British APCO Autumn 2013 Event Report

British APCO’s autumn event brought the industry up to speed on ESMCP, JESIP, MAIT, NextGen999 and the spectrum for public safety debate, as James Atkinson reports

British APCO Autumn 2013 Event Report

In this report:

1)    Spectrum for the emergency services - Peter Bury, Director in Spectrum Policy Group, Ofcom

2)    Multi Agency Incident Transfer (MAIT) update - David Barnes, Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Cabinet Office

3)    Next Generation 999 - John Medland, 999/112 Policy Manager, BT

4)    Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP) update - Paul Lockyer (Metropolitan Police Service)

5)    Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme (ESMCP) update - Cate Walton, technical lead for ESMCP at the Home Office

6)    Assured mission critical voice and future harmonised spectrum for UK public safety - Tony Antoniou, executive director, B-APCO

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Ofcom on spectrum for the emergency services

Peter Bury, Director in Spectrum Policy Group at Ofcom, delivered the opening presentation on the first day of the British APCO event on 12 November, by tackling the vexed question of additional spectrum for the emergency services.

Bury opened his presentation by pointing out that for the emergency services (ES) the issues are no longer just about communications or spectrum, but are about a number of inter-related issues.

He reminded the audience that Ofcom’s job as the spectrum regulator is to ensure the ‘optimum use of the UK’s finite resource of spectrum’. He added that: ‘We also represent the UK in international spectrum management forums. We discuss cross-border use of spectrum and develop harmonised approaches to spectrum questions with other countries.’

Bury noted that a big challenge for the UK is meeting the growing demand for mobile data. ‘All sorts of forecasts are being made and everyone has a different view, but everyone agrees the rate of increase is exponential,’ said Bury.

Ofcom has opted for a central forecast among the welter of predictions and believes there will be an 80 x increase in the volume of data people want to use wirelessly by 2030.

‘This implies a very intensive use of limited spectrum available in the UK and a lot of R&D is needed from manufacturers, app designers and end users to figure out how that demand can be met. God isn’t making any more spectrum – it is a fixed amount - this genuinely is a zero sum game. So, the critical thing is to find the most efficient use of the spectrum,’ argued Bury.

UK spectrum policy

The Home Office represents the emergency services stakeholders in the standards organisations, such as 3GPP, to make sure the required functionality is available on equipment in all LTE bands.

Ofcom represents the UK on spectrum matters in CEPT (the European Conference on Postal and Telecommunications) and the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) with particular focus on the future of the 700MHz band – currently identified as the best hope for finding some spectrum for public safety users. However, Bury noted that there has been no discussion on critical voice yet in these forums, but said this will probably be addressed in 2015.

However, he made clear the current view of the UK Government. ‘Our aim, as agreed by all parts of the UK Government, is to retain as much flexibility as possible in the band plan adopted for 700MHz and to leave it to each country to decide whether or not to dedicate a sub-band for ES.’

In short, the UK will not tolerate being mandated to set aside a slice of 700MHz spectrum for the emergency services, or anyone else for that matter.

The 700MHz spectrum, currently used by digital terrestrial television (DTT) serving millions of viewers, is likely to be reallocated for mobile services at the World Radio Congress in 2015 (WRC-15).

UK’s approach to World Radio Congress 2015

Ofcom is preparing the UK line on 700MHz in preparation for WRC-15. Bury summarised the position as follows:

  • Support the provision of mobile broadband that achieves the maximum spectrum and economic efficiencies
  • Support the inclusion of PPDR (Public Protection & Disaster Relief) services in the 700MHz band in as flexible a manner as possible without the need for an internationally mandated and exclusive allocation for PPDR
  • Support International Mobile Telecomms (IMT) [i.e. 4G LTE] as a delivery platform for PPDR, not just in 700MHz but in other IMT bands as well
  • Support the non-encroachment of DTT channel 48 by mobile broadband services (maintain the lower mobile limit as 694MHz) to maintain current broadcast coverage levels from the existing 6 DTT multiplexes.

Elaborating on this position, Bury said there were a number of ‘red lines’ for the UK, namely that: channel 48 for TV should be protected; and that the UK does not approve of suggestions from others that the 420-470MHz band should be considered for ES purposes.

‘Those bands [420-470MHz ] are used for other things including defence – we’d find it very difficult to do anything else with then, so we do not want any mandatory decision to harmonise this for the emergency services, although other countries can do it if they want,’ said Bury.

