Italy’s Athonet showcased a full mobile 4G LTE network capable of supporting eMBMS (Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services) or LTE Broadcast at Critical Communications World in June. The portable unit weighs just 12kg and it can operate for six hours with two batteries, transmitting for a range of 2km supporting up to 400 simultaneous users.
The unit comprises of an eNodeB (the LTE radio), EPC (Evolved Packet Core), MBMS Gateway (MBMS-GW) and Broadcast Multicast Service Centre (BMSC). It comes with the ability to support LTE backhaul options (satellite can be used, for example) and an LTE local area network.
Karim El Malki, CEO of Athonet, told Wireless: ‘We think this solution will be quite revolutionary. The objective of this demonstration is to show what can be done now using open source, off the shelf solutions including smartphones.
‘What we have done is integrate our LTE base station with an MBMS gateway and a video orchestration capability. We’ve also tried to make our MBMS gateway very flexible and able to interact with other applications.’
He explained that the demonstration at CCW (pictured below) involved using an LTE base station running live video from a camera streamed by the server. The really smart aspect of the set up is the fact that users can still access push to talk (PTT) for voice over the same radio channel being used to stream the live video – an example of the solution’s ability to support multiple applications.
‘The operator can decide which users see which video streams and because it is using very little spectrum you can run a lot of different video streams, which users can access using a smartphone,’ said El Malki.
‘It can run as a standalone, independent network, or off a big mobile network operator’s core and infrastructure,’ explained El Malki. ‘You could mount it on a truck and move into an area with no coverage to extend an MNO’s macro network or use it for an ad hoc network at local level and backhaul it by satellite, for example; or just use it to provide a local network backhaul capability.’
‘What we are showing here is a full core network with eMBMS running over a rugged server. We can provide eMBMS services now. It’s the first time anyone has put this capability into such a small package. You could connect to drones with cameras and provide everyone on the ground with the ability to see the same channel.’
Next gen services
El Malki described the solution as providing a next generation collaborative concept for emergency services response. ‘You could use it as a generic set up where everyone can share information and provide PTT services for people on the ground.’
He added that as far as PTT video broadcasting is concerned, Athonet believes it is ahead of the game. This is quite true in so far as the specifications for both mission critical video and mission critical data are still being worked on by 3GPP and its SA6 Working Group. The aim is to get the specifications into Release 14, which is due for completion in 2017.
Both civil contingency organisations and the military are interested in Athonet’s video streaming and multi-broadcast solutions, El Malki revealed. Up until recently, LTE solutions in the field have run into capacity and coverage problems. A 10Mb channel easily becomes fully loaded if you have to use unicast video (individual connections to each device).
‘You could still prioritise transmissions to key people before,’ concedes Karim, ‘but to do that you have to send it via the server. The key difference with our solution is its ability to orchestrate the transmissions at the mobile base station.’
Internet of Things
Athonet has also been involved in Internet of Things projects providing either dedicated local networks or acting as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) by connecting its systems into those of a mobile operator.
Its PriMo (Private Mobile) product uses the Athonet software to create a virtual mobile network using UMTS/HSPA/LTE and Wi-Fi technology, which manages connections via a ‘flat’ architecture, where all the functions can be centralised or distributed even to the more remote points on the network.
Data communication between terminals and machines is local to PriMo, allowing higher bit-rates without using additional resources. PriMo can also work as an autonomous network, or interact with the mobile telephone network infrastructures, to provide greater services and reliability, while reducing costs to a minimum.
Solutions for utilities
In Italy, Athonet is working with Enel, the multinational electric power utility, to cover one of the largest power plants in Europe with a dedicated LTE network to provide ultra-low latency mission critical coverage for IoT and M2M communications, real time video, safety at work applications, and so on. ‘Utilities are moving to more distributed architectures,’ explained Karim,’ so they require very low latencies.’
Athonet has also launched an MVNO offering in Italy (called PriMVNO), which enables companies from the energy sector, M2M and IoT to launch a full MVNO service by using Athonet to interface with a mobile network operator’s national 2G/3G/4G data network. This reduces costs explained El Malki, but by contracting through Athonet, companies get higher control and security of services.
‘The utility uses its own SIM cards and Athonet’s core network, which connects into an MNO like Telecom Italia’s core network. By doing this the utility gets control and visibility of its assets. We are trying to open up the black box and display everything at the utility’s operation room,’ said El Malki.