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Tracking the progress of future-critical communications

British APCO’s Manchester event provided a mix of presentations and panel sessions on key topics such as MAIT, Next Gen 999, ESN, Big Data, Video, G-Cloud and others, along with a range of critical communications vendors showcasing their products in the exhibition area. James Atkinson reports from the show

Tracking the progress of future-critical communications

British APCO 2015 kicked off with a rather different perspective this year in the shape of a presentation on the potential impact of space weather on UK communications infrastructure.

Speakers from the likes of the UK Space Agency and the Cabinet Office’s Civil Contingencies Secretariat discussed how space weather can affect the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and how that in turn can hit the performance of critical national infrastructure.

Another session looked at the government’s G-Cloud and attempted to elucidate some of its perceived complexities, as well as helping those responsible for running or procuring communications technology, services and solutions.

MAIT update
Collaboration between emergency services remains a key topic in the UK, and a session was devoted to presenting the findings from the recent national research into the subject by the Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and West of Scotland with Skills for Justice.

The research was commissioned by the Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group (ESCWG) to look at the key enablers and barriers to collaboration and reveal what good collaboration will look like in the future.

Delegates also got a chance to catch up on the latest developments for MAIT (Multi-Agency Incident Transfer –, which is aiming to provide a way to electronically populate emergency service control rooms with key incident data using commonly agreed terminology.

David Barnes of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Cabinet Office, said MAIT was being developed as part of the government’s strategy to create open standards around ICT (

He told delegates that a draft standard had been submitted (it can be accessed on the website), which he said gave a ‘solid foundation of where we’ve got to’. He noted that there had been a big input on the health requirements to help define triage for the ambulance service and similarly for vessels to aid the Coastguard.

‘Dealing with legacy systems has been a big constraint on what we’ve been able to do,’ said Barnes, who added that gazetteers remained tricky to consolidate, so the aim has been to try and enable the use of different ones.

The gazetteers are based on a unique property reference number, but Barnes said the need to find a way to pinpoint non-property-based locations was still a requirement. ‘How do we refer to location with a commonality across government?’ he asked. ‘That is still a challenge.’
Work continues based on open document formats with some 25 organisations involved to date. The next stage involves the MAIT draft standard going forward to the Open Standards Panel for ratification.

During a Q&A session, James Belcher of ESCWG said that MAIT needed to be seen in the context of the government’s desire to remove monolithic contracts. ‘Standards therefore become critical if more organisations are involved. MAIT is part of a bigger picture and is the flagship standard leading the way.’

It remains to be seen how MAIT will interface with the government’s Emergency Services Network (that will replace the current Airwave TETRA emergency services communication system with 4G LTE on a commercial mobile network) currently out to tender.

Belcher said: ‘I have no doubt that this standard will save lives and will set the benchmark for all of the standards to aspire to and be a true collaboration between public and private sectors, users and suppliers.’

British APCO president Sue Lampard said: ‘Next Gen 999 will fit into this too. There will be 999 apps that will go into the MAIT system and into command and control rooms in a standard way, and then you’ll have information going back out to public. Most of the command and control room suppliers have been involved in the inputs.’

Lampard pointed out that a new group, the ESCWG, has stepped in to help drive MAIT (British APCO has had to steer delivery of most of the work on a voluntary basis up to now). However, everyone is waiting to hear about future funding post-election.

The MAIT design is based around a hub into which incident data can be uploaded and then downloaded by the other emergency services as required. However, Lampard pointed out: ‘We don’t think every agency needs to build a new hub. Surrey Police have a hub that will be MAIT compliant; there is another in Wales.

‘Others can join these,’ she continued. ‘What we have to do is figure out how many we need, but avoid re-inventing wheel with everybody wanting their own hub. There is a Cheshire cluster of agencies fairly far down procurement line as an example.’ (For more on both MAIT and Next Gen 999 see March/April issue of Wireless).

