An Update of Public-Safety LTE Deployment Efforts Around Europe
Monday, March 08, 2021 | Comments
Countries around Europe find themselves in different stages in the process of deploying public-safety LTE capabilities. Officials from five European countries offered an update on their progress in deploying the capabilities during a webinar hosted by TCCA.

In Belgium, the Astrid TETRA network provides voice services to public protection and disaster relief (PPDR), and in 2014, added data communications for its users through the Blue Light Mobile service. However, the Blue Light Mobile service is still a limited data solution as it does not meet mission-critical requirements.

In 2015, Astrid had to decide what it wanted to with the network moving forward because of its place in the equipment lifecycle, said Christoph Gregoire, director of technology and operations at Astrid. At that point, LTE and other new technologies were not mature so the operator chose to move forward with a mid-lifecycle update that extended the lifecycle of the system to 2030.

However, ASTRID also began planning to move forward with combining mission-critical data and mission-critical voice into one new network, Gregoire said. So in 2017 and 2018, the operator began the journey of moving to a new network and began developing a strategy for the new network.

As part of this strategy, Astrid looked at user needs and requirements and then used those determine the conditions that would ensure the network would meet user needs. The operator also explored several user models and determined that a hybrid solution based on a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) was the best option over a dedicated network or using a commercial network.

“We did not achieve our journey,” Gregoire said. “We were on our road map because it took time, and with time came new technology.”

Technology advanced faster than Astrid expected when it began the process, Gregoire said, and the release of 5G offered new capabilities, such as network slicing. Therefore, Astrid is restarting its strategy process to explore the capabilities that 5G can offer to public-safety communications.

France is a step ahead of Belgium in the broadband deployment process in that it has designed its strategy for the network.

France is working on deploying a broadband network that will serve all PPDR services and provide interoperability between the different services and agencies, said Gerard Carmona of the French Ministry of the Interior (MOI).

Deployment of the network will occur over the next couple of years and the French MOI expects to begin migrating users over in 2023. The first departments and agencies to transition to the new service will be those supporting the 2023 Rugby World Cup, Carmona said. Additionally, agencies and departments in Paris and its inner suburbs will also be transitioned that year in preparation for the 2023 Olympic games. In 2024, France plans to transition another 90,000 users to the network and finish the transition to the new network by 2025.

The new network will transition from Tetrapol standards to Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards and will purchase service from two mobile network operators (MNO) instead of being a dedicated network, Carmona said. The new network will have a dedicated core that connects to the MNOs, and the French MOI hopes to connect to the first MNO in 2022.

The French MOI also plans to use 700 MHz spectrum allocated for PPDR to extend coverage on the network. There was not enough spectrum allocated for a dedicated network, but the spectrum allocated to PPDR can act to extend the network coverage, Carmona said.

The German Federal Agency for Public-Safety Digital Radio (BDBOS) operates the largest TETRA network in world, serving just under $1 million subscribers.

The current TETRA network requires modernization and needs to be complemented with high-performance data communications, so BDBOS is exploring options for a future network, said Luz Fernandez del Rosal of BDBOS.

BDBOS envisions a hybrid network design for that future network. Under this model, the TETRA network would provide voice communications that will be complemented by commercial broadband services, Rosal said. At the same time, BDBOS will work toward deploying a dedicated broadband network that would eventually replace the TETRA network. The dedicated future network will still be complemented by commercial broadband services to enhance the services it provides.

In preparation of this plan, BDBOS has been running tests of hybrid networks with two MNOs. These tests are exploring the prioritization of public-safety agency traffic data, uniform user and network management, and cooperation and network transitions.

The tests started in March 2020 and are expected to conclude in March. Once that testing is complete, BDBOS will report the results back to the Broadband Task Force of the Conference of the Ministers of the Interior, Rosal said.

Once that report is complete, BDBOS will work with the federal government and federal states to develop a broadband strategy this year. Additionally, BDBOS, in collaboration with the federal government and states, has begun exploratory talks with MNOs on the hybrid model.

“It’s an important year,” Rosal said. “A lot of decisions to come.”

The Netherlands
In the Netherlands, the federal police has a C2000 network that was renewed in 2020 and should run for five to eight years. The network is used for voice and data and owned and operated by the government, said Herman van Sprakelaar, program manager for the Police of the Netherlands. A tender procedure for a fallback push-to-talk (PTT) application is also in process.

In preparation for the end of the current system’s life, the Netherlands police is looking at options for next-generation PPDR broadband. The country launched a feasibility study to explore a variety of issues surrounding that new network.

In October, the parliament was briefed on the findings of the feasibility study and it was recommended that the current network be replaced by a hybrid broadband network model, van Sprakelaar said.

The police began work on a public business case based on Ministry of Finance requirements for the network in November. Once that business case is complete, it will be reviewed by the Information Communications Technology (ICT) Review Office (BIT), van Sprakelaar said.

In Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP) is overseeing three network projects: a Tetrapol mission-critical broadband network, a future mission-critical broadband network for public safety (MSK) and a future secure integrated data system (SDVS).

In preparing for the mission-critical broadband network, the civil protection office worked with the federal government on a variety of legislative activities, said Sanne Stijve, MSK program director at the FOCP.

One was a revision of the Civil Protection and Civil Defense Act to create a dedicated article for the mission-critical broadband network so it could legally exist. Another revision to Swiss law set forth responsibilities for different government authorities and cantons, or states, Stijve said.

The federal government also issued a decree that the cantons should work with the FOCP on proof of concept projects on public-safety broadband. Those proof of concepts have begun and cover a variety of different topics based on each canton’s needs and requirements, Stijve said.

At the same time, the FOCP also released a request for information (RFI) to get information from MNOs since the country is also considering a hybrid model.

“If we want to work with mobile network operators, we need a lot of information from them,” Stivje said.

Once that RFI is complete, the FOCP will release RFIs for any other information it needs. The office will then take all of the information from the RFIs and the pilot projects to evaluate all options. It will then work on a proposal that will be submitted to Switzerland’s Federal Council. A decision from the Federal Council is expected around the start of 2024, Stivje said.

Once the Federal Council has made its decision, the FOCP will have to go through the process of get the budget for the project and will then begin deploying the network, likely sometime around 2025.

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