Motorola Solutions has been supplying mission and business critical solutions for over 50 years, but Paul Steinberg, chief technology officer, Motorola Solutions, sees a shift happening.
‘The simplest way I can describe it is that what mission and business critical communications means today is mission and business critical intelligence,’ says Steinberg, ‘and you leverage whatever technologies are best to deliver that intelligence.
‘We are looking to deliver intelligence led public safety solutions,’ he continues, ‘and bring real time information to bear to the practitioner. That means real time access to data on the people and the environment around public safety professionals. Our job is to help public safety organisations mobilise that intelligence and get it back out to their people in a way that makes the most sense to them in the situation they are in.
‘It’s about how get intelligence to them in the most suitable way, so they get the right information, at the right time, in the right way with the right play,’ affirms Steinberg.
‘We have to look at how to mobilise the network solutions and then how we architect the service enablement layer so we can extract contextual information, such as location-based information, video or biometric information from sensor worn by first responders, and then we need to manage the quality of performance and then move that out,’ he says.
Devices are, of course, a key part of enabling this, so how to evolve the traditional rugged two-way radio to handle data? When it comes to communication devices Steinberg says it is unrealistic to think first responders will walk around with the consumer devices of today. ‘But when we design rugged mission critical devices capturing the user experience and feeding it into the design is a very important part of the process.
‘Things get smarter,’ says Steinberg. ‘Weapons get smarter, the responders are wearing biometric sensors and heads-up displays and the smart vehicles are not just there for transportation, but become a smart partner as well, perhaps by using mesh technology to relay broadband data to the first responders. How do we make that work? How do we take all that real time data that can be captured on the individual and make sensible use of it?’
Heads-up display glasses
The company is exploring these new ideas partly by itself and partly through partners via its investment arm Motorola Solutions Ventures, which puts funding into start ups. For example, Steinberg says it has worked with Recon Instruments, best known for producing heads-up display (HUD) units for use in sporting and outdoor environments.
Motorola and Recon have been working on a smart glasses prototype that is designed to be less clunky and geeky than Google’s product. Steinberg says: ‘The heads-up display is on the right side. It is designed to work with a forward facing camera and to provide information snacking; you just look down and pick up what you need and disable it you’re not looking at it. If you look down it says; here’s what I have for you.’
It could be used to tell you what radio channel a user is on, or to make a police database enquiry. It could also snap a photo snap a photo, package it up and send it back to control. Information could be pushed to it, such as the location of the nearest fellow officer. By seeing that information in the heads-up unit, the receiving officer does not need to pull out his device and look at the screen.
Steinberg says the next step is to incorporate augmented reality, which will probably be mostly used for training purposes. ‘The line in the sand for end users is, if you give me something that forces me to change my procedures I won’t use it, but I might use it in training and for experimenting.
‘It is not just cultural and social barriers we have to deal with,’ continues Steinberg, ‘but policy and legal system barriers too. In some countries they would not allow the camera on the glasses, as it is seen as an invasion of privacy issue. That’s inevitably the way and that is why co-creation with end users is very important. We’ve got to get in the police, fire, ambulance and other end user feedback as we develop products.’
He cites the lesson of ‘The Lean Start Up’ by Eric Ries, which shows how you can fall foul of spending a lot of time and money on trying to go to market with the ‘perfect’ product. It may be perfect at what it does, but if it is the wrong product for the market it will fail.
‘What you need to do is build as little as you can, as fast as you can, develop the product on the hoof and keep adding the latest iterations,’ says Steinberg. Citing the heads-up display glasses, he says: ‘We are working with on this kind of thing with 10 different partners.’
LEX L10 mission critical LTE hand portable
Another new product out in the States is the LEX L10 mission critical LTE Android hand portable device (pictured below), which joins the LEX755. It is aimed at public safety personnel and provides them with the kind of mission critical applications that are normal to two-way radio systems, but unavailable on consumer-grade smartphones.
A key feature is its PSX (public safety experience) user interface that is customisable to meet the needs of particular roles or to adapt to changing requirements. It intelligently aggregates and prioritises information to only present what is critical for the user, based on their current status and activity.
It is designed for one-handed operation with a no-slip grip and a 4.7-inch touch screen. It features dual 1 Watt front-facing speakers, tri-microphone noise and echo cancellation, and a dedicated PTT button. It can also operate in covert mode and in the US it can be securely touch-paired with Motorola APX P25 radios via mission-critical Bluetooth. It uses a removable battery that enhances long-term usage in the field.
