Critical comms take its first steps on the broadband migration trail

This year’s Critical Communications World show saw vendors unveiling some of the first products and solutions to aid interoperability between existing narrowband public safety networks and other technologies such as 4G LTE. James Atkinson reports from Barcelona

Critical comms take its first steps on the broadband migration trail

All the talk in the critical communications world over the past few years has been about 4G broadband; should users migrate to 4G and if so, how and when? This year’s Critical Communications World (CCW) in Barcelona, Spain, demonstrated that the vendor community is beginning to respond to these questions.

One of the consequences of moving into the broadband world is the avalanche of data that has to be managed; this has given an opening to major IT players such as IBM, SAP, Oracle, Mircrosoft and HP to move into the critical communications space.

So, one of the most interesting announcements at CCW was the formal link-up between Thales and HP. The COMIT deal between Thales and HP is a recognition of this coming change in critical communications where data is as, if not more, important than voice in many circumstances.

Jean-Michel Lagarde, chairman and CEO of Thales Communications & Security, says: ‘The agreement between HP and Thales will provide a new generation of critical communications technology by combining our different capabilities and expertise – IT and IP services from HP and 4G infrastructure and security from Thales.’

Another sign of consolidation was Sepura’s acquisition of Spanish PMR firm Teltronic, which was unveiled ahead of CCW. The acquisition helps move Sepura down the 4G road, as Teletronic has developed portable TETRA and LTE base stations as part of its eNEBULA product family alongside its TETRA railway signalling application and CeCoCo Series of integrated command and control centre solutions.

Sepura also unveiled its SOLO Instant Coverage base station, which provides temporary infrastructure where there is little or no TETRA coverage, and introduced DMR Tier 2 Dynamic, which enables calls to be dynamically allocated to a free slot, as opposed to conventional DMR systems where users have to wait for their assigned slot to become available, even when the other slot is not being used.

Interoperability between different radio bearers is going to be crucial. Tait Communications demonstrated its UnifyVoice solution, which enables users to seamlessly communicate over any available LMR, cellular or Wi-Fi network.

Jamie Bishop, marketing manager for EMEA region at Tait, told Wireless: ‘Mobile phone or tablet users just need to download a PTT app – both Android and iOS versions are available.’ A key innovation within Tait UnifyVoice is the remote SmartMicrophone, which is tethered to the LMR radio and connects by Bluetooth wireless to a smartphone to obtain cellular or Wi-Fi network access.

TETRA infrastructure specialist DAMM unveiled its BS422 outdoor base station one-box solution, which offers TETRA, DMR Tier III, TEDS and analogue technologies in one integrated system. The company sees it as a cornerstone for building hybrid networks.

In the pipeline
Kjeld Pharao, CEO at DAMM, said: ‘The choice of which technology you use is just down to a software setting – it’s all software defined. We think this provides customers with a good bridge from analogue to the first level of digital as you don’t have to re-invest in your infrastructure.’

Hytera’s offering in the interoperability stakes was its PTTconnect LTE application, which enables voice and data communications to extend beyond a TETRA system to connect with 3G HSDPA or 4G LTE networks. At present it is only available for Android-based devices, but an Apple iOS version is in the pipeline.

A gateway and the PTTconnect app enables Hytera’s ACCESSNET-T IP TETRA network infrastructure to leverage broadband networks to deliver secure communications. The app supports the usual key TETRA functionality including: individual calls; group calls; prioritisation; and emergency calls. Users press and hold down the PTT button on the smartphone’s touchscreen to make and receive calls.

Italian firm Athonet received a major boost after partnering with Nokia Networks for the latter’s rapidly deployable LTE Network in a Box, which has macro site capacity and coverage to provide real-time communication services. It is a compact version of Nokia’s Flexi Multi-radio 10 base station.

Nokia says it is capable of supporting thousands of users, weighs only about 40kg and requires a power supply of less than 1 kW. It can be easily powered by a car-based inverter or a small portable generator and can be used outdoors without an additional cabinet, cooling or shelter.

