U.K.’s Public-Safety LTE Network Dominates B-APCO 2016
Monday, April 04, 2016 | Comments
There was a renewed buzz around the annual British APCO (B-APCO) event held in Telford, United Kingdom, 22-23 March with huge interest from emergency services professionals and suppliers for the specific sessions relating to the Emergency Services Network (ESN).

Everyone is taking stock as to how the industry is gearing up to support the transition to the ESN from the current Airwave service in terms of control room solutions, devices or what the ESN will deliver. As expected, the bold vision of the U.K. Home Office and Emergency Services that is the ESN drew in crowds, with the early sessions attracting more than 400 delegates with standing room only.

At last, the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) team could talk about and explain what the program is all about. And across the B-APCO conference, the stage was shared with the Home Office and three emergency services — EE as the 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile services provider, Motorola Solutions as the user services provider, and the delivery partner KBR with support from Arup and Mason Advisory.

In an early panel session, the audience learned that ESN will cover Great Britain and is the replacement for the current Airwave TETRA-based network. The network will incorporate the EE LTE radio access network (RAN) with a separate core network for ESN, using the public-safety quality of service (QoS) class identifiers provided through 3GPP Release 12 to ensure ESN bearers are allocated a grade of service commensurate with mission-critical communications. The separate core will also differentiate ESN from EE’s commercial traffic, and resilience and security will be built into the overall solution from the outset.

Motorola Solutions is delivering the public-safety features based on the Wave7000 solution, offering a pre-standard capability optimized for public safety. Development of the detailed design is well underway. The Home Office anticipated receipt of the suite of documents that comprise the detailed design at the end of March.

The program remains on track with the goal to transition to the ESN “without a single diminution of functionality,” according to Rees Ward, KBR project director. The transition will commence in 2017 once the ESN is stood up as a proven solution — with the comprehensive program of testing and operational trials being key to the user community having the confidence that all is ready. The objective is to have the ESN fully adopted and in use by all three emergency services by the end of 2019.

Coverage is always a key concern for mission-critical mobile systems, and the ESN is no different. An intriguing session led by Mansoor Hanif with EE and Steve Whatson from the Home Office drew out a myriad of different coverage enablers that will ensure ESN coverage is at least as good as the current Airwave network. The ESN will have core vehicle coverage to 96 percent of major roads and support transport solutions — London Underground and CrossRail; marine operations; air to ground; and radio sites in place and operational in rural areas of Great Britain.

Overall, EE officials said that they have around 19,000 macro LTE sites that will underpin coverage and up to 100 megahertz of spectrum to deal with any capacity loading. EE executives were keen to stress its level of innovation that is being brought to bear to ensure the ESN is successful. On the day of the coverage presentation, voice over LTE (VoLTE) was switched on in central London. The underpinning connections to the core network have diverse routing and geographic redundancy; flooding scenarios have been studied to look at flood plains and ensure vulnerable sites are protected. Service level agreements (SLAs) with maintenance providers were uplifted to be smarter and more effective.

“4G LTE is a stable technology that is truly a catalyst for innovation,” Hanif said.

Across the two days, there was also significant discussion around advances in emergency call handling, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to assist with incident reconnaissance and intelligence, advances in body-worn video solutions and interfaces between control room systems across multiple agencies. The U.K. government Open Standards Board approved the Multi-Agency Incident data Transfer (MAIT) standard, the culmination of work led by B-APCO to develop a standardized interface for the exchange of information between control rooms of different emergency service organizations.

With so much new happening in the United Kingdom, the buzz will no doubt continue as the ESN develops and heads toward transition. And heading away from B-APCO 2016, there was a feeling that something exciting is happening in the U.K.

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