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CCW 2017: The world looks to the East

There was much to see and do in China and Hong Kong in May, including Critical Communications World and the Hytera Global Summit. Sam Fenwick reports

T
his year’s Critical Communications World in Hong Kong continued its tradition of providing delegates with the latest thinking around the growing use of broadband by public safety agencies. It witnessed the signing (shown below) of a letter of intent by Jarmo Vinkvist, CEO of Suomen Virveverkko oy (on behalf of the Finnish VIRVE network,) and Minna Nyman, chief advisor at MSB (representing the Swedish RAKEL network), to inter-connect their countries’ public safety networks. The signing follows on from that at Critical Communications Europe earlier this year for the similar Norway-Finland ISI project. Nyman said there is no set date on when three-party ISI will begin. However, when all three countries are linked, the combined network will be the biggest TETRA network in the world, both in terms of the number of base stations and geographical coverage.

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L-R: Jarmo Vinkvist, CEO of Suomen Virveverkko oy; and Minna Nyman, chief advisor at MSB

Nyman added that the task of linking the Swedish and Finnish networks is easy compared with that of harmonising operational procedures, and this was the most time-consuming aspect of the Norwegian-Swedish ISI project. Vinkvist said one challenge was that in Norway, the police are responsible for handling incidents, even fires, while in Sweden, fire and rescue managers are in charge of fire cases. As Finland has the same model as Sweden, it follows that the operational side of the Finnish-Swedish ISI project will be easier than the Norwegian-Swedish one. Vinkvist and Nyman also said it is not just about the borders, as when high-ranking government officials are visiting each other, their security personnel will be able to use their own radios while in a different country.

“What is really good [about] this project is [that] it comes from a real need, so we are acting as enablers for good and secure communications through ISI,” Nyman said. 

During a panel discussion, Andreas Gegenfurtner, CEO of BDBOS, the German TETRA network operator, said that as part of its modernisation work, the network will be opened up to ‘yellow light’ users, some 2.5 million people. He explained that as there would be too much of a jump going from legacy technology to a 5G world, BDBOS has opted for a “two-stab” strategy, with the first being a mid-term upgrade to IP and, once that has finished, “we’ll start the next step to the 4G, 5G world”. He added that part of the thinking behind this is that customers complain about the slowness with which new features are rolled out, hence the need to “jump over the wave to get ahead”, rather than running behind it. “We decided to go in the first step to IP, and we’ll do the preparation for the network for when the 5G world is there.”

Emmanuelle Villebrun, co-ordinator, network development at the French Ministry of Interior, said France is looking to adopt a model based on a combination of the UK ESN and Belgium models, and its goal is to have one terminal per user, as opposed to the current situation where first-responders have Tetrapol and commercial (LTE) terminals. “The idea is to rely on any possible network, using IP convergence.” 

She added that when it comes to out-of-network communications, the discussions in 3GPP about terminal-to-terminal communications, “it seems this would lead us to a niche market”. Because of this, France is interested in tactical networks made up of base stations in vehicles, combined with opportunistic backhaul over any IP pipe, as a means to ensure 100 per cent coverage and availability. 

To test this opportunistic backhaul model and gather operational feedback, the Ministry of Interior has started a contract for 10,000 users, and Villebrun hopes to be able to report on its findings next year and says the frequencies available for public safety LTE in France that are not in commercial bands “are seen by us today as really risky – we don’t know if there will be equipment [or if it will be available at a good price]. So, today we have an open strategy, we think that a dedicated network and dedicated spectrum is too risky and we would like to investigate shared spectrum opportunities. We are trying now to establish a new organisation like Rakel or Astrid.” She added that one objective is to ensure regular competition between vendors and that the plan is to use multi-vendor infrastructure; the deadline to have the new network up and running is 2025, five years after the manufacturer’s support for the Paris Tetrapol network will end. Part of the issue in Paris is the need for mission-critical video, and this cannot be met with Tetrapol. 

Nokia’s Noel Kirkaldy was very upbeat, saying that while “last year was about if [public safety LTE] is going to happen, now it’s just a matter of when and how”. He also expects the volume of demand that may be created from the FirstNet roll-out in the US “to bring a lot of focus on the application side”.

