build the network so they will push and set the agenda that Europe will have to follow. Europe and the EU agencies will not be at the forefront but I don’t think the needs of North America are very different to Europe’s or anywhere else’s. That can only help Europe as when it gets the technology it will be much more mature.’