Emergency services next gen comms objectives

He added that he believed Ofcom does understand the objectives of the emergency services, although he admitted this was more speculative. He summarised Ofcom’s understanding of the emergency services position as:

  • More wireless capacity to support broadband applications alongside critical voice functionality
  • A clear roadmap for continuous future innovation through merging ES requirements with mainstream development path of public mobile services – i.e. to align the ES comms roadmap with mass consumer technology to ensure ES do not end up using an isolated technology with dead end innovation and limited manufacturer support
  • Flexible provision of services by suppliers
  • Reduced costs of service provision and equipment.

Bury said that Ofcom is working closely with the ESMCP (Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, which will replace the current TETRA-based two-way radio Airwave system) to ensure that UK spectrum regulations and allocations do everything possible to support these objectives.

‘We rely on ESMCP to articulate the needs of the ES. We take their lead as guidance; we are not ploughing our own furlough here,’ he insisted.

Harmonised spectrum in the EU

Turning to the question of harmonised spectrum for ES, Bury said that further spectrum is likely to be harmonised for LTE, adding: ‘A harmonised approach for ES across Europe may help to keep down the costs of network services and equipment if there is a common band plan.

He pointed out that the benefits of mainstream development and reduced cost are likely to come in all LTE spectrum bands (not just 700MHz), as other bands such as 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz are also being looked at for harmonised LTE.

‘We think innovation will happen in all those LTE bands, so functionality for ES requirements needs to be embedded in all those bands, not restricted to one area of spectrum,’ said Bury.

He concluded by saying that Ofcom aims to keep the options open for UK ES needs to be met as flexibly and as cost-efficiently as possible and that Ofcom supports ESMCP with spectrum options, but he emphasised that the allocation of spectrum is a UK Government decision, not Ofcom’s.

No 700MHz until 2020s (if at all)

Looking ahead, Bury said that WRC-15 was fundamental to taking this forward, as the decision to reallocate 700MHz will be taken then. However, he warned:  ‘The end of 2018 is the very, very earliest that any capacity in 700MHz could be released in the UK, more probably it will be in the early 2020s if that decision is taken to release 700MHz for mobile and DTT is moved off the band.’

He added that the 3GPP standards body is working on the LTE standard to incorporate the necessary mission critical functionality, but that voice over LTE for critical communications is not expected to be included in the standard until 2018 at the earliest, so new equipment from suppliers will not be available for end users until the early 2020s.

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Multi Agency Incident Transfer (MAIT) update

One of the key issues hindering a more effective response to major incidents and better interoperability between the UK’s three emergency services is the lack of any common system for sharing information between them.

Aside from some local point-to-point (PTP) data transfer arrangements, when one of the emergency services takes a 999 call it usually has to transfer the incident details to the other two services by phone. This is not only time consuming, but leaves it vulnerable to inaccurate data transfer.

Ideally, a future system would log the incident details and the initial receiving emergency service would simply press a button and the relevant information would then populate the command and control centres of the other two services.

While this future may be some way off as yet, the Multi Agency Incident Transfer (MAIT) programme was set up to find a way forward. David Barnes of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Cabinet Office, brought the British APCO audience up to date with progress so far.

Common Operating Picture

Barnes said that providing the three ES with a common operating picture was a key goal. A single display of information collected from and shared by more than one agency that contributes to a common understanding of a situation is the aim.

However, Barnes pointed out that major incidents are rare in the UK and that moving one step at a time, rather than attempting a ‘big bang’ approach was the right approach.

‘We need to get the low-level incident response right and build on that,’ said Barnes. The idea being that if staff in the three ES get used to routinely sharing information on a day to day basis, it will be much easier to ramp it up for major incidents, because everyone is used to doing it and they have an established means of sharing information.

The DEIT trial

MAIT is building on findings from a trial known as DEIT (Direct Electronic Incident Transfer) conducted in 2012 by Newport City Council, Gwent Police and South Wales Fire &Rescue Service, supported by the Welsh Joint Emergency Services Group, the Welsh Government and the Cabinet Office.

The trial set out to test if DEIT was possible by: electronically transfer 101 and 999 call information between responder organisations; learn lessons; develop and align enabling technologies; and prove the integration of addressing systems utilising the National Land Property Gazetteer unique property reference number.

