Belgium Launches Next-Generation Data Service with Priority Voice
Wednesday, October 18, 2017 | Comments

ASTRID, the nationwide operator for Belgium's emergency and security communications services, launched the next generation of its Blue Light Mobile service, which offers data services to ASTRID users.

The new high-speed offering combines voice and data services and is now available to emergency response coordinators such as municipalities and contingency planning officials. Jan Jambon, Belgium’s minister for security and the interior, handed out the first subscriber identity module (SIM) cards to various public-safety agencies.

ASTRID first launched Blue Light Mobile as a high-speed data communications service in 2014. One SIM card now provides secure, priority access to three commercial mobile-phone networks in Belgium and 11 networks in four neighboring countries.

In addition to data, the second generation of Blue Light Mobile now offers voice communications. Users can make priority phone calls with their normal mobile or smartphone. Blue Light Mobile now boasts a unique feature — network priority over all other users.

Police departments and emergency services have the best coverage in Belgium, including border areas. In locations where there is no coverage for a given network, the user's tablet or mobile will switch automatically to the network providing coverage in that area. Data communication is fast, secure and high priority.

Teams can now easily check vehicle registration numbers in real time using their tablets, as well as perform identity checks, draft reports, query the dangerous substances database, or share a photo or map with the control room. The SIM card offers private access to the secure cloud, through which the rescue service can use a secure environment for its own applications but also share applications to exchange data between support teams.

There are two service levels: FIRST and PRIOR, with both offering priority communications. PRIOR card users have the added guarantee that their voice and data communications have absolute priority over all other mobile users. The number of PRIOR SIM cards is capped at 6,000 customers to ensure that priority access operates effectively. However, there is still no limit on the number of FIRST SIM cards for all emergency and security services.

Blue Light Mobile SIM cards can also be personalized, and individual users can activate different communications methods and options. From 1 November, security departments and agencies can begin the phase-in of Blue Light Mobile SIM cards.

Police departments, fire service units and medical response teams, as well as airports, city councils, local and provincial authorities, defense forces and many other public entities will be allocated a certain number of priority SIM cards based on their size. Each organization can distribute them freely among their various divisions.

“Thanks to this service, 6,000 people who play a critical role in our security operations will, from 1 November, be able to avail of a special SIM card giving them priority network access at all times using their mobile phone,” Jambon said. “The PRIOR SIM card will ensure permanent network access, even when networks are busy. Voice and data communications will have absolute priority over all other users.”

However, Blue Light Mobile is not intended to replace the existing TETRA radio network but instead represents a complementary service. The ASTRID radio network remains the primary method of group voice communication for all emergency services. In January, Belgium committed US$125 million to update its TETRA network.

“With this new management contract, ASTRID can focus on renewing all of its communications systems,” said Marc De Buyser, CEO of ASTRID. “Our teams are also applying their technical expertise to initiatives supporting staff on the ground as they carry out critical missions that save lives.”

"The development of Blue Light Mobile is the result of close collaboration: the ASTRID platform enabled its implementation, the IBPT (Belgian Institute for Postal services and Telecommunications) gave its approval, and there was a strong will among many parties to do whatever it took to make it possible,” Jambon said. “The Users' Advisory Committee has been an ongoing source of support to ASTRID.”

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