Dave Chater-Lea, vice chairman, 3GPP SA6, gave an update on the work to standardise public safety features in 3GPP, saying Release 15 is expected to be finished in mid to late 2018. It will enhance the existing services. “We’ve already done some work on the MBMS – the broadcast service that lets you set up a group call in a cell or set of cells. The enhancements are to let it be a bit more dynamic, more control from the application and to share the same broadcast channel for multiple talk groups. 

“Recognising the significance of the TETRA intersystem interface [ISI]… [and that it] took a little longer to develop than everyone would have liked, we’ve started working on interconnection migration. That will allow two mission-critical systems to connect together and users to roam from one system to another to provide mutual aid. At the same time, we’re starting on interworking with LMR systems, with TETRA systems in particular. We also have a parallel piece of work on ETSI to make the other half of the interface work, so MCPTT to TETRA connectivity will be one of the outputs.” 

Tor Helge Lyngstøl of the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) said Nørdnett, Norway’s TETRA network, has a support contract with Motorola Solutions running to 2026 and will undergo a mid-life upgrade in 2020. He added that 700 of the network’s base stations support TEDS, and while the service has been tested, it is being switched off and won’t be used, due to the lack of industry focus on equipment and applications – to the point that Norway came very close to paying Motorola Solutions to develop a TEDS handheld. Fortunately, the way that TEDS was implemented means that the base stations can be used for TETRA. 

In a panel session focused on mission-critical LTE, Lyngstøl said that “if you look at ESN, the figures I have heard is that £1.2bn [is to be invested] in hardening the networks and improving coverage. In comparison, that is more than twice as much as we paid for the TETRA network in Norway, and still it is claimed [to be] cheap.”  

Huawei’s Norman Frisch, chairman of the eLTE Industry Alliance, emphasised collaboration. “On the supplier side, no-one is an expert at everything. We are in a world where we have to collaborate [and] find experts and make it very easy to integrate [those experts] into the end-to-end solution. We can’t expect an individual company to deliver everything, it has to be a collaborative approach [based on] standards that have an easy way to integrate specialised technology.”

Lance Valcour, independent strategic advisor and life member of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, expects that in the future, machine learning, analytics and location-based services, combined with heads-up displays, will provide safety workers with “the one piece of information” they need to know “right now that’s mission-critical”. 

Tom Guthrie, VP, smart public safety solutions at Motorola Solutions, discussed ways in which the public safety sector might be able to adopt new technology faster, highlighting the cumbersome and slow nature of many procurement processes. He discussed the use of hackathons with customers and the introduction of intelligence into mobile applications. One issue with the latter is the massive variety in working practices. 

“If you’ve seen one public safety organisation, you’ve seen one public safety organisation, because they all do it a different way,” Guthrie added, saying this is compounded by the 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the USA, requiring solutions to be delivered in a customised way. He said Motorola Solutions talked to some of its customers in Queensland, Australia and encouraged them to bring personnel from remote rural areas “so they can be heard by the group and bring real-world situations” to a 48-hour hackathon. 

Staying on the subject of app development and hackathons, Airbus was promoting its SmarTWISP programme, which is aimed at generating an ecosystem for its smart devices. Catalin Gheorghiu, Airbus’s business product manager, said there will be a Critical App Hack in October and the SmarTWISP portal for licensed and certified members will open in the same month. Certified members can benefit from co-marketing, and the highest level of membership, Elite, is reserved for the best apps and involves sales co-operation and a revenue-sharing agreement between the developer and Airbus. Application developers can now register for a free solution development kit for the Tactilon Dabat, Airbus’s LTE-TETRA hybrid terminal.

Thomas Lynch, director, safe cities, critical communications and security at IHS Markit, discussed the results of a study that analysed the benefits of safe city deployments. One of the main findings was that the final stage of investment, which represents more advanced integration, co-operation on data and analytics and the implementation of predictive crime centres, tends to be associated with the biggest social benefits, partly due to the time it takes for the security and safety improvements made during the initial investment phase to have an impact. In addition, the biggest benefits in public safety are typically realised in the first stage of deployment (which is also the most expensive) – the initial installation of video surveillance cameras and critical communications.

Over at the Nokia stand, Tristan Barraud de Lagerie, product marketing manager, showed off its LTE network in a backpack, which is based on the company’s Flexi Zone small cell product. It can support up to 400 users, has an output power of 2x5 watts, a five-kilometre range, an IP64 casing and can run off four hot-swappable batteries for two hours, as well as support push-to-talk and push-to-video services. It is expected to be available this October.

