Germany’s Nationwide Network Evolution
By Michael Baum and Christina Böttche
Friday, April 27, 2018 | Comments
BDBOS, the federal agency for public-safety digital radio in Germany, operates the world’s largest TETRA digital radio network. BDBOS is in the process of upgrading the network to make it suitable for future needs and create a technological platform for broadband services.

Germany’s digital radio network has more than 4,600 base stations that provide 99-percent coverage of Germany’s surface area with an average availability of 99.97 percent during the past three years. In Germany, public-safety digital radio, used by federal and state police forces, fire-and-rescue services and other organizations, totals 777,000 subscribers.

The network provides users with services tailored to their specific needs. Group call is the most important service for operational and tactical coordination. In addition to group call, participants use emergency call and short data services (SDS) to transmit status and location information. Other benefits of public-safety digital radio include security against interception and noise-canceling audio.

Necessary Network Upgrades

The features and services must operate beyond 2020; therefore, the digital radio network must be fully upgraded. Technologies for transmitting voice and data have rapidly evolved. While circuit switching (E1) was the only available transmission technology for time-critical voice applications in the past, packet-based transmission, which can be implemented through the Ethernet, multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and IP protocols, is now the commercial standard. Because commercial providers no longer provide E1 lines, the network has to be upgraded while simultaneously offering capabilities for future broadband services. BDBOS is thoroughly prepared for this move and developed an IP migration road map.

According to the road map, the upgrade of the core network will take place in 2019 and 2020. The current 62 switching centers and two emergency switching centers will be replaced by a single, server-based virtual solution. Since these infrastructure components are more sustainable and flexible, capacity can be significantly increased, specifically in the potential number of subscribers.

To make the access network IP capable, components must be replaced in all the base stations in Germany. BDBOS is preparing calls for tender to procure the system technology and services necessary to upgrade the network, while the federal states are responsible for adapting the access networks.

Of course, it is crucial to ensure that the radio network remains operable during the migration. Users of public-safety digital radio must not have restrictions to their work.

Developing the Network

By upgrading the network, BDBOS is preparing the technological ground for future public-safety broadband services to complement TETRA voice communications. First responders are also changing their professional communications habits as they become familiar with commercial applications that require a broadband connection on their private cellphones.

German operational forces have already expressed the need for broadband data services. For example, drones would make it easier to assess a situation after a large-scale emergency. Fire brigades are interested in real-time transmission of health data from colleagues wearing respiratory protection equipment. Rescue services want to use data services for telemedicine. Police forces could analyze video recordings in real time and send images via messaging services. All these possible applications must meet the same security requirements as the current TETRA digital radio.

One important question is whether the strict availability requirements of operational forces for voice communications can also be applied to broadband data services. This raises the question as to whether these services will merely be used as support or be a vital part of operations.

Strategically, BDBOS plans to implement broadband data services for public-safety agencies with a 5G mobile radio standard. To ensure that the next standard will take the requirements of operational forces into account, BDBOS is intensively discussing the issue with other international operators of security-sensitive communications networks. In October 2017, BDBOS invited the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), responsible for building a single nationwide broadband data network in the U.S., and operators of European public-safety networks to participate in discussions in Berlin. During this event, BDBOS President Andreas Gegenfurtner, other European public-safety network operators and FirstNet signed a joint declaration that will spark further joint efforts to develop future communications technologies for operational forces of public-safety agencies.

As a European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) member, BDBOS is also active in Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) initiatives. The agency started to look into the existing features of mission-critical communications services in the 3GPP standards. In addition, BDBOS specifies requirements for future technologies such as 5G. The public-safety specifications will ensure that the benefits of 5G — the modular infrastructure, use of network slicing and the integration of internet of things (IoT) applications — will also support the work of public-safety agencies in the future.

Another important prerequisite for implementing broadband services is having the necessary frequencies. BDBOS, together with the German Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Ministry of Defense, is eager to ensure that both the security authorities and the armed forces are granted sufficient frequencies that they can use together.

For these developments in the field of critical operational communications to be successful, the users must be heard. As a service provider for both federal and state authorities, BDBOS has the experience and skilled staff needed to perform that task. Through its work, BDBOS ensures that forces of the individual public-safety agencies can use a reliable and effective means of communications that meets current and future operational requirements.

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Michael Baum is a spokesperson for BDBOS. Christina Böttche is in charge of public relations for BDBOS. Email feedback to editor@RRMediaGroup.com.



 
 
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