Stefano Cocco, Head of Sales at Athonet, explained to Wireless that Nokia is using Athonet’s virtualised EPC (evolved packet core) software and IMS (IP multi-media subsystem) for Voice over LTE. Athonet has recently added the latter capability along with support for eMBMS.

Airbus Defence & Space introduced a number of new products including Viewcor, a new real-time monitoring system for tactical operations within TETRA networks, and officially introduced its hybrid networks solution, the Tactilon Suite.

This enables broadband technology to be added to existing PMR networks either via dedicated private networks or via commercial mobile networks, enabling public safety organisations such as the police and rescue services to gain reliable mobile access to broadband applications. The State Security Networks Group in Finland has already deployed it.

Eric Davalo, Head of Products and Services Portfolio Communications, Intelligence & Security at Airbus Defence and Space, said: ‘There is a trend of looking for enhancements to existing networks and gradually introducing new data applications and smart devices. A hybrid network managed with the Tactilon Suite opens the door to mission-critical broadband, enabling the secure access to such new applications.’

Co-existence of standards
The view from Motorola Solutions at CCW 2015 was that LTE and TETRA will co-exist for many years yet, perhaps indefinitely. In terms of LTE, it sees three types of network being used: commercial mobile operator networks; private LTE networks; and personal area networks fed by routers and using Bluetooth, NFC and Wi-Fi. What LTE promises is situational awareness in real time.

Tom Quirke, VP at Motorola Solutions, says the company sees three major trends emerging: the need for more inter-agency co-ordination, especially in response to major events; the development of more shared services – the need to access databases of other agencies during incidents, which means looking at a service model to deliver these interoperable services; and big data.

‘It has been an evolutionary approach to public safety technology up to now, but we think big data will have a revolutionary impact on how public safety organisations operate,’ says Quirke, who says public safety is now about providing mission critical communications and mission critical intelligence.

‘The key will be sorting out the data; making sure it is actionable and that people are able to use it in real time. We are moving from a world of react and respond to predict and prevent.’

Another newish development is the interest from major mobile cellular infrastructure and device manufacturers, particularly China’s Huawei and ZTE, to move into the niche critical communications market, rather than the other way around.

Huawei’s mission critical eLTE solution has been around for a couple of years now, but it has now launched an eLTE Rapid system for fast mobile deployments. Huawei is looking to build an alliance of partners to further develop eLTE products, services and applications.

However, the system is proprietary and this may put some customers off implementing it. Explaining Huawei’s interest in critical communications, David Xu, General Manager of Enterprise Wireless Domain at Huawei, says: ‘We are interested in smart cities and the base of the smart city is safety. Smart city developments are predicted to reach US$8-10 trillion. I think that volume is enough to drive our investment in critical communications.’

He adds: ‘The other thing is that as a major equipment supplier to the mobile phone industry, Huawei has developed its 4G LTE broadband capability and smart cities need video and big data services and this is our speciality. We want to use that to make a contribution to developing professional and industrial communications.’

Hybrid solutions
ZTE showcased its 2+4 solution, which enables mission critical communications users to combine narrowband radio systems and 4G broadband systems on a single unified system and hardware platform. Its aim is to provide a bridging technology to enable hybrid networks as users migrate from narrowband technology to broadband over the next 10-15 years.

Richard Sun, vice president, ZTE Trunking Technology Corporation says: ‘The idea of 2+4 is to enable narrowband networks to grow into broadband ones. You can install VHF or UHF networks that propagate over long distances and then add tactical LTE deployments in critical areas. The point is the sites are ready for 4G from the beginning, so this helps minimise the necessary investment and provides a step-by-step approach to 4G migration.’

In addition, the company launched its ZiLTE private wireless communications solution for the rail industry, which supports closed circuit television (CCTV), passenger information systems (PIS), and trunking radio systems.

The message from Philippe Agard, VP Public safety and Defence Markets, Alcatel-Lucent was; if you are looking to move into the broadband world, make sure your IP backbone is up to the task.

‘In this transformation, which critical communications users will have to do, they need to secure long term budgets, find spectrum and prepare ahead. Critical communications users should from day one introduce a backbone that is not only TETRA ready, but LTE ready too.

