Gray Sees Broadband Interoperability as Industry’s Next Challenge
Tuesday, July 03, 2018 | Comments
After taking over the chief executive reigns of TCCA about a year ago, Tony Gray offers an update on how the past year has gone and his outlook for the coming year in this interview with RadioResource International magazine.

RRI: What have been TCCA’s biggest achievements during the past year?
Gray: I’m pleased that we’ve made further progress in extending our leadership across the whole area of standards-based critical communications. As the global representative for critical communications, we work in all regions and on behalf of all users, in public safety as well as all the industry sectors such as transportation, extraction, manufacturing, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and so on — and that means there is much work to do.

We created the Broadband Industry Group (BIG), chaired by Philippe Agard of Nokia and supported by Vice Chair Jason Johur of Ericsson. Both are TCCA board members. We’ve also formed further strategic alliances, including the Global Certification Forum (GCF), with whom we’re collaborating on conformance testing and certification for mission-critical broadband user devices.

We’ve been successful in attracting further commercial mobile network operators (MNOs) to become TCCA members. They want to better understand and relate to the critical communications sector, where they see new business opportunities arising for the future.

Finally but by no means least, we held our largest and most successful Critical Communications World (CCW) event in Berlin in May with more than 4,500 attendees. The host operator BDBOS put in a tremendous amount of work to ensure this was a truly memorable event, and we are extremely grateful for the support. TCCA was also the recipient of an award from the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) for services to critical communications, and we are honored to have this recognition.

RRI: What projects have been most important to the industry?
Gray: Clearly the major national critical broadband projects such as the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) in the U.S., Emergency Services Network (ESN) in the U.K. and SafeNet in South Korea come to mind first. But there have also been a number of smaller and less headline-grabbing projects, which are significant to the overall health and development of the critical communications industry. I’m thinking for example of a number of new TETRA and critical broadband projects started in territories including South America, Asia and Australia, as well as the continuing penetration of TETRA into the United States in vertical sectors such as transportation, utilities and mining.

RRI: What do you have planned for 2019?
Gray: We have more events in the Critical Communications Series scheduled, including a European event in the U.K. in March, where, for the first time, we will be producing a conference and exhibition in partnership with British Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (BAPCO). CCW 2019 will be held in Bangkok in May, and this year’s Middle East and Africa (MENA) event in Dubai is scheduled for 23 – 25 September. We are working closely with host operator NEDAA to create a superior and authoritative event for the region.

We’ll be continuing our work in 3GPP on mission-critical feature standardization, as well as our collaboration with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) on Plugtests for the resultant products. The Mission Critical Open Platform (MCOP) consortium project funded by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in which TCCA is a partner, is creating considerable interest in the industry and will have final deliverables available in mid-2019.

As far as TCCA membership goes, we are delighted to have so many loyal and long-term members, as well as seeing strong interest from organizations involved in critical broadband. We are putting a great deal of effort in attracting members from the MNO sector to enable a strong ecosystem as we move toward standardised 4G and 5G for critical communications. Our Critical Communications Broadband Group in May issued a white paper aimed at helping MNOs understand the business case for developing mission-critical services, as it’s becoming clear that the majority of mission-critical broadband service provision for the future will leverage commercial operators’ existing infrastructures in some way, using existing MNO spectrum, and this is a new market for those operators. They need our help and support in learning about and developing their offerings for the critical communications sector.

RRI: How was the latest MCPTT Plugtests event compared with the first in 2017?
Gray: TCCA collaborated once again with ETSI on the second MCPTT Plugtests in June, providing key technical support and sponsorship for the event hosted at Texas A&M University. As might be expected, significantly more companies with many more products to test participated this year than at the first Plugtests. It was pleasing to see all the work that has gone into defining the standards now beginning to deliver real products and hugely encouraging that so many more test sessions were held this year with a significant degree of success in demonstrating conformance and interoperability. I fully expect that with this trend of growth and new entrants joining, the mission critical (MC) solutions ecosystem is set to continue.

RRI: What will be the industry’s biggest challenges in the coming year?
Gray: We need to ensure that there is a robust and efficient process for testing and certifying standards conformance and interoperability for mission-critical devices and systems. TCCA developed and runs the unique TETRA Interoperability Testing process, which underpins the strong TETRA market, and we will look to this model to create the most cost-effective testing and certification of mission-critical apps, clients and devices to lower the overall cost of the solutions. To achieve this, we first and foremost need test equipment manufacturers to include mission-critical testing support in their test sets. Only with that in place will a conformance testing and certification process be both effective and trusted.

TCCA held a meeting of observers at the recent MCPTT Plugtests, including device manufacturers, application developers, MNOs and user agency representatives, to try to catalyze sharing of information and ideas regarding testing and certification of future mission-critical broadband products. The need for global collaboration and information sharing between all interested parties, most especially between non-competing MNOs entering the mission-critical market, was stressed at the meeting as being a basis on which a less onerous and more cost-effective testing and certification regime could be achieved for mission-critical products. Those present at the meeting agreed to continue in the dialogue and collaborative efforts for the benefit of all stakeholders.

RRI: What else would you like to add?
Gray: Although there is a great deal of coverage given to mission-critical broadband, it is not yet a fully standardized reality, and particularly for voice, the existing narrowband systems will be very much in play for a long time to come. Our Security and Fraud Protection and TETRA Industry Group (TIG) working groups have both produced white papers that outline best practices around TETRA and Long Term Evolution (LTE) interconnectivity, and these are excellent reference documents.

Malcolm Quelch, TCCA board vice chair and chair of TIG, retired, and we wish him a happy and relaxing future, with thanks and great respect for all he has done for the industry. Francesco Pasquali from Leonardo takes over as chair of the TIG, and Barbara Held of BDBOS is the new vice chair of the board.

As I approach my first year anniversary as TCCA chief executive, I would like to thank all our members, working groups, regional forums and key partners for all their support, help and advice. I look forward to the next 12 months with energy, enthusiasm and great expectation.

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