We have discussed in other occasions about Critical Communications. Since then, technology changes have been quick, and new players have come to the solutions arena. Urgency is utmost, and development and decision making times are shortening as technology accelerates its innovation processes.
Barcelona hosted, between the 19 and 21 of May, 2015 the 17th edition of the CCW (Critical Communications World) event. Moreover, two additional conferences were held simultaneously: Tetra World Congress and the 3rd edition of the eLTE Alliance Summit.
The event was organized by the TCCA (TETRA and Critical Communications Association), and each year new elements are added to a show that featured until recently a general sense of tradition and continuity.
TETRA, TETRApol, P25 and other PMR (Private o Professional Mobile Radio) communication systems based in Trunked Radio have been the most highlighted solutions for security and emergency services for decades in fields like energy, infrastructures, transportation, government, defence, public works or healthcare, among others. Some of their advantages are reliability, low-frequency operation with longer ranges if compared to other communication networks. Communication can be made between groups, thanks to technologies like Push to Talk, as well as the chance to communicate directly from device to device if needed. Communications are encrypted, and communication equipment is rugged and highly resistant to adverse conditions.
Data, more data
In recent years, however, the emergence of high-speed communication networks has proven that TETRA and other Trunked Radio technologies are scarcely able to transmit data – at high-speed at least. Not even the improved specifications of TETRA, like TEDS (TETRA Enhanced Data Service), allow a high data usage, with a limit between 80 kbps and 157 kbps depending on redundancy required for data transmission.
In TETRA, the use of frequencies and bandwidth for each communication channel is scaled for voice communications and several specific services; for instance, database access to check plate numbers or ID. But technology has evolved towards service digitalization, and security is no exception, with very stringent requirements for security solutions in terms of data usage, integrating voice and multimedia elements, as well as data analytics in real-time. That requires data networks with a higher bandwidth. In addition to this, we should consider that in an automated smart city, IoT or SCADA systems for automation and control systems, need communication systems closer to critical communication scenarios than conventional communication networks. In case the communication network fails due to natural reasons or an attack, communications networks supporting basic systems for essential city services must remain in operation. And these networks must accomplish rugged, resilient protocols. TETRA, P25 or TETRAPOL are rugged and resilient, but they don’t include an intensive data throughput.
Technology has evolved towards service digitalization, and security is no exception
Is LTE the solution?
The solution considered so far has been mobile networks for data transmission. Particularly, LTE is positioned as an almost ideal proposal due to its specifications regarding transmission speed. But in fact this solution doesn’t match the needs of critical communication networks, which must offer a much higher resilience if compared to mobile communication networks. This standard is neither ready to support features like those demanded by security services, i.e., group conversations, Push to Talk or direct communication between terminals, even in case if network failure. The coverage of current LTE base stations is small compared to TETRA stations, that employ frequencies a range lower, around 400 or 700 MHz, and the securitization of transmission stations is much more complex than in traditional networks for critical communications.
It’s true that some successful projects combine LTE and TETRA, such as the Project started by Airbus, which is based in communication technology provided by Alcatel-Lucent – now part of Nokia Networks – in the 400 MHz band, with transfer rates of up to 2 Mbps and a range of up to 20 km. Motorola has also communication equipment that integrate TETRA and LTE eNodeB communications to deploy critical communication networks wherever needed, but they don’t need public LTE communications. However, these solutions are still temporary until LTE integrates natively the necessary technologies to replace TETRA, P25, TETRAPOL or any other Trunked Radio in PMR networks.
In any case, the key issue is the distribution of communication channels, which lies between 10 and 25 kHz for TETRA, TETRAPOL or P25, while the current bandwidth requires 5 or 10 MHz channels. 10 MHz is the bandwidth that appears to be reserved for the 700 MHz bands in critical communications.
Other ‘traditional’ manufacturers like Motorola are developing solutions that combine public LTE solutions through 4G devices similar to standard communication terminals, but also able to communicate with TETRA devices by means of short-range technologies like Bluetooth. At the same time, it integrates sensors that measure from air composition to temperature, or even if a gun is drawn, depending on the operating area, sending basic alerts through TETRA data services to keep the channel secure and rugged, while sending multimedia information on LTE if available.
Huawei’s eLTE Broadband Trunking solutions
The Asian manufacturer Huawei has led the way and has developed professional solutions around LTE, although integrating similar features to those included in Trunked Radio technologies. In this way feature like Push To Talk, direct communication between terminals or group communication are combined by voice, along with data services with a bandwidth able to transport multimedia contents like video and audio in real-time, images and files. Anyhow, these are so far professional solutions which require infrastructures, communication equipment and devices far from the usual standards that found their application field in vertical projects within industries like transportation, logistics or smart cities organization.
Last May, during the CCW 2015 event, Huawei hosted the 3rd edition of the eLTE Industry Alliance Summit from the 18 and 21 of May, 2015 at the Porta Fira Hotel in Barcelona. This organization has a short but also an intense life. After just one year, it has dozens of members and a flurry of activity in order to standardize eLTE proposals within the 3GPP, whose goal is to define mobile communications specifications, particularly those trying to bring Trunked Radio technology to broadband mobile communications.
Among the speakers were Huawei managers like Leon He, President of Western Europe Enterprise Business Unit Huawei Technologies Co., or Norman Frisch, Senior Marketing Director of Enterprise Wireless Domain, as well as representatives of eLTE-based ongoing projects. On the Spanish side, the event also hosted José Manuel Antelo, Senior Wireless Solution Manager at Indra, who has worked in several pilot projects where eLTE enables critical communications to be offered with the suitable bandwidth to work with multimedia contents. On the keynote speaking, Leon He made clear the intention from Huawei to work on standardization within 3GPP of the necessary security protocols to add the suitable technologies to LTE to be used in critical communications. This declaration of intent was