Information on more than 1,000 incidents was transferred between the three participating organisations, leading to significant reductions in processing time from an average of 4 minutes to just 16 seconds.

Barnes said that this lead to an increased situational awareness resulting in quicker response times and persons found; improved health and safety of personnel; and an improved lexicon and understanding of the partners’ business requirements, which was fed into an Open Data Standard. The hub for standards developments can be found at www.standards.data.gov.uk

Defining the standard

Work is underway to define and agree the standard. The MAIT working group will make its recommendation to the MAIT Strategy Board (chaired by Department of Transport), probably in early December 2013 –), which will then pass it to the Open Standards Panel and on to the Open Standards Board.

MAIT is working with British APCO to develop the standard. This has involved setting up user groups for each ES and attempting to determine was information is critical to each blue light service.

For example, critical fields on casualty status for incident transfer to ambulance trusts need to be defined, while the iIncorporation of additional elements such as RVPs (rendezvous points) are considered very important for the Fire and Rescue Service.

Other aspects include concluding an agreement from Capita to evolve its existing PTP schema. Capita’s SunGuard information and communications technology, already in use with the Highways Agency and the police, is being recommended as the basis for the information sharing software.

The inclusion of National Land Property Gazeteer unique property reference number is also being recommended.

Main challenges to better interoperability

Barnes said that the main challenges that need to be overcome are:

  • Agree organisation ID codes
  • Agreeing the core ‘mandatory fields’
  • Common incident definitions across agencies (Barnes noted that the MAIT team has shied away from this, as the three services are too different and it is too time consuming at this point)
  • Securing time to develop and progress the programme
  • Implementation guidance  (Barnes said that the team have defined the data schema, but the way it was applied by end users varied, so it is now trying to provide proper implementation guidance).

Meanwhile, Barnes said that the original Welsh DEIT organisations are keen to extend the trial across Wales and the change management requirements, training needs and so on are now being looked at.

The MAIT proposals are due for consideration by Government in the next couple of weeks. However, Barnes issued a caveat. ‘The Open Standards Body has no say over local organisations for fire, police and ambulance – we can only recommend that it is adopted.

‘It is down to local organisations as to whether they want to implement MAIT, but by trying to minimise change costs and by demonstrating the time savings, we have shown what can be done, so we hope it will be adopted therefore,’ said Barnes.

He said that the approvals process should be complete by the end of February 2014.

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Next Generation 999/112 calling

John Medland, who is responsible for BT’s 999 call handling and the way it puts them out to the ES, provided an update on his previous presentation at the BAPCO event in Manchester in April this year.

BT is the UK’s main public safety answering point (PSAP) handling 112/999 calls in the UK through its public network (PSTN-IP gateways, VoIP calls, fixed and mobile networks). It has seven call centres handling approximately 40 million 112/999 calls a year – that’s 110-112,000 calls a day.

It has to supply a location fix for the 999 caller to the ES. This comes from a post code for a fixed line call and an approximate fix for a mobile call based on the nearest cell tower where eastings and northings are displayed as a cell circle.

Medland outlined the current challenges that need to be overcome:

  • Location provision/usage still developing
  • EISEC (enhanced information service for emergency calls) is not yet fully used by all police and fire brigades
  • Need more precise location for mobile callers (there is an Ofcom consultation ongoing at the moment on how useful a more precise location would be)
  • Hard to get precise location for a VoIP user – only have default home address for callers, so a technical change is needed here.
  • Mobile handsets – operators have put out guidance to manufacturers on ways to cut down inadvertent 999 calls
  • Mobiles: text, messaging, pictures are used much more than voice, but ES communications are still mostly voice based.
  • ES control rooms – these are usually offered an IP switch when they upgrade, but now SIP trunks for IP-based connections are replacing ISDN 30s – (old standard).
  • The communications world is moving towards IP-based systems, but ES are not really planning for this in the UK.

Medland said that devices, emergency authorities and public networks will be more and more IP-based in the future, so they can do more than voice. With an end-to-end IP connection available, there is the option of using different media negotiated at call set-up or even during the call: voice, video, real time text, video and text and pictures.

But Medland said nothing like this is happening in ES, so what should the new 21st century ES communications look like based on IP end-to-end systems? BT’s research reveals that different media would be helpful to police, fire and ambulance to enable them to manage incidents more effectively, but multimedia is not always necessary for every incident call.

