Italian firm Athonet has developed a private mobile network solution called PriMo, which is designed to support both professional uses, such as video surveillance and work force management for public safety forces, and public applications, including internet access and voice services for civilians.
Founded in 2005, Athonet’s big idea was to put the core of a mobile network in a small box and then open that core to any kind of radio access. ‘We wanted to create something very simple that an IT manager – not a telecommunication guy with RF expertise – could easily understand and use,’ says Stefano Cocco, head of sales at Athonet.
Athonet’s view is that IT managers are often the ones who end up managing PMR networks for end users. ‘So the IT manager must be able to play with this network. He must be able to very easily configure it, authorise user access to the network, provide more or less bandwidth as required and to deny an application or not,’ says Cocco.
The aim was also to keep costs to a minimum, so the system was designed around the use of standard off-the-shelf products. ‘That doesn’t mean that the core must be off the shelf,’ says Cocco. ‘In this case the core comes with our software and a router, but the devices, laptops, mobile phones and dongles should be cheap and easy to find.’
Cocco says that at present the PPDR (public protection and disaster relief) community can face major communication problems if there is a major incident, such as an earthquake. If the mobile networks are down then there is no solution to enable different organisations to communicate with each other.
‘This is where our solution comes in,’ says Cocco. ‘We come in with our portable base station and an antenna and are up and running within an hour providing coverage to the whole area.’
Cocco notes that in a situation such as an earthquake the main issue for the rescue services is controlling public access to the area for safety reasons.
Video surveillance, either from the air or on the ground, means commanders can communicate with rescue staff in the field, who may not know the area, see what they are seeing and advise on what to do and where to go.
‘Another big problem for the rescue team is to remain in contact with the rest of the world. They are away from their homes, their mobile phone doesn’t work, but we can immediately open the door for them, so they can keep in contact with their commanders, team members and their families – and this is really important,’ observes Cocco.
Communication for locals
‘We also give internet access to the local people on the ground, so they can communicate via Skype, surf the internet and utilise Facebook or whatever.’
Cocco feels mobile operators are holding back from mass deployment of LTE because of the economic situation. But at the same time, some of these operators have paid money to get the frequencies, so they want to use them.
'So in our opinion, private networks could be the right area where someone will invest in LTE. There are customers who are willing to pay for specific services in very specific areas. This is why we developed our PriMo solution,’ he says.
Cocco adds that Athonet’s product is not only a solution for private mobile networks, but it can be used by small or medium-sized operators. ‘We are working in Spain with a rural operator. It can be used to plug the digital divide.’