‘The backbone provides the backhaul for TETRA, P25 and Tetropol narrowband systems, but you can then add an MPLS layer on top of the backbone. This allows you to reroute all your traffic, including push-to-talk (PTT) calls and if it gets cut we can reroute it without dropping the call.

‘The other driver behind implementing an MPLS layer is that it provides a multi-service capability. This means you can segregate your traffic, so you can have a lot of agencies all using the same multi-service backbone and not just TETRA traffic. You can use this asset for other mini-agencies. By putting more organisations onto the same infrastructure you can save money,’ points out Agard.

Israeli firm Mobilicom has developed an intriguing small mobile private network capability by combining the strengths of peer-to-peer or direct mode (DMO) communications of TETRA/P25 networks with broadband networks using meshing techniques.

CEO Oren Elkayam says: ‘We create a broadband mobile network without the need for any infrastructure. Deploying dedicated 4G LTE networks for public safety is very expensive and many governments feel they do not have the budget, so everyone looks to the MNOs, who already have the networks. But will the police go there?’

Mobilicom’s solution won’t solve the problem of providing nationwide coverage, but it can provide a mobile broadband add-on capability for small operational units such as SWAT or disaster relief teams.

‘What we provide is private local area networks between teams at the scene of an incident. It enables teams to share broadband data and the network goes with you in a vehicle, a ship, or on your body,’ says Elkayam.

When it comes to finding LTE-ready mission critical handheld devices, there is not a lot to choose from yet. Thales was probably first out the door with its TeSquad LTE device first seen in 2013. Motorola Solutions followed with the LEX 700 and last year’s LEX 755 rugged smart device.

This year, Motorola introduced its LEX L10 rugged 4G device, which is particularly aimed at police and features a dedicated push-to-talk (PTT) button with enhanced audio and a 4.7-inch touchscreen. It has the look and feel of a touchscreen smartphone, but is considerably enhanced for public safety use.

The L10 is designed to mirror the activity of an officer. The Public Safety Experience (PSX) capability is designed to enhance the standard Android OS to adapt and streamline information, so that officers only receive the information that is relevant to them at that moment to help increase their responsiveness, while enhancing situational awareness.

Sepura unveiled something of a halfway house with its SC2020 portable radio, which is built on a brand new platform, Halfway because it is a TETRA radio, but one which is also broadband and Wi-Fi data-ready capable. It features a 2.4-inch screen, a more powerful engine, audio and resilience functionality. The company describes it as LTE data ready, but not voice over LTE ready (yet).

The SC2020 has an embedded Linux system for building in advanced features and integrating apps. However, it will be interesting to see whether the 2.4-inch screen is big enough to appeal to heavy data users and if the choice of Linux OS over the much more established Android OS will appeal to app developers and end users.

Huawei unveiled its first LTE terminals a while ago to go with its eLTE infrastructure system, which you have to use if you want the radios. Terminals include the EP680 with its traditional PMR hand portable design and the EP820, which looks more like a smartphone with a 4.5-inch touchscreen. It also offers the EV750 vehicle-mounted terminal – all are LTE only.

So, has anyone been brave enough to launch a full dual mode radio? Well, yes; ZTE unveiled a DMR and LTE dual-mode handset (plus 2G and 2100MHz WCDMA-only 3G) in the shape of the PH850L, which comes with a 2.2-inch screen and full keypad. The company also has an established range of DMR terminals and its GoTa rugged LTE-only terminals.

But ZTE wasn’t the only firm to come up with dual-mode mission critical hand portable. Selex ES has kept it all rather quiet, but it too has a dual-mode device on the market called the PUMA T4-TLE, which has a traditional two-way radio form factor, but supports both TETRA and LTE with a 3.6-inch display screen.

Key features include: simultaneous TETRA voice and LTE data; an Android OS (4.3 or above) with a set of apps supporting video, imaging and operational/clerical tasks; full TETRA TMO/DMO voice and data capabilities, including DMO repeater function and multi-slot PD/TEDS communications; Bluetooth and NFC support; GPS and accelerometer for location services; and a 5 mega pixel video camera and SD card for imaging support.

Leave a Comment