FirstNet Outlines Mobile Comms Unit Concept and Coverage Implications
Tuesday, July 14, 2015 | Comments

The mobile communications unit (MCU) is a product concept meant to address the needs of remote first responders when they are outside terrestrial coverage. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Office of the Chief Technology Officer described the MCU and its role in incident deployment and coverage extension options in a blog.

A figure on the website shows how the MCU relates to other alternatives, including deployable aerial communications architecture (DACA) such as balloons or drones, cell on light trucks (COLTS), cell on wheels (COWs) and system on wheels (SOWs), with respect to coverage and capacity.

The blog describes two key features to the MCU. First, MCUs are built into first responder vehicles that are used every day, so MCUs are there when first responders need them, without calling for a conventional deployable to be sent to the incident. Second, the MCU also supports local and remote communications when first responders are outside of terrestrial coverage. MCUs can coordinate local communications if the size of the incident expands and additional first responders are needed. MCUs also have the flexibility to transition to support longer incident periods if required.

The MCU concept is still being addressed by industry players, but it would likely comprise technologies such as:
In-vehicle router (IVR). When the MCU is within terrestrial network coverage, it acts like every other IVR, using the terrestrial network as a wide-area network connection for local-area communications, which may include LMR modems too.
Satellite modem and antenna. Once the MCU is fully outside of terrestrial network coverage, it can automatically switch to the satellite modem from the terrestrial network modem(s). New satellite technologies can improve some of the performance, physical installation and cost of including a satellite option. A rugged antenna design that can withstand extreme environmental conditions will be key to the MCU platform.
Local eNodeB and antenna. When the MCU is outside of Long Term Evolution (LTE) coverage or when additional local coverage is needed, the MCU can automatically act like a remote base station to other users.
Local evolved packet core (EPC) elements and applications. The level of EPC functionality and application content will vary depending on design and use cases to be support. New technologies in the area of compact EPC platforms and local application servers will impact the evolution of the MCU roadmap.

There should be minimal device implications; in ideal scenarios, the user equipment (UE) sees the MCU as just the regular network, and the arriving first responders to an incident operate their devices as they would normally, FirstNet officials said.

FirstNet is coordinating with organizations researching deployable platforms and working to ensure that the MCU is prioritized as appropriate to support commercial availability of the platform. In addition, several standards efforts within the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) could be relevant to the MCU concept, including the following:
• Isolated E-UTRAN Operations for Public Safety (IOPS, 3GPP TS 22.346) of Release 13 - Support for an isolated eNodeB configuration
• Proximity-based Services (ProSe, 3GPP TS 23.303 and TS 23.703) of Releases 12 and 13 – Support of device-to-device (D2D) communication mode commonly called direct mode

Those critical 3GPP development activities will be monitored to determine when support should be made available within the MCU platform, the FirstNet blog said.

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