The advent of broadband technology into mission critical systems promises many new applications with live video streaming paramount among them. A variety of models are appearing to ensure seamless co-existence and interoperability between traditional mission critical PMR systems such as TETRA, Tetrapol and P25 and the new broadband LTE systems.
It is, however, vital that command and control room systems keep up with these changes to enable mission critical communications users to deploy and successfully manage all these new applications to the full.
This message has not been missed by Frequentis, the Austrian control room technology vendor. Speaking to Wireless at CCW 2016 in Amsterdam in June, Reinard van Loo, public safety, senior advisor and solution consultant with Frequentis, observes: ‘There are a lot of developments and possibilities you can have with broadband networks like LTE and of course the Internet of Things (IoT).
‘There are so many things changing and there will be so many new applications coming into control rooms over the next 10 years, so the question is: how do you provide a solution, an architecture, that can keep up with all the changes coming and deal with the unknowns? How can we provide a platform that supports the customer’s need for constant evolution of its command and control environment?’
Good question: Frequentis’ answer is its 3020 LifeX public safety solution. The key concept behind its design is that its software architecture makes it possible to connect a variety of systems using different protocols, which in turn enables it to be upgraded without compromising running systems.
The 3020 LifeX platform
The 3020 LifeX offers a configurable user interface where user interface functions are grouped into modules that can be activated, deactivated, and arranged on the graphical user interface according to the customer’s needs.
Additionally, context-sensitive layouts provide the dispatchers with just the functions they need so they are not overloaded with unnecessary information. Operators are able to dispatch resources and manage incidents either via phone or tablet by using portable clients.
The 3020 LifeX product line consists of three different basic packages, each of which can either be used stand-alone or in conjunction with the others, in order to deliver an advanced and customised control centre solution: the 3020 LifeX Radio Dispatcher; 3020 LifeX Unit Dispatcher; and the 3020 LifeX Dispatcher.
It can be integrated with the previous generation of ICCS 3020 voice communications system and provide a smooth transition into the IP world for Frequentis customers.
A recording and logging solution, which synchronously records voice and data in order to filter important data out of conversations and provide a full audit for later investigation and training is also available.
Frequentis also offers intelligent integration of closed circuit television (CCTV). For example, when an operator accepts an emergency call, the system can be programmed to automatically route cameras near the caller to the operator’s CCTV screen.
‘We think we have a solution that is ready for the next 30 years, as it allows us to add things,’ sums up van Loo. This is enshrined in the Frequentis Evergreen Control Room philosophy that offers new ownership and support models for customer consideration, which guarantees that the system stays compliant for decades and keeps up with future requirements such as LTE broadband.
Public safety market
The public safety sector is at an early stage in terms of utilising broadband applications, so what does Frequentis see happening in the market right now? Van Loo observes: ‘Customers appear to be intent on using new mobile communications in the same way as existing communications services, but with the ability to add more functionalities later on, such as IoT sensors, perhaps audio of gunfire reporting or CCTV.’
What is interesting, according to Van Loo, is that as these new applications are deployed, customers start to change their operational procedures and that is also something he says Frequentis has to support and help the customer with. Often this concerns who exactly responds in the control room to something like a sensor report of gunfire?
Is it the call taker’s job, or the dispatcher’s? It is unlikely to be either of them as they are usually too busy, so what that means is new roles must be created. ‘This is something we are focusing on with our partners,’ says Van Loo. ‘How to bring all this into the control room in an efficient and uncomplicated manner.’
This support role from the vendor is important, because there are no clear answers at the moment about how future operational procedures will evolve. ‘There are a lot of solutions available, a lot of possibilities, capabilities and benefits, but how do we bring them all into a sensible evolutionary path?’ asks van Loo.
He argues that while LTE broadband brings new functionalities and challenges to public safety control rooms that is not its key benefit. ‘For me, the benefit for the customer is that with broadband you bring your organisation’s Intranet and other information held in the control room out into the field. It allows you do things in the field where you need it and not have to come back to the office to fill in a form.
‘That is why our solutions are moving towards that: to a place where the customer has a data centre wherever his systems are running and access is provided by web clients,’ says van Loo.
‘We have very user friendly, high performance, secure web clients providing access to TETRA, LTE, mapping, integrated CAD solutions and so on. Wherever you have access to a web browser and wherever the customer’s network is available, then you can also have access to control room functionality in the field through a temporary control room in an office, for example. This offers the customer much more flexibility and that is where we think things are heading,’ asserts Van Loo.
The Frequentis 3020 LifeX system is multi-agency capable. ‘We can provide the same solution to multiple agencies at the same time, where in normal situations they are configured to act separately, but in emergency situations they can easily share information,’ says Van Loo.
Traditionally, the communications system, the CAD system, the GIS system are provided by different vendors and sit separately. But the 3020 LifeX is designed to integrate them. ‘That is why our solution is radical and why we are fit for the next 30 years,’ says Van Loo. ‘Our system is not a communications system; it is an integration platform.’
He continues: ‘It is based on a very modern IP-based architecture and it can run on any kind of cloud-based platform. We can integrate TETRA, LTE, telephony, GIS, CAD and other systems. That is what is unique to us: anyone can do data integration out there, but bringing data together with communications systems is different.
‘The thing other vendors do not have is the openness of the platform for our partners and customers to build new and exciting solutions leveraging the built in access to the data and voice worlds,’says Van Loo.
He points out that different public safety agencies will develop a common understanding of their new operational procedures enabled by the new technologies coming to the market, but it will take time. ‘We have to support that in our architectures, systems and solutions and also with our partners and that is why we need the flexibility to grow with the customer.’
The point here is to provide ‘service orientated elements’ that the customer can add when he is ready for them, but without having to re-architect the basic platform every time a new functionality is added.
‘We don’t want to say to the customer: “have a complete monolithic system which integrates everything”, but then the customer only uses 20% of it, because there is no operational need for the other 80%. That is a bad investment for the customer, and that is why we have tried to be more flexible in our system design and also in our partnerships,’ says van Loo.
For these reasons Frequentis believes it is well positioned to help UK emergency services transition their control rooms to the new 4G ESN system starting in September 2017 and rolling out until 2020. It is already working with the UK’s largest police force, the Metropolitan Police, following the award of a modernisation contract in December 2015.
‘What you want to avoid is to train thousands of users on a completely new user interface and radio concepts,’ says van Loo. ‘You start with like-for-like functionality as we do things now. We get them used to it using the same user interface and then when it is properly up and running you start to use the additional features, but it will take a couple of years,’ he reckons.
During that time there is likely to be a lot of interworking between the existing Airwave TETRA network and the new 4G one. This requires pre-standard solutions as there is no true TETRA/4G inter system interface available yet. (see Wireless May/June issue for the latest on interworking).
This responsibility for sorting the interworking issue initially landed on the control room suppliers and is provided for certain use cases by Frequentis, although additional support is now provided from within the ESN network.
Taking a wider view, Van Loo says that new solutions and applications are often developed by local developers, internal agency departments or their system integrators. ‘It is not always us who comes up with the answers,’ points out Van Loo.
‘Often it is something the customer can do much more efficiently than we can and that is a major reason why we have to be so flexible. Others can develop applications on our platform. We give them more than the APIs.’
Frequentis will also provide these developers with an end-to-end automated test environment - a unique offering in the market, according to Van Loo, so they can ensure that whatever they develop does not break the system.