Emergency Services Network contract
The government’s £1.2 billion Emergency Services Network (ESN), currently in its final phase of procurement, has of course been the major subject of discussion and debate for the emergency services and the mission-critical communications supply chain over the past two years or so.

A panel session on ESN gave delegates a chance to discuss this controversial subject again with contributions from Phil Godfrey, chair of the TETRA + Critical Communications Association, Tim Cull of the Federation of Communication Services, Sue Lampard, president of British APCO, Luana Avagliano of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Paul Robinson, Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner, Humberside, and Geoff Spring of APCO Australasia.

While the discussion provided a forum for people to express views, worries and predications, it has to be said the refusal of the ESMCP (Emergency Services Mobile Communications Project) team, which is running the ESN tender from the Home Office, to talk about ESN in any way whatsoever (as has been its stance throughout the process) meant answers were in short supply.

Best and final offers from the remaining bidders are due in at the end of May, with preferred bidders to be selected at some point after that. It is to be hoped that shortly after the winners are chosen the ESMCP will give the emergency services a better understanding of what they will be getting and how they should best prepare for it.

Joining it up

The final session of the event looked at how to improve public safety information and communications by joining up good work and innovation happening within both the user community and the commercial sector. Breaking down silo mentalities was seen as a key first move.

Paul Robinson, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Humberside, said that joined-up thinking was a bit of a nightmare. ‘I’ve been looking for guidance and I can’t find it, but I think the best collaboration happens at local level when services are co-located and people are able to solve problems together.’

Dimitris Kaltakis of Transport for London (London Buses), observed: ‘We have the traffic police co-located with us in London, so that is a first step towards a fully integrated and collaborative command and control centre. But you need open and common interfaces, so all the systems can be combined.’

Henry Cressey of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service said it was important to have the ability to compromise and to establish local initiatives with agile development. To which Robinson added: ‘We must put the public at the heart of what we do, provide better and more effective services, and enable cost reductions. If we take the public with us, we can do anything we want.’

‘I think the police are ahead of us on this,’ observed Cressey. ‘Co-location of emergency services is the most logical thing to do. We need to take that on board and try to find a way to make it work. The savings are in the support areas behind the front line; HR, finance, and legal services.’

Kaltakis pointed out that the customer is at the heart of what London Buses does, adding: ‘There are initiatives and innovations we are trying to introduce, such as connecting all forms of transport, so customers can dynamically organise their journeys. Road, bus, underground, rail – how do we connect all the different modes of transport? We are still struggling a bit with this, but hope we can get everyone on board.’

Several speakers questioned whether major suppliers are really willing to open up the backs of their boxes to others and wondered if the reality is that suppliers want to keep things to themselves, meaning it is not just customers that have a silo mentality, but suppliers too.
The panel agreed that dynamic leadership is required if the silo mentality is to be overcome and that the public sector can borrow from private sector ideas and visions. However, it was felt that achieving this does not necessarily just require open systems; it also requires open attitudes.

Capita looks to support police from back office to the front line
Capita showcased its suite of services to support UK policing at British APCO. Robert Leach, market director, Police & Justice, at Capita explains to Wireless: ‘We provide a breadth of capabilities from back-office services such as HR, finance, payroll and ERP, right up to the front end of the criminal justice system, including how they run cases and build a case file to submit to the court.’

Capita’s SmartWorks is its latest enterprise mobility platform for UK police forces. It enables police officers to access police data and records systems on smartphones, tablets or laptops.

‘It provides a mobile data environment that links to all those systems including the control room, so the officer gets all the necessary information he or she needs out of the criminal justice system. The information comes over the air to the devices via the control room on the way to an incident, for example,’ says Leach.

Capita has also developed a service called ControlWorks, which provides a single information and communication hub to support voice and non-voice contact with the public including telephony, SMS, email, social media (two-way) and intercom.

The call management system provides the call handler dealing with the public with call scripting, real-time logging, action prompts, information search and decision support. The information management aspect of the system covers contact history, appointment and enquiries, intelligence, warning markers, critical registers, contingency planning, mapping, directories and a browser.

