The new European Commission (EC)-funded BroadMap project to define the future of interoperable broadband radio applications, services, networks and devices for use by public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) agencies began earlier this month on 1 May 2016.
The aim of the project is to find a common roadmap for the evolution of European PPDR radio communications from the narrowband two-way radio standards, commonly used by PPDR organisations in Europe today, to the broadband systems of the future.
BroadMap was created as a response made by the PSCE (Public Safety Communications Europe) Forum to the EU’s Horizon 2020 DRS-18 call for proposals - Communication technologies and interoperability topic 1: interoperable next generation of broadband radio communication system for public safety and security.
David Lund, president of PSCE and co-ordinator of BroadMap, explains: ‘PSCE members got together in December 2014 and decided they wanted to respond to DRS-18, which required a minimum of eight potential buyers/end users to be involved. We felt PSCE was in a good position to co-ordinate a response as we have end users as members and they were really motivated to do something.
‘We ended up with 15 end users representing EU member states and associated countries; eight of which represent the ministry with the country responsible for public safety; and seven represent other PPDR end user organisations and public safety network operators. We also have letters of support from 48 additional PPDR organisations.’
The PSCE submission was submitted to Horizon 2020 on 26 August 2015 and on 27 April 2016, a contract was signed between the EC and the BroadMap project consortium.
Catalysing a procurement process
‘DRS-18 or BroadMap, is the first step of a procurement process. The EC wants to catalyse a marketplace for interoperable broadband for public safety communications covering the whole ecosystem of networks, devices and applications and service,’ says Lund.
‘Our job is to inform that future procurement process in Europe by feeding information on the end user requirements and the specifications for an interoperable broadband PPDR communication system into an EC instrument called a Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP). The PCP will then form the basis of future national procurements of broadband public safety communication system across Europe,’ explains Lund.
The BroadMap team will gather together all the R&D on the subject that has gone on within Europe, not just Horizon projects, but other EC Framework projects relating to mission critical broadband communications, and also work done by other bodies such as the TCCA and the standards bodies such as PPG3.
‘We will study the documents we’ve collected,’ says Lund, ‘and assess the requirements and collate them together in such a form that we can go out to the broader community across Europe and validate those requirements.’
Lund adds that BroadMap is primarily looking at end user applications and services requirements first. ‘We are taking a top down rather than bottom up approach to the future PPDR broadband communication requirements. The end users need to do their job efficiently and save lives, and improved communications will help them do that. Providing a reliable and efficient way of accessing rich media is going to be beneficial to that.’
The first step, therefore, is to collect the buyer/end user requirements. Each partner will hold national workshops attended by end users, but not just those that manage public safety communications systems. ‘The idea is the national workshops will bring some understanding of what the end users really need, so we can then prioritise those needs,’ says Lund.
‘Once we have carried out that validation process we will take steps to try and define some of specifications for those requirements and then undertake a secondary validation process. After that we can then define the transition roadmaps from narrowband technology to broadband for each country.’
Liaison with standards bodies
Lund says that the BroadMap team intends to liaise with the standards organisations working to include mission critical functionality into the 4G LTE standard. ‘We may find that as we analyse the end user requirements the process may highlight that there are gaps in what 3GPP is doing, so we may need to try and get these gaps included in the LTE standard.’
Once assembled, the requirements, technical specifications and roadmaps will then later inform the Pre-Commercial Procurement instrument. ‘We want to provide something that is of Technology Readiness Level 8 – fully workable, but not in production,’ says Lund.
Broadmap is a 12 month project, which is due to end on 30 April 2017. There will then be another round of bidding for the right to operate the PCP. That proposal will be delivered at end of August 2017 and the PCP Project is due to start in May 2018.
‘The importance of BroadMap is that the EC is bootstrapping this and I would emphasise that this is end user driven, rather than industry pushed.’ BroadMap is under a tight obligation to only talk to end users this year. It is not allowed to talk to industry vendors at this juncture, as they are likely to end up bidding for projects down the line.
‘The PSCE does have industry members, but our organisational structure of three committees (Industry, End Users, and Research) means we can avoid talking to the industry members during the project,’ says Lund.
The BroadMap partnership will hold an event in October 2016 for end users and a further one in April 2017 when industry vendors will then also be invited.
Summing up, Lund says: ‘I think the European Commission is trying to deliver what society needs, as there is a risk PPDR gets sidelined. We have a really good opportunity here to shape what PPDR end users really need - and let’s hope they get it.’
Photo: Courtesy of Airbus Defence & Space