The LEX L10 is secured with hardware encryption and security enhanced Android OS to meet public safety FIBS (Federal Information Processing Standard) Publication 140-2 encryption standards. ‘It has very good audio and a great form factor, but the screen is slightly bigger than the Lex755,’ says Steinberg.
‘The base screen is designed for a police officer and it advances with context. So, if the officer is assigned to an event, a relevant map pushed to the device comes up automatically. You can also create talk groups dynamically in a number of different ways.’
The device also uses colours to highlight emergency events. It knows by context if the user is in covert mode and only provides audio if the user is wearing an earpiece. It is also a dual SIM device, so it can also be used as a personal device. Steinberg adds that being an LTE device it can stream video for situational awareness. Street video cameras can be overlaid on maps and clicked on to get the video stream from that particular camera.
‘You can also edit the video on the device, which of course is a no no for court evidence – a complete log would be kept for the court - but you can do edited highlights to cut out the non-interesting bits for others to see,’ says Steinberg.
Future mission critical communications networks
Steinberg notes that TEDS (TETRA enhanced data services) can carry most of what broadband can provide, but he thinks the likes of TETRA and P25 will co-exist in tandem with broadband LTE services for some time yet.
‘You leverage TETRA and P25 for voice and low speed data and broadband where you can,’ he says. ‘They sit side by side and you use LTE broadband where you need it. We are trying to make things transparent through our software layer, so you can use what is available, whatever is the optimum network.
‘We see them as complementary,’ continues Steinberg. ‘We continue to invest in TETRA and the radio side. We see no reason to back away from TETRA now, but we will balance it out with other technologies.’
Motorola is working with Ericsson to develop a mission critical LTE offering where the two companies have favoured an over the top approach to adding mission critical functions to the LTE standard ahead of these being written (not expected until 2018 at the earliest).
Steinberg believes an OTT approach, as opposed to embedding solutions deeper in the network, keeps things flexible and makes it easier to add features and adapt the offering.
Ericsson is looking after the LTE RAN (eNodeB base stations etc), the lower LTE core (MME - mobility management entity; and serving gateway); and the upper LTE core (HSS – home subscriber server, PGW – packet data gateway, PS PCRF/QoS broker – public safety specialised policy rules function/quality of service).
Motorola is concentrating its expertise on the two layers above: the first covers interoperability services, including mobile VPN, priority manager/unified services, land mobile radio interworking and potentially IMS (IP multimedia services).
The second comprises the application layer covering regional and national public safety apps including legacy apps, broadband apps, NextGen 911/999 calling, multimedia computer aided dispatch, messaging, video, maps/LBS, RMS and PSTN.
Key functions, such as group calling, are handled by enhanced multimedia broadcast multicast services (E-MBMS), which provides transport features for sending the same content information to all the users in a cell via LTE networks.
Steinberg says the Motorola Solutions/Ericsson mission critical LTE solution is ready to use. In the meantime, it and others in the mission critical community are trying to bring their expertise to bear on 3GPP and other standards bodies involved in writing the mission critical LTE standards over the next few years.
‘There’s a lot to do there,’ acknowledges Steinberg. ‘But 3GPP has been leaning into these issues over the last nine months and we are seeing some kind of convergence around there and with the system architecture group, so that is encouraging. The push-to-talk application seems to be the one area that will take a bit longer.’
Evolution of mission critical networks
‘There are many different scenarios playing out here,’ observes Steinberg. ‘The UK is at one end of the spectrum, moving everything over to a commercial LTE network provider, others have gone for a dedicated network, like FirstNet in the US. Others may adopt a hybrid or shared network approach. Any and all of those can work, but it depends how they are enabled.
‘It is not so much a technology issue, it is about policy and economics,’ he notes. ‘What does it make sense for a mobile network operator (MNO) to do; how much spectrum do they have and so on? A lot of what the MNOs want to do is very possible, but the tricky bit is extending coverage in a way that makes sense economically. In addition, their coverage tends to be uplink limited. Public safety users upload a lot more material than consumers do.’
Motorola Solutions continues to evolve its traditional two-way radio portfolio in P25, TETRA and DMR (Mototrbo) and is increasingly adding more and more applications. It is also developing infrastructure and device solutions for what now seems to be the inevitable move to 4G LTE solutions for future mission critical networks. There is clearly plenty to come yet.