‘From our point of view this service is built for CRMs now,’ says Leach. ‘Before, the only thing was the 30-second response to an emergency call, but 80% of calls are non-emergency, so police need a CRM system that manages responses to a citizen. Maybe all you need is an insurance number for your bike theft, but if it is a real emergency we’ll pass you back to the 999 desk.

‘Police forces are very keen to deal with citizens properly and improve the way they deal with victims and witnesses, not just at the time of an incident – a witness might like to find out what is happening on the crime as the investigation proceeds,’ says Leach, who adds that ControlWorks is currently being used by South Wales Police, Derbyshire Police and Highways England.

A further Capita product is EvidenceWorks, which enables the police to manage digital evidence for UK criminal justice agencies, including the ability to ingest, catalogue, store, analyse and share media from multiple sources. The product is integrated with the police records management systems and comes with a full search, retrieve, edit and share functionality with full access, security and activity audits.

‘EvidenceWorks enables police forces to collect things such as audio, MP3 or MP4 files, photos, multimedia messages, body-worn video, CCTV and other evidence that goes into case files. Forces have to have a repository for evidence, which means they have to have a digital evidence management system that is secure and tamper-proof,’ says Leach, who adds that Avon and Somerset and Wiltshire Police are rolling out the product.

Finally, Capita is developing something called IdentityWorks, which will enable the justice system to manage the process of identifying a charged individual not just in the charging process, but in court and all the way to prison. ‘This will stop a proxy taking the rap for the real criminal by using bio-ID,’ says Leach.

Noting that there may be mergers or co-sharing within police forces and perhaps other emergency services, Leach says: ‘We need to be ready for whatever comes and be as flexible as possible, as it is very hard to predict whether PCCs will stay the same or not. But we think we have designed the right suite of solutions to match whatever comes, and which will enable the police to lower costs and share information between forces.’

Hytera give UK first glimpse of its DMR XPT trunking solution
Hytera demonstrated its new DMR XPT (extended pseudo-trunking) solution, which it first unveiled outside of China in Las Vegas at IWCE 2015 in March. It allows users to double their channel capacity without using a dedicated control channel. The solution is similar to Motorola’s Mototrbo Capacity Plus system.

‘XPT is like a DMR Tier 2.5,’ says Martin Edwards, product manager, Hytera UK. ‘It takes pseudo-trunking up one level.’ A single XPT system can support up to eight repeaters at one site and provide up to 16 traffic channels, supporting up to 1,200 users. Each traffic channel can be customised to transmit voice or data.

In a single Hytera XPT system, the repeaters broadcast the system’s status information in each frequency via a beacon signal, which informs the radio of available channel resource. The radio can then switch to an available channel and slot to communicate.
Edwards explains that it is easy for existing DMR Tier 2 Conventional users to migrate to XPT digital trunking by simply upgrading the firmware version of their current conventional Hytera digital radios and RD98xS’ series repeaters.

‘It is very cost effective,’ says Edwards. ‘It effectively allows you to pool your infrastructure, so rather than everyone on a dedicated channel, you share pooled resources, but without the cost of Tier 3. In addition, XPT is built into the software as standard, so there is no radio licence needed, just for the repeater.’

Motorola rides the WAVE Mobile Communicator
Taking top billing on Motorola Solutions’ stand was its WAVE Mobile Communicator – a software platform that provides seamless interoperability between different radio systems and extends those radio communications over broadband networks to different devices with applications for smartphones and tablets, PCs, desk phones and enterprise collaboration tools.

It can also provide radio-like push-to-talk (PPT) communications between just smart devices over any 3G/4G LTE network as an over-the-top (OTT) service. Two versions are available – the WAVE 5000 and WAVE 3000.

The WAVE 5000 can support up to 3,000 users and can be integrated with Motorola ASTRO 25 with ISSI wireline interface or ASTRO 25 and TETRA with the Motobridge wireless interface, which can also be used with P25 and TETRA systems from other vendors.

