Norway is in the process of rolling out a TETRA digital radio network for its emergency and public safety services. The publicly financed voice and data communications network, known as Nødnett, is overseen by DNK (Directorate for Emergency Communications), which was established on 1 April 2007 and is subordinated to The Ministry of Justice and Public Security.
Motorola Solutions won the contract to supply the network infrastructure and as of February 2012 widened the scope of its remit to becoming the prime contractor for the rollout, implementation and maintenance of the system. It will also operate the network to 2026.
The core infrastructure is built around Motorola’s Dimetra Release 8.x TETRA platform and will comprise some 2,100 base stations, 80 fire and police control rooms, 250 control rooms for paramedic services, hospitals and small regional health centres, along with multiple switch locations and a network operations centre (NOC) to monitor performance.
Speaking to Wireless at a Nødnett conference in Oslo in April, Tor Helge Lyngstøl, director of DNK, says: ‘It is a good situation to be in, as we have the latest Motorola hardware and software. There are some benefits to coming late to market! And it is a hardware that we can build on for further upgrades if we decide to follow Motorola’s roadmap.’
Motorola’s Systems Integration Centre in Berlin is building the base stations and pre-testing them before deployment to speed up the construction process. The base stations are preloaded with software, cables connected and interfaces prepared for apps to make the process as ‘plug-and-play’ as possible.
Helicopters are used to aid installation in remote sites, which are powered using generators, batteries and solar panels. An extensive network of microwave links is being built with leased lines provided by local telecom operators, which are used to connect the base stations to switch sites. Mobile base stations will fill in where fixed coverage may not be available.
DNK handles all radio terminal procurements on behalf of public safety agencies for use on Nødnett and has selected three vendors, including Motorola and Sepura, under a framework arrangement to provide terminals, testing and potentially special functions.
The target is for up to 79% of the Norwegian mainland to be covered, which is equivalent to almost 100% of the population. Other targets include: coverage for hand held radios along highways and county roads; strengthened coverage in a 5km radius around fire stations; and coverage for helicopter communications to an altitude of about 5,000 feet.
Nødnett base stations will have a minimum of two base radios, but many will have up to four. No base stations will have less than eight hours of backup, while 15% of the base stations will have 48 hours of backup electricity.
Lyngstøl says: ‘It’s just a guess, but we reckon 90% of traffic will be on less than 10% of the base stations and the minimum capacity we have is two base radios all over the country. In general there is sufficient capacity to handle incidents, but if we experience base stations that are frequently overloaded we will normally increase capacity to avoid users experiencing network congestion.’
The core users of Nødnett are the three emergency services: fire, police and health, but other organisations are expected to join, potentially raising the number of users to 80,000 in total. Lyngstøl says DNK is talking to customs, voluntary organisations like the Red Cross, search and rescue organisations and civil defence, while power and utility companies are also on the target list.
The roll out is happening in six stages, beginning with a pilot network around the Oslo fjord. Some 50% of the country has now been covered with completion due by the end of 2015. 500 DNK and Motorola staff are working together on the installation.
Nødnett is also trialling international interoperability with neighbouring Sweden’s Rakel TETRA network. To the south of Oslo, Halden Fire Department in Norway is cooperating with Strömstad’s fire brigade 30km away over the border in Sweden.
For the present, the Rakel and Nødnett systems are linked via a Pandora communications platform from Telium, but the restriction is each brigade is confined to its own network, which limits their range when they cross into the other country. A new project seeks to introduce a TETRA standard inter-system interface that is being developed by Motorola Solutions and Airbus, and which will deliver secure, seamless trans-border communications between the two countries.
What makes Nødnett different to any other TETRA network is that it is the first to support the TETRA Enhanced Data Services (TEDS) standard; approximately a third of the base stations will be TEDS ready (see box). Motorola’s IP-based Dimetra platform can also be integrated with 4G networks in the future.
Lyngstøl says: ‘If you look at the long list of target applications from public safety, approximately 80% can be met on TEDS. We have to work with the public safety agencies to make them understand that they have these possibilities with TEDS. We can never be sure what will happen, but I think there is a lot of positivity about Nødnett among the agencies now.
