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What was the biggest development in public-safety broadband standards in 2016?
The single biggest development was the release of Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 13 within the standards. We have a public-safety standard and some implementation of it. The key question is not whether products with Release 13 are available, but what is the need of the customer who will use broadband? If I were to use broadband as a complementary service, then I can use it today; there are fabulous data services in Long Term Evolution (LTE). If I were to trust my life with it, Release 13 isn’t enough, so even if products are there, I can’t use them. About 70 percent of public-safety original requirements come down to the user profile and the need. For public safety, I am doubtful Release 13 is enough.
How important is professional mobile radio (PMR)/Long Term Evolution (LTE) parallel use?
A PMR/LTE study item is the first step in pushing the issue of interworking PMR and LTE networks higher on the priority list for 3GPP LTE public-safety requirements. The study itself has been in 3GPP SA6 and was formally moved to Release 15, as anticipated, because we needed to make room for Release 14 public-safety features. The study item allows for parallel use, and enabling first responders to operate broadband will be an important factor in the speed of transition. In Scandinavian countries, we expect a long time of parallel use considering the low population, but authorities need coverage to conduct their operations. But it’s not a business for a network provider. So we have TETRA coverage but that is all. Until LTE coverage is there, we have to keep using narrowband systems. As soon as the broadband coverage is there, you can use it and then revert to TETRA.
The other factor for public-safety LTE is cultural. Some agencies may have a burning need for broadband services. There is a great drive to move on. Others are more traditional or risk averse and might be quite happy with the service they have. TETRA service is excellent in many countries, so they might not have the urge to move anywhere. Some people would like to move quickly, whereas some would like others to fix the bugs and pave the way. PMR/LTE interworking must be in place as long as these agencies have to cooperate.
What are the next steps for PPDR broadband standards?
The next 3GPP RAN75 plenary meeting is in March. It will launch the work priorities for Release 15; the theme is 5G. It would be highly appreciated if the mission-critical communications community speaks up in that meeting to have sufficient priority for all the things we need to finalize — to ensure they get done.
On one side, many operators would like to offer services for public safety as part of shared networks. These things would need to be finalized for them to do it properly. It is in the operator’s interest. The workload is not enormous. In that sense, logically we stand a good chance. The other side of the coin is that our industry is super niche compared with consumers, and if we don’t manage to make our case, we will have a problem. I’m not against 5G development at all. A lot of features driven by the automotive or industrial industries are positive for critical communications for greater efficiency.
3GPP plans to freeze Release 14 in March, but some public-safety features will be frozen in June. In Release 14 we have the mission-critical basic architecture for all mission-critical services. On top of that, we have enhanced mission-critical push to talk (MCPTT), plus leftovers. Mission-critical video and data are running on top of it. Both will be enhanced in future releases, the typical way in standardization. Security issues are on a critical path, and other specifications are ready.
What will be the biggest public-safety LTE development in 2017?
The Release 14 freeze will be big, and I hope we get the current studies to a decent point to further the standardization momentum. The first Release 13 products will be available, and we will see which parts of the world will be happy with them. In the United Kingdom, based on the country’s plan to use Release 12, Release 13 is a great improvement. But it will be interesting to see what will happen and where we get with testing.
What are the top goals for the CCBG?
CCBG has a fixed priority to ensure our needs are addressed in the standardization process. The following goals are more task forces and projects. We have a lot of work going on in spectrum for operation of hybrid networks. I hope we start addressing limitations in regulation in different countries. My experience is we have moved from a technology-limited world of analog, and TETRA brought us from that. With broadband development, the speed is increasing, and we need to ensure the details are correct. Generally the technology is not the primary limiting factor; it’s how the agencies work together and get the legislation and regulation to follow those new opportunities. What laws prevent us from harvesting the benefits of the technologies?
What model will most public-safety LTE deployments follow in Europe?
It is a bit misleading to consider the United Kingdom a commercial model. Airwave was a commercial model, so in that sense, it hasn’t changed. But now in the Emergency Services Network (ESN), you have a dedicated core network. EE offers ESN a separate core network not shared with consumers. The difference between Airwave and the ESN is ownership of spectrum and the final base station radio sharing. It is kind of a hybrid model.
Finland has its own spectrum and switching, and all the transmission and base stations sites are shared with public operators today. The question remains who owns these assets and who has the control — the spectrum especially. Finland has decided no dedicated spectrum for public-safety LTE. Finland auctioned the 700 MHz band in December, and it went inexpensively. Sweden is taking a time out. Sweden doesn’t auction spectrum, but in 2018, it will come back to the question of PPDR spectrum. In the meantime, Sweden will address and research public-safety needs.
I would be surprised if there are many totally dedicated private public-safety LTE networks. Some TETRA networks are not totally dedicated, the Finnish network for example. Dedicated networks are often deployable networks. In either case, there is a degree of sharing, and the question is how much.
What is your long-term vision for PPDR broadband?
In the second half of the next decade, a majority of critical communications will be machine to machine (M2M) or even public safety. We humans will be notified when we can add value. Most of it is preventive. We will be alerted of a problem, and then we will take action, and the machines will brief each other.
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