Industry Group Lays Out Operational Timeline for Critical Communications Broadband
Monday, January 14, 2019 | Comments

TCCA, the global association for critical communications, released a road map to operational use of mission-critical broadband technology, saying current TETRA and other mission-critical narrowband operators will continue well after 2025.

Even with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) carrier planning to launch mission-critical push to talk (MCPTT) under Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 13 in the second half of this year, a full transition to mission-critical broadband will take years, said executives during a 10 January webinar on the topic.

With Releases 14 and 15 including many important features for the critical communications industry and the commercial market following with products about 18 months after a release is frozen, 2022 is likely the earliest a fully featured mission-critical broadband system might be deployed. In addition, interoperability testing will be necessary.

Jeppe Jepsen, TCCA director of broadband spectrum, said Long Term Evolution (LTE) device-to-device (D2D) communications, in particular, is an area that needs further work. He said Release 15 could be implemented by manufacturers and operators in early 2022. But implementation of standard functionality does not imply mission-critical operation. Commercial networks need to be hardened with adequate coverage, resilience, availability and security.

Jepsen also highlighted device interoperability as a problem area, with potential interoperability issues among different 3GPP bands and no formal process for ensuring and certifying interoperability. 

The webinar laid out an operational use timeline that includes about five years from planning to operational use at a minimum. Tero Pesonen, chair of the Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG), said an operator must account for planning, a tender process, contract negotiations and litigation, implementation, and testing.

Pesonen said that beyond public safety, other industries such as railways and utilities are likely to implement 3GPP technology as well.

A new TCCA white paper considers three phases — the current situation, the next three years to 2021, then from 2022 – 2030 — looking at the timetable of 3GPP releases and the issue of interoperability. The introduction of critical broadband will be different in each country. For example, the United States, United Kingdom and South Korea have been early planners, while other countries have renewed their TETRA and other narrowband technology to allow flexibility in their transition plans. Many are planning hybrid systems that will see narrowband and broadband technology run in parallel for several years.

Pesonen said two parallel networks — TETRA and LTE — will have to run for at least three years, with 2025 being the earliest an operator might be able to switch off a TETRA network based on standards and deployment timelines. He said Finland, for example, plans to continue with TETRA base stations through the end of the decade. User trust and control are essential elements to the transition process.

The TCCA white paper is here.

The on-demand webinar is here.

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