White Paper Highlights Commercial Network Operator Role in PPDR Broadband
Wednesday, June 20, 2018 | Comments

A new study from TCCA highlights the need for commercial mobile network operators to participate in delivering next-generation critical communications solutions for societal and potential business benefits.

Technological and ecosystem evolution is changing the existing critical communications paradigm and opening new business opportunities for commercial mobile network operators (MNOs). The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is defining the next generation of critical communications based on 4G/5G open standards. The model of using dedicated networks is being challenged, and commercial MNO networks represent a new option for the provision of critical communications services.

An additional driver is the lack of dedicated frequency bands for broadband critical communications, especially in Europe. Spectrum is a scarce resource and the trend, at least in Europe, is to auction spectrum to commercial MNOs. Some countries will also grant dedicated spectrum for critical communications, but spectrum sharing between commercial operators and critical communications users is potentially the best way to find an economically feasible win-win solution.

“There are many projects either already ongoing or planned for the future where established public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) service operators are looking to complement their narrowband services with critical mobile broadband offerings,” said Tero Pesonen, chair of TCCA’s Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG). “Often the preferred option is to seek collaboration with MNOs. This opens a natural avenue for MNOs to enter the critical communications service market. PPDR service operators have the knowledge of their users’ needs, manage the customer interface and operate within the necessary operational and legislative frameworks, while the MNOs bring economies of scale and knowledge of 4G/5G technology deployment.”

Although the market for professional mobile radio (PMR) digital technologies continues to grow, there are significant next-generation critical communications projects ongoing in which MNOs are playing a central role. Examples include the Emergency Services Network (ESN) in the U.K., First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) in the U.S. and SafeNet in South Korea.

Existing MNO assets can be leveraged to deliver next-generation critical communications services. The technology base is the same as for consumer mobile networks, so MNO networks could be used, provided that the additional critical requirements on availability, reliability, functionality and security are met. Significant additions have been made to the 3GPP standards to ensure that such critical-specific features are available to be implemented along with the whole suite of 3GPP standards.

Incremental use of broadband services to complement mission-critical narrowband services can begin. Gradually the broadband services’ role and importance can increase as more operational requirements are met with the expectation that the broadband services eventually will exclusively fulfill critical communications needs.

Mission-critical services are needed on a nationwide basis. Comprehensive radio coverage is therefore a prerequisite for fulfilling the service requirements of public safety and other PPDR organizations. In most countries, this requires coverage extensions of existing MNO networks. In addition, mission-critical users expect 100 percent service continuity, as well as the possibility for automatic priority and pre-emption during major incidents, extreme weather conditions or other crisis scenarios. Higher levels of data security and protection against malicious attacks are also required.

Securing an MNO network to fulfill PPDR needs will also improve the attractiveness of the network for all users and provide the MNO an opportunity for diverse benefits. Depending on the country, these can include premium average revenue per user (ARPU), access to additional spectrum or government-financed network hardening and/or extended coverage. A network with improved coverage and resilience is a competitive advantage not only with public-safety users but also with other user segments.

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