Finland Announces Hybrid Plan for Public-Safety Broadband
By By Jarmo Vinkvist, Tero Pesonen and Matti Peltola
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 | Comments

By Jarmo Vinkvist, Tero Pesonen and Matti Peltola

The Finnish TETRA operator, VIRVE, has identified steps to eventually offer critical voice and broadband data that will be delivered by a government-controlled hybrid of dedicated and commercial Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks by 2030.

The VIRVE network operator belongs to the fully government-owned State Security Networks Group that has the task of securing the critical leadership of the Finnish society and the information society services in all conditions. The VIRVE network works well and the user satisfaction is high, but demand for high-speed broadband data services is evident.

“Shared critical communication structure with other governmental agencies is not only very economical, but also excellent for cooperation,” said General Ilkka Korkiamäki, chief information officer (CIO) of the Finnish Defense Forces and a State Security Networks board member.

A reasonable time window for the transition from TETRA to broadband begins with the availability of critical voice services over LTE early next decade and ends when the current TETRA network reaches its end of life — somewhere in the first half of the 2030s. Building out the nationwide TETRA coverage took several years, and it was even longer until all the separate analog systems were shut down. Thus, a long period of parallel networks with narrowband TETRA services and LTE broadband must be turned into an asset instead of a burden. Using the best of both technologies in five evolutionary steps can do this.

Step one is to set up a data mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) to address the increased everyday data requirements. This will be accomplished by extending the subscriber and services provisioning system to support provisioning users on a broadband network. At first an official can use externally purchased subscriber identity module (SIM) cards, but eventually the second step will be to own and control subscribers in the LTE core.

In this second step, the critical voice and messages will run in the narrowband network, and high-speed non-critical (but secure) data will run in the commercial broadband network. The natural follow-up — step three — is to expand the owned LTE core to an owned dedicated broadband radio access in chosen locations, providing critical-grade data services.

Once the critical voice over LTE standardization is ready and the TETRA supplier supports group call over LTE functionality in the TETRA side, then the two networks can be connected, which will be the fourth step. This way the large development investments in TETRA group communications functionalities, such as prioritization, could be used. Then the same voice services are available both in narrowband and broadband — in the dedicated networks on critical service levels and in the commercial operators’ networks up to the levels they can provide.

The final fifth step is dismantling the TETRA radio access once broadband service availability and reliability meets public safety’s requirements. In some — most of all rural — areas, this might take place first when the narrowband network spare parts stock runs out.

During these five steps, the narrowband TETRA network will transform to a TETRA critical voice service server, the operator will gain knowledge and understanding about how to operate a broadband network, and users will have access to a high-speed data service that enables them to benefit from data applications and to develop information-centric ways of working.

“Without VIRVE we would not have been able to get where we are now — the flexible path to critical broadband enables us to get where we want to go,” said Janne Koivukoski, deputy director general for rescue services Finnish Ministry of the Interior (MoI) and the chairman of the VIRVE steering committee.

For more details on Finland’s plan for VIRVE, see Page 18 of Quarter 4 issue of RadioResource International.

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