WAVE 3000 is optimised for Motorola DMR Mototrbo systems with a wireline interface, which provides a Mototrbo radio extension to smartphones and tablets using an appliance server for ease of deployment. WAVE 3000 systems can support up to 500 users.

Both Apple and Android devices can be supported, although the minimum requirement for operating systems is iOS 7.0 and above and Android 4.0 and higher.

Iain Cushing, senior consulting systems engineer, Motorola, tells Wireless: ‘In a talk group, one radio is assigned donor status; in other words it acts as a gateway to the IP domain; or, you can use a wireline connection direct to the system.’

Smartphones and tablets access the system by downloading an app – issued on an approved credentials basis – and use a 56-bit encryption secure pipe into the radio system. Mobile phone users can listen to up to 16 different talk groups.

‘But because they have a secure pipe, they can do secure person-to-person private calling using half duplex, controlled telephone access,’ says Cushing. ‘You can also do secure group texting via the TETRA Dimetra channel.’

Motorola was also showcasing its new remote speaker mic (RSM) for the ATEX market, which is fully integrated with breathing apparatus. It represents the company’s first complete solution and it is able to accommodate third-party connections.

Motorola has also ensured it is regulatory compliant as a radio and accessories total solution, not just the individual product. This means it will meet the new EU’s R&TTE Radio Equipment Directive, which comes into force in 2016.

Another RSM on display has near field pairing capability. You touch it to a fixed microphone and then take the remote mic with you if you leave the vehicle. It has a range of approximately 100m and comes with volume control, emergency button, flash light and windporting features, enabling your audio communications to be heard.

OnStar in-vehicle safety and infotainment system
The General Motors OnStar’s in-vehicle safety and infotainment system was on show at British APCO 2015. GM brands Opel and Vauxhall are fitted with an OnStar SOS button in the factory as part of a vehicle’s electrical architecture.

Catherine L. Bishop, Global Emergency Services Outreach Manager, Public Policy at OnStar, explains that there are two ways information can be sent to the emergency services in the event of an accident: either built-in sensors automatically send an alert to OnStar; or someone in the vehicle manually presses the SOS button.

GPS satellite is used to provide very precise location data by accessing mobile network operators (MNOs) systems to get the best signal. Skyward-facing antennas are fitted on the car, as they are far more effective than a cell phone antenna.

‘Vehicle location and voice/data are sent to OnStar operators based in Luton (Vauxhall’s HQ) in the UK to specially trained advisors, who can immediately be connected into the vehicle to see if the occupants are okay,’ explains Bishop.

‘They can speak to them directly and can then stay connected live in the background to reassure occupants or as the emergency services are on their way to help, they can call the occupants and we can turn up the radio remotely and relay help information. The connectivity is provided via MNO networks.’

If the occupants are hurt and cannot respond, an advisor can request emergency help to be sent to the vehicle’s location using GPS technology. OnStar calls the UK PSAP (public service access point), BT in the UK’s case, and BT gets in touch with the emergency services.

‘Using the vehicle ident information, the advisor can link into the driver’s account and find out who the vehicle owner is, their name and so on,’ says Bishop. ‘They know if airbags have been deployed, the vehicle make and model, fuel type, if there has been a multiple impact, which side or sides got hit, if the vehicle has rolled over – all information that is very helpful to the fire service in particular.’

She adds that if the car has rolled off the road and the public safety people cannot find it, OnStar can set the lights off, sound the horn and also unlock the doors if necessary.
Stolen Vehicle Assistance

Another aspect of the OnStar solution is that it can assist police find stolen vehicles or even help in a kidnap incident. ‘We locate the vehicle; send a signal to block the ignition being re-started; sound the horn, turn the lights on and unlock the doors if it is in a garage,’ says Bishop.

In the first year in the UK the OnStar service will be included in the price of Vauxhall cars. ‘Naturally, we hope people will want to continue having the service and sign up. If they do not, they can fall back on the eCall system, but we aim to set the bar high and hope they like it enough to want to keep using it,’ says Bishop.

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