The Finnish Pavilion had a number of innovative companies and start-ups, including Cloudstreet, a Nokia spin-off, and Jolla, the developer of the Sailfish operating system. Mika Skarp, Cloudstreet’s CTO, discussed the work his company has been doing to support FirstNet. Its Dynamic Profile Control (DPC) engine allows end-user devices to transmit self-aware context changes to allow on-the-fly profile changes to help ensure consistent and predictable quality of service. Skarp said Cloudstreet’s technology can be used to provide individual applications with a dedicated 4G network slice.

One issue with public safety agencies using broadband devices is they age faster than their TETRA counterparts, with Android devices ceasing to be able to receive operating system updates after just a few years. Jolla’s VP of sales and business development Sammy Loitto explained that with Sailfish OS, this needn’t be a problem. “There’s the possibility of having an OS that fits the need of the critical communications community.” He said due to the use of hardware adaptation layers, Sailfish can use the same drivers applied for use with Android that come with the latest chipsets. 

Critical Communications World 2017 was filled with so much comment and analysis, it was all but impossible to fully capture everything that took place. It was interesting to see the big PMR players prepare for greater use of broadband, with parallels between their efforts and the massive push on 5G being spearheaded by vendors in the wider telecoms industry.  

Hytera Global Summit 
This year’s Hytera Global Summit (which took place in Hong Kong on the first day of CCW) served as a platform for the launch of the company’s LTE-PMR Convergence Solution. It was comprised of multi-mode advanced radio terminals (both LTE-DMR and LTE-TETRA), narrowband-broadband infrastructure, and management software.

During the summit, Qingzhou Chen, president of Hytera, criticised the relative lack of innovation in the PMR industry, arguing that it has led to a decline in sales for many companies and reduced its attraction to young engineers.

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Yelin Jiang, Hytera’s VP with responsibility for R&D, highlighted the slow pace of change in the PMR industry

Chen’s points were echoed by Yelin Jiang, Hytera’s VP with responsibility for R&D (pictured above). “In the past 50 years, look at the look, size and functionality of the radios. There’s [been] nearly no fundamental change in the past 50 years. This is a really depressing situation.” 

Jiang believes the solution requires “a new leader in this industry, and this new leader is strong, competent and ambitious enough to provide game-changing solutions to the market. This new leader can be and will be Hytera today.” 

He added that in future, Hytera’s terminals will act as environmental and situational sensors that will send information to the back office, will benefit from a co-ordinated and seamless narrowband/broadband network and will be supported by multimedia applications to help customers manage tasks efficiently, with the company offering an end-to-end solution or ecosystem. Jiang said Hytera will concentrate on a common platform and some key applications, but will open a lot of APIs to its partners and customers.

Frank Pauer, deputy CSO at Hytera Mobilfunk, discussed the company’s DIB-R5 Outdoor TETRA base station, saying that rather than just putting a case around an indoor base station, much work had been done to cut its weight to less than 10kg, allowing it to be carried in one hand all the way to a mast. He emphasised that it is a one-box solution, having control and switching capabilities within the same housing, and that it had been designed to minimise CAPEX (no shelter required, fewer base stations required due to high output power and sensitivity, coupled with easy installation).

Mr Wei Wei, director of Hytera command & control product, took the audience through the company’s multimedia systems, which make use of intelligent video analytics that can log and track people and vehicles (as classes of objects), and highlighted the ability of the systems to trigger alarms if population density in a given area goes above a threshold. 

Jun Hu, general manager of Hytera broadband system product, highlighted the company’s use of a common platform and software-defined radio (SDR) for both narrowband and LTE, before discussing the company’s new series of LTE infrastructure products aimed at addressing the technology’s higher CAPEX and backhaul requirements compared with narrowband radio technologies such as DMR. The series includes the iBS Rapid System, a self-contained IP65 system that can be up and running in 15 minutes, and iMesh, a mesh networking solution for wireless backhaul. Jue Liang, Hytera’s director of broadband terminal product, said the multi-mode terminals have a user interface designed for mission-critical users, to allow easy single-handed operation.  

One of the biggest question marks in this industry concerns how the traditional PMR manufacturers will respond to the shift towards broadband, given that other companies such as the big cellular network vendors have more experience in this area. Hytera’s approach clearly seems to be to tackle them head-on, while leveraging its knowledge of public safety users’ requirements. Despite the company’s recent acquisition of Sepura, the level of competition in this industry may well be heating up… 


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