Medland said: ‘There has got to be a plan to get to a multimedia 999 call situation.’ He noted that EENA(European Emergency Number Association) has looked at how to build a new ES call infrastructure, largely based on work done by NENA (National Emergency Number Association) in the USA, where they are now using IP- and SIP-based architectures for 911 calls.

For the time being in the UK, an IP call has to come out of the IP world and into a circuit switched PSTN world and become voice only. Medland said that BT will stay voice only as there is no requirement from ES for it to change at the moment.

What this means it that if the ES switch to IP-based systems, they will be restricted to PSTN only call handling, as BT has not been commissioned to upgrade its technology to handle IP-based calls.

Medland said that SIP (the protocol that sets up an IP call) IP-based call handling agencies and emergency authorities in the USA have made the switch. The rest of Europe is working on doing so, but he said there are currently no plans in the UK by Government to make this happen.

Interim steps to NG999

eCall, the European standard service for telematics emergency calls, is one step towards a NextGen999 future. Vehicles with built-in Sim cards linked to mobile networks, plus GPS, will triggers an automatic 112/999 call if the airbag is deployed in the event of a crash.

After a crash, eCall sets up a 112 call that is flagged differently to a voice 112 call in the mobile networks. At the start of the call it sends a burst of data via the modem over the voice channel directly through to a Stage 1 PSAP (BT in UK) – the centre decodes the information sent via the modem (which comes across as tones) and the PSAP then hubs the information out to the emergency services via EISEC again.

EU countries are supposed to have instructed their mobile operators to install the eCall flagging system by now and ensured that their PSAPs have upgraded their call handling systems to decode eCalls. Medland said: ‘None of this seems to be happening in the UK!’

In the meantime, BT is working to make mobile location information more precise, as it is quite approximate at the moment. About 70% of 999 calls are now made from mobiles, so better location information is vital.

‘We get the coverage of the mast transferring the call,’ explained Medland, but that is c.2km on average (less in urban areas), but it can be up to 10-20km in rural areas.’

Calls from mobiles take on average 30 seconds longer than fixed line calls before despatch. However, they can typically take 3 minutes of extra questions for stressed/injured victims to explain to the 999 call handler where they are.

Medland reported that the London Ambulance Service found that 4,000 calls per month take more than 3.5 minutes before despatch because callers cannot identify where they are.

Some 36,000 999 responses per year involve 30 or more minutes searching for people because the mobile caller was unable to give a location. In some cases where callers are unable to speak clearly, despite police ringing back several times, they can never be located at all.

BT has been looking at how it could enhance mobile services to improve location information, Medland reported. Smartphones recognise when an emergency call is being made and most shut down all other applications including GPS. But if the smartphone’s GPS capability could be harnessed, then a much more precise location fix on the caller could be collected.

Based on this, BT undertook a small trial two years ago using mobile cell location information, plus Wi-Fi, plus assisted GPS. This can pin the mobile caller’s location down to just a few meters. ‘We aimed to try and get it down to that,’ said Medland, ‘but we couldn’t get this information in all cases – about 65% of calls.’

Progress and moving forward

Dr Nigel Brown, Lead for Resilient ICT Strategy, Cabinet Office, Civil Contingencies Secretariat is trying to co-ordinate NextGen999 across the various stakeholder Government departments.

Medland reported that all the UK mobile networks, the Home Office, police and BT’s PSAP division are now meeting regularly. They have agreed the requirements and are engaging with mobile handset providers. The mobile handset manufacturers need to develop their devices to include the ability to automatically send location information if the user makes a 999 call.

‘This is not an app,’ explained Medland. ‘It does require a software change to the handset. We are on target to pilot this with an interested handset provider in late 2013 (in fact, call trials started on 13 November 2013).

Further work is also required. BT needs to configure its existing eSMS server to process information in location texts, while the mobile networks operators need to persuade smartphone manufacturers to include the capability in their new handsets. This applies not just to the UK, but the EU generally.

Apps and Emergency Calling

BT is also looking at apps that could be used to make 999 calls. But any enhancements must ensure that the standard 3GPP voice emergency call remains unaffected. British APCO is working on draft accreditation process to ensure that any apps are properly assessed and certified. Any proposed app requires initial PSAP sponsorship to begin the accreditation process.

The operational requirements that need to be implemented include: voice+SMS, voice+data, secure website for extra data passed, reliability, accidental call preventions, use of GSMA and so on.

