The much discussed migration of mission critical communications users towards broadband networks and solutions began to look more of a reality at this year’s Critical Communications World in Amsterdam in June.
Airbus Defence & Space was no exception to this, unveiling new products and solutions designed to enable customers to move as fast or slowly as they wish with dual running of narrowband and broadband networks, hybrid networks or a pure broadband using different models.
At a press conference at CCW, Eric Davalo, Head of Strategy, Solutions Portfolio and Engineering of Secure Land Communications at Airbus, outlined one possible migration route to broadband for mission critical communications users.
Davalo pointed to the example of Finland where the country has opted to retain its TETRA network, but is adding islands of LTE coverage where necessary and from which it can build out at a speed that suits the network operator - VIRVE.
A managed evolutionary migration might take the first step with a hybrid solution mixing TETRA for mission critical voice and data with access to broadband data via a secure mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) style arrangement with a commercial 4G provider.
This could lead to dedicated mission critical 4G data solutions becoming available and then finally moving to a full mission critical broadband network for both data and voice.
Davalo said: ‘To start with you can partner with an MNO to get the LTE spectrum (and infrastructure if required). If you do it in a smart way you don’t need a lot of spectrum; a bit of 700MHz perhaps, and you deploy it in areas that get overloaded like airports and stadia. We have transportable, mobile solutions and you can add broadcasting capabilities on top of that – this helps manage the cost too.
‘I see more and more a mix of technologies emerging,’ he continued. ‘VIRVE has shown how it can be done and I think utilities are interested in these solutions too. I’ve not seen any utility attempt a national network yet, but they are interested in broadband island overlays,’ he noted.
Beyond public safety
Davalo pointed to the example of a power plant in Italy where a small LTE system can provide a bubble of broadband coverage, which can be implemented to reach into underground areas MNO coverage cannot reach. This is important not just for day to day communications, but in the event of an accident or other incident, the ability to send an alert if a worker is injured is vital.
‘Coverage is an issue in big industrial plants,’ explained Davalo, ‘but MNOs have no interest in providing solutions. But if you put in a dedicated solution you get reliable coverage, but also the ability to add mission critical applications such as man down alerts and you are able to report problems quickly.
‘You can also add proprietary workflow applications suited to that environment,’ he continued. ‘We think people are willing to pay for specific solutions like these, especially at remote sites like hydro-electric plants or in tunnels where there is no coverage.’
Davalo said Airbus is driving towards making its offerings more complete with PTT voice over LTE, eMBMS (evolved Multimedia Broadband Multicast Services) for multi-video broadcasting over LTE and creating hybrid MVNO solutions. It is also looking at the various licensed shared access (LSA) spectrum sharing solutions, which will open up spectrum to public safety, transport and utilities in particular.
‘At the moment, too many organisations are forced to use sub-optimal technologies. But with LSA we could see very different organisations running their own networks – perhaps even local councils running networks on behalf of their citizens, or neutral hosts providing the service.
‘Our smart core can be very effective as it can enable different models. I think all this will have an interesting impact on the critical communications sector, so traditional PMR users can do what they are used to doing, but on broadband LTE,’ said Davalo.
The most eye-catching new product from Airbus at CCW was its Tactilon Dabat dual TETRA-LTE radio. The rugged device features a 4.7-inch mobile phone style touch screen with external antenna and integrates both a fully rugged smartphone and a complete TETRA handheld radio in one form factor.
The LTE part of the Dabat is designed for data only with voice services working via TETRA. However, thanks to applications which run on the Dabat, users are able to exert push-to-talk over LTE, so TETRA radios can talk to cellular devices. The Tactilon Dabat has the same shock, water and dust resistance as any Airbus TETRA radio.
It supports typical PMR functions such as push-to-talk (PTT) with TETRA device-style buttons, direct and emergency calls, messaging, location based services, man-down detection, cross-authority support, direct mode and end-to-end secure communications.
On the broadband side it supports data, rich media communications and a lot of applications, including mapping. The microphone and speakers are voice-optimised and waterproof with the ability to communicate even in heavy rain.
The Dabat is part of a suite of products and solutions under the Tactilon brand designed to help public safety agencies mix narrowband and broadband technologies.
Airbus introduced its TETRA Release 7 with support for more TETRA servers providing better geographical redundancy and improved resilience. The ability to carry out remote operations on base stations cuts operational costs, and there is more capacity for applications. It also features an integrated IP security solution.
On the TETRA infrastructure side, Airbus showcased the Claricor Cell – a 10-minute plug and play deployable TETRA network with everything pre-configured. It can also be used to provide communications for mobile convoys. These kinds of solutions are becoming increasingly common with a number of other companies having similar products.
The company also unveiled the latest iteration of its Tactilon Suite – a portfolio of devices, applications and infrastructure combining PMR and broadband, including Tactilon Agnet, Secure, Broadband, Cell and Suite.
Tactilon Agnet is a group communication solution, which connects broadband and PMR users. The TETRA version has already been deployed, but new features at CCW included group multimedia services, and standards compliant for voice. It also works for Tetrapol networks.
Tactilon Secure is a unified control and security solution designed to enable public safety personnel to communicate securely on a commercial mobile network (Tactilon Secure MVNO).
As an alternative, Tactilon Broadband enables guaranteed coverage and capacity for public safety agencies by using their own LTE base stations – a dedicated broadband solution in other words.
Tactilon Cell is a full LTE service with mission critical applications integrated into a small mobile ‘all-in-one’ box (it can also be vehicle mounted) for tactical, ad hoc, networks, although it can also be integrated into a nationwide LTE network.
The final element of the Tactilon Suite is Tactilon Management - a unified subscriber management and control application, which brings public safety operating models to 4G LTE. Operators can manage and control subscribers, access rights and call/video groups across TETRA, Tetrapol and LTE.