Key public safety organisations, industry bodies and suppliers are forging a joint front to present their vision for the future shape of mission critical communications in the UK. The aim is to establish a single voice to provide feedback to Government, Ofcom and other influential parties over two major areas of interest.
The first is the UK Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme (ESMCP), which will replace the current TETRA Airwave two-way radio network used by the three emergency services. The second is to lobby for dedicated spectrum (preferably harmonised across the EU) to enable the emergency services and national critical industries to harness broadband technology on a secure, mission critical network.
There is little disagreement over the recognition that some form of broadband 4G/LTE will be used for future mission critical communications. However, while ‘dedicated’ spectrum of some description is deemed necessary for the ESMCP by the public safety community, the issue of dedicated harmonised spectrum across the EU needs to be seen separately.
The reason for this is that the UK Government has to let the ESMCP contract (sometime in 2015/16) before all the key mission critical features available from TETRA can be incorporated into the LTE standard (some argue this could be as early as 2015 – others not until 2025). Not only that, the contract has to be let before the next most likely chunk of new spectrum, the 700MHz band, becomes available for mobile communications.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is likely to ratify the reallocation of the 700MHz band in EMEA for mobile services at its World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015. However, as far as the UK is concerned, the 700MHz band is unlikely to be cleared of its existing digital terrestrial television and programme making special events users before 2018 – after ESMCP has been awarded.
Sue Lampard, president of the British Association of Public-Safety Communication Officials (B-APCO) told Wireless: ‘At the British APCO conference back in April there appeared to be some disagreement among public safety professionals over dedicated spectrum – what was meant by it and whether it was needed. However, when we drilled down into what people actually meant, it was clear they were saying the same thing, just coming at it from different angles.
‘Everyone agrees that something has to be there to make mission critical data and later mission critical voice happen on a broadband LTE network. Whether that happens on a dedicated private network or a dedicated public safety pipe within a commercial mobile phone network, for example, is open to discussion. The point is, it has to be available and have the necessary mission critical functionality no matter who is hosting the network platform,’ says Lampard.
Following the British APCO event in Manchester, Lampard and others spoke to most of the big suppliers such as Motorola Solutions, Thales, Cassidian and Sepura to get their views on the issues. ‘The message we got was that people all want the same thing,’ says Lampard, ‘it is just that they are expressing it differently, so the current feedback to Government, Ofcom and the ESMCP team in the Home Office is one of mixed messages.’
To combat this, British APCO decided to try and gather everyone with an interest in the future of mission critical public safety and the allocation of spectrum to see if they could reach agreement on a way forward.
British APCO has hooked up with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the two bodies have been jointly commissioned to undertake some research into future communications. They are due to report initially at the British APCO autumn event (12-13 November). ‘They have significant standing in the academic research area,’ points out Lampard, ‘and we have the user connections.’ The two also decided to hold an event at RUSI on 22 July 2013 to discuss the public safety spectrum allocation issue.
A wide range of stakeholders were invited, including the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Federation of Communication Services (FCS) representing business radio users and a large number of representatives from commercial suppliers, government and voluntary agencies such
A number of speakers were invited to set the scene and to show the differing views and messages including: Euros Evans, CTO, Airwave Solutions; Tony Antoniou, executive director, British APCO; Phil Godfrey, chairman, TETRA + Critical Communications Association (TCCA); Mike Goddard, chair of the UK Public Safety Spectrum Policy Group (PSSPG); and Stephen Greenslade, principal solutions architect at UK mobile operator EE.
Lampard says: ‘We opened up the debate after that to see if we could come to an agreement. We found we did agree that spectrum should be made available to the public safety sector, but it could be delivered using a number of possible models to gain spectrum efficiency. This would require a model where users other than the emergency services had access, for example, Category 1 & 2 responders, the transport and energy sectors or potentially the military.’
There was also acknowledgment that commercial bearers, such as the UK mobile phone operators, could host the ‘dedicated’ public safety network. Public safety users would share the network with commercial users and consumers, but with Quality of Service (QoS) guarantees to support prioritisation, management of throughput and the provision of critical voice (and other traffic types) during varying loads, but most especially in times of crisis.
The commercial customers are important as well, as the last thing the emergency services would want during a crisis would be for mobile services to be switched off or seriously reduced for these users.
The service, however and whoever provides it, also has to comply with British APCO’s ‘four Cs. It needs to at least meet, preferably better, the capacity, capability, coverage and criticality of the current Airwave network, along with potentially two other Cs – cost (less) and control (public safety users need to be able to control access and throughput).
Lampard adds: ‘We also felt that “dedicated” is probably the wrong word to describe the service. As users, we don’t care who owns it, we just want it to be available when we need it.’