Medland stated that 999 calling needs to change. The key points are:

  • Voice and location in existing networks – challenges remain for location and inappropriate use
  • Devices not phones – public expects to communicate in more than just voice
  • ES could achieve improved prioritisation using multimedia IP 999 sessions while still containing costs
  • NextGen999 needs clear EA (emergency authorities) requirements for end-to-end service
  • Government co-ordination/leadership needed to ensure EAs and CHAs (call handling agencies) cost-effectively evolve together to meet citizen needs
  • Participation in European NextGen112 work.

Medland warned: ‘Without this CHAs will continue as voice-only and suppliers will have no clear direction and the UK will fall behind on emergency calling.’

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Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP) update

The Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP) was formerly launched in late November 2012 with a two-year remit to improve the way the three emergency services improve work together in the event of major or complex incidents.

Paul Lockyer, who is seconded from the Metropolitan Police Service and is responsible for the delivery of the Assurance, Testing and Exercising aspects of the JESIP programme, provided British APCO members with an update on progress so far.

The key aim of the programme, which is due to finish in September 2014, is: ‘To ensure that the blue light services are trained and exercised to work together as effectively as possible at all levels of command in response to major or complex incidents so that as many lives as possible can be saved.’

Lockyer explained that fundamentally JESIP is a people-focused programme, although it is recognised that communications technology, both voice and data, is a key component in ensuring the blue light services work together more effectively.

JESIP conducted an Emergency Services Interoperability Survey of over 2,000 operational commanders in September 2013 and found that:

  • 93% of respondents stated that a lack of joint exercising was a barrier to effective interoperable working
  • 95% of respondents stated that a lack of joint training was a barrier to effective interoperable working.

Lockyer explained that JESIP has indentified 13 key deliverables of which the most important are:

  • A joint doctrine on interoperability that provides guidance to commanders at the scene and elsewhere as to what actions they should undertake when responding to major and complex incidents
  • An interoperability training package for all operational/tactical commanders and control room staff
  • A robust joint testing and exercising programme
  • A legacy training process that will take over after JESIP ends, incorporating an interoperability e-learning module for all operational emergency service staff and an interoperability awareness aide-memoire for all responders.

All the JESIP deliverables are aimed at contributing to a long-term cultural change towards interoperable working at every level within the emergency services.

The Joint Doctrine

The Joint Doctrine, which was signed off by Government on 4 November 2013, sets out the way responders should train and operate and is built upon a common backbone which defines terminology, principles and ways of working.

It also sets out what responders should do and how they should do it in a multi-agency working environment in order to achieve the degree of interoperability that is essential to a successful joint response.

Lockyer added that the principles described are applicable to a wide range of Category 1 and 2 responders and can be applied to small scale incidents, wide-area emergencies and pre-planned operations.

A key part of the Joint Doctrine is the development of the Joint Decision Model (JDM) which is designed to enable commanders working within an interoperable environment to make effective decisions together. All three blue light services have agreed to build this into future doctrine, Lockyer said.

Current status

In terms of current status now the Joint Doctrine has been signed off, Lockyer said 19 ‘Train the Trainer’ courses have been completed across England & Wales and operational commander training has commenced in the North West. Associated materials, including an Aide Memoire and Guidance Booklet, are also ready.

An e-learning package is in development and should be rolled out from February 2014 for all responders, while two days of small live-play exercises are planned in each of the ten (ambulance-based) regions during July/August 2014. One full scale exercise is also planned for September 2014.

Also in development are legacy arrangements to ensure the future of interoperability, including the setting up of a Tri-Service Board and the setting up of organisational learning, including the creation of a central depository of learnings taken from incidents.

Responding to questions from the audience as to how JESIP would actually work on the ground, and how, when and who declares the incident a major event, Lockyer said: ‘The process where the three services commanders come together is where it becomes a major incident and then you work according to the interoperable model. But each service still handles their bit according to their usual procedures.

‘The priority is to fix the golden hour response,’ he continued. ‘The three blue light commanders need to speak the same language and understand what each of the others is doing, so they can come to a joint decision and see how that fits into the same model.

‘It is about establishing a common understanding of how the commanders get to their decisions. A lot of what we teach is around capabilities and capacities – learning from each other. How each service then cascades that learning down to their guys is still up to them,’ said Lockyer

He also explained that JESIP has no mandate to compel the blue light services to adopt the Joint Doctrine, but he suggested that if the secretary of state insisted that the emergency service must adopt it, then they most likely would.

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Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme (ESMCP) update

Cate Walton, technical lead for ESMCP at the Home Office, provided an update on where the Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme, which is due to replace the Airwave TETRA system from 2016, has reached.

Walton made no bones about the fact that the Government hopes to deliver a replacement for the two-way TETRA radio Airwave network by using next generation 4G LTE mobile commercial networks ‘as far as possible’.

The privately owned narrowband Airwave TETRA services runs on dedicated spectrum and uses some 3,800 sites to provide near-national geographic coverage. Airwave contracts with the emergency services expire between 2016 and 2020.

However, Walton summed up the Government’s current dilemma: ‘Airwave cannot provide broadband data services. The emergency services are increasingly using broadband data services from mobile network operators, but they are best effort services.’ In short, commercial networks do not meet the mission critical functionality provided by Airwave.

Walton said the new service – to be known as the Emergency Services Network (ESN) will deliver critical voice and broadband services that are:

  • Affordable – to address budget pressures on user budgets
  • Enhanced – to provide integrated broadband services to meet user need
  • Flexible – to better match and be responsive to user demand.

The aspiration is that ESN will:

  • Meet all requirements (user, system and commercial) but not necessarily in the same way as Airwave
  • Enhance commercial networks with: public safety features; national coverage; resilience and security
  • Ideally be available by late 2016 when Airwave contracts begin to expire.

Walton summed up the expectation for ESN to be: cheaper, better, smarter. However, she noted that ESN’s public safety features are very different to commercial networks in terms of functionality, coverage, available and security. The key issues that need to be resolved are:

  • Functionality: ESN requires features not currently available on commercial networks, including: Push-to-talk; emergency call; direct mode (the ability to communicate outside of the network infrastructure); prioritise ESN users over others; pre-emption. 
  • Coverage: ESN needs to provide full national geographic coverage; Reliability – very high probability of call connection; Resilience – robust fall back capability; Capacity – assured high capacity 
  • Availability: Inherently resilient; Standby equipment – some key equipment may need to be duplicated; Diverse routing; Auxiliary power – battery backup or standby generators 
  • Security: Protecting information; protecting user identities. 

Walton also provided a programme timeline, but emphasised that ESMCP should not be held to this and dates are may well change if ESN does not meet end user mission critical requirements by the desired timeline. The key dates are:

  • Outline bus case approval – March 2014
  • OJEU issued – April 2014
  • ITT (Invitation to Tender) issued - May 2014
  • Tender return – September 2014
  • Tender evaluation and technology evaluation – Sept to Dec 2014
  • Full business case approval - March 2015
  • Preferred bidder(s) announced - April 2015
  • Contract award – July 2015
  • Mobilisation – July 2015 to late 2016
  • Service commencement – To be determined

Walton explained that several different levels of coverage are required including: specific in-building locations; outdoor vehicle coverage; handheld coverage; and air to ground coverage.

She said that the objective is to match or exceed the existing voice and low data rate coverage agreed in the original Airwave contract, but acknowledged that the existing mobile network operators do not meet this requirement by default and additional infrastructure is needed to meet this requirement. Several options are being considered to address this, Walton said.

User Equipment

A large range of user devices are expected to be used including:

  • Ruggedized devices focused on mission-critical voice
  • Tablets, smartphones focused on data
  • M2M devices using the network to share data
  • Headsets, speakers other accessories – Google glasses, video wall, smart watches.

Walton said: ‘We do not know what all of these will be yet and we still won’t know when ESN is operational, so we need to realise and accept this.’

She added that the Government needs to ensure that the network platform is one that will continue to evolve to take advantage of technology developments.

Spectrum

Turning to the vexed question of possible additional spectrum for the emergency services, Walton echoed Ofcom’s Peter Bury by saying that Government policy is to divest itself of spectrum and for users to pay market rates for it.

Spectrum requirements for ESN would need to be justified either as the only means of providing the required operational capability, or as a means of achieving a better overall commercial outcome.

But she said spectrum may be needed for:

  • Direct mode type applications
  • Air to ground support
  • A private network should the preferred option fail.

However, she noted that spectrum options in the UK are limited. There is limited bandwidth around 400MHz, which is only really suitable for narrowband applications. There is some potential for 700MHz spectrum, but not until around 2021. There may also be some possibility of gaining spectrum via spectrum trading or auctions in other bands.

Walton said the Governments preferred direction for spectrum is:

  • To minimise the requirement for dedicated spectrum
  • To ensure that any spectrum used is in harmonised bands to allow use of COTS equipment
  • Maintain visibility in Government of a possible requirement for spectrum for ESN
  • Support work on spectrum harmonisation for PPDR, but reserve UK position on dedicated spectrum
  • Further work is needed on the requirement for ‘direct mode’ spectrum.

Walton provided some idea of how the transition and interoperability between Airwave and ESN might work with options covering: user to user; inter system connection; control room technology; and radio interface gateways.

ESMCP is now undertaking capability demonstrations from suppliers to help it focus on areas of high risk to the programme, provide confidence in the technology road map and understand gaps in current standardised capabilities. Over 25 suppliers have expressed interest in delivering demonstrations. These should be completed by the end of Q1 2014.

Overall scale and scope of transition

This will involve:

  • 120 emergency services organisations throughout the UK
  • The training of over 260,000 staff
  • The supply of over 250,000 handheld terminals
  • The fit out of over 40,000 vehicles
  • The fit out of over 200 control rooms.

High level transition planning

Walton said that this will be based on:

  • 12 groups based in most cases on the geographic footprint of one ambulance trust
  • Joint ES transition groups – police, ambulance, fire
  • 4-year transition period - 1year minimum transition period per group
  • 4-month interval between groups starting to go live
  • Transition effort starts in 2015 when the contract is awarded with ‘go-live from 2016-2020
  • One groups worth of contingency
  • Work is underway with ESMCP to define the order that the groups will transition.

ESMCP is also working to ascertain supplier capacity and operation constraints: e.g. availability of vehicle fitters and how many staff can be released for training at any one time.

Walton confirmed that, unlike with Airwave, ESMCP is aiming at a single contract for the core service. However, she declined to discuss the commercial operating model, saying: ‘We can’t talk about this yet, but there is a day coming on this.’

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Assured mission critical voice and future harmonised spectrum for UK public safety

Tony Antoniou, executive director, B-APCO brought members up to date on the organisation’s work to help co-ordinate a consistent public safety community view on the spectrum issue.

He explained that the key aim is to ensure adequate mission critical voice and data requirements are mandated in the next generation platform – the ESN (Emergency Services Network); and to fully support the call for a harmonised future capacity for public safety.

Given that the Government has indicated it wants to replace Airwave with 4G LTE if possible, Antoniou pointed out that it was inevitable that commercial 4G LTE provider partners will have to be used, as they will be the only ones with 4G network.

However, he added that it is essential that the mission critical voice functionality provided by the Airwave TETRA system must still apply if commercial bearers are used.

What this means, is summarised by B-APCO as the 4 Cs of mission critical voice: coverage; capability (functionality); capacity; criticality (resilience and priority) – to which can be added two further Cs: control; and cost.

As regards control, Antoniou said: ‘At the moment with Airwave, it feels like we are in control of the spectrum. It doesn’t feel like that if we are buying the service off mobile operators. Will they throw commercial users off the network when a policeman hits the red button?’

He said: ‘We need to influence Government on how capacity in harmonised spectrum is mandated; and how we can monitor and help manage new network performance, requirements and growth.’

Whatever the eventual choice made by ESMCP for the Airwave replacement, Antoniou argued that Quality of Service tools must be used to ensure that the necessary mission critical requirements needed by the emergency services are there.

He added that this must be underwritten by service level agreements and proper legal arrangements to enforce the solution.

The spectrum group of interested parties has now agreed and published (on 12 November 2013) a clear position paper, which describes the views of the public safety community on spectrum, explains the 4 Cs, and the dependency on mission critical voice.

B-APCO is approaching Ofcom (through ESMCP) to acquire an understanding of the UK’s approach to spectrum harmonisation and to the World Radio Congress in 2015 (described above), which is expected to reallocate 700MHz spectrum from digital terrestrial TV to mobile services.

Looking ahead, Antoniou said that if the UK goes ahead with the current plan to replace Airwave with some form of 4G LTE using commercial providers then there is a message there for B-APCO’s commercial members. ‘The UK can lead the way on LTE for public safety. That will provide a big export opportunity when other countries follow suit.’

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Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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