‘The important thing is that the network is there and it is providing coverage everywhere (or will in a year’s time). People are discussing what features they’d like and we can offer a range of things, but we won’t provide extra features that are not on the market yet. We just want to use what is there now with no proprietary development.’
Looking ahead to potential broadband LTE migration for emergency services, Lyngstøl says: ‘It is interesting to see what the real possibilities are here. I am not sure if an MVNO is the right way to go, although it may have some benefits, as it doesn’t really mean a big cost. A dedicated network for public safety like the Americans are building is not easy, especially financially in Europe.’
But unlike the UK, which is proposing to replace its Airwave TETRA network with a pre-mission critical standard version of LTE using commercial networks shared by consumers, he does not favour using proprietary solutions.
‘What about society?’ he wonders. ‘If you put everything on commercial networks, all your eggs are in one basket – do you really want to go in that direction? I find it very strange that this has not been an issue in the UK when I hear people are just talking about whether LTE has the required mission critical functionality.’
Instead, Lyngstøl feels that a shared network arrangement, which allows the emergency services to take full control of it when needed, is perhaps the most attractive option for a future emergency services broadband network.
It has taken 10 years to get Nødnett off the ground with some very public discussions. ‘It has definitely been a democratic decision, but it has been a tough one,’ says Lyngstøl, who notes wryly that over the years he has grown to be a part time politician.
‘I have had close contacts with five governments, seven Ministers of Justice, of health and many others and you need some friends out there who have the ability to understand what it is all about and who are willing to fight for it.’
Lyngstøl recalls one Minister of Justice who really wanted Nødnett to happen, saying to him back in 2004: ‘You will probably not win elections for promoting Nødnett, but you may lose elections for not having done it.’
What TEDS brings to Nødnett
TEDS is a TETRA high speed data service, which uses different RF channel bandwidths and data rates for flexible use of PMR frequency bands. Hans Petter Naper, project manager TEDS, for DNK, is running a TEDS pilot project with the aim of checking out the technology and demonstrating applications together with Motorola and some third party app providers.
‘Ultimately, the goal is to have the user agencies take part in the trials and promote TEDS to them,’ he explains. DNK has a full TEDS lab in its Oslo offices, which will be both a place to test apps, but also an incubator and a demo facility in order to promote co-operation between agencies and application providers. ‘They can come in and use the lab and work on solutions together,’ says Naper.
TEDS capability is initially being installed in one third of the base stations, but Naper says these have been spread out to ensure overlap in many places, so TEDS will be available in far more than that third of the geographic network. Tests so far show file transfer rates of 80kb/s + on the uplink and 90kb/s + on the downlink over 64 QAM modulation operating in a 50kHz channel.
Naper says: ‘We are seeing that the 64 QAM extends almost to the limit of the cell footprint. Only right at the edge of the cell does it drop to 4 and 16 QAM providing slower rates of 20-40kb/s. The handover between TEDS sites and between TEDS and TETRA multi-slot packet data sites has also been without packet loss so far,’ he reports.
There is a perception that you cannot stream live video on TETRA, but in fact you can. ‘We can do live video streaming and the quality is good enough for situational awareness,’ says Naper. ‘It is not full HD, but you can see what is going on and it brings that view into the control room.
‘You can see a number plate or recognise a face because we put intelligence into the video application at the scene of an incident. Everything can be recorded at the desired resolution.’
Norwegian application provider AnsuR ran a continuous demonstration of live video streaming from a moving car to the Nødnett conference in Oslo on April, which provided a high degree of visibility.
Naper adds: ‘An operator can capture a storyboard of still photos taken every 10 seconds, for example, representing a three minute video clip and you can download the storyboard as a 20kb picture. You can see what is going on in each of the time-stamped frames. The operator can then receive the interesting part of the video over TEDS, and get details at higher resolutions.’
The system also enables operators to send photos of suspects or missing persons to handsets or car-mounted radios. Ambulances can also capture a few seconds of ECG readings, compress that into a black and white picture of just a few kilobytes and send it to the hospital.
Other applications being trialled include: automatic/assisted form filling in the field; AVL with frequent location updates; fingerprint scanning in the street; driver and ANPR database checks; and installing Wi-Fi zones in emergency vehicles, so responders can move about outside the vehicle connected via Wi-Fi to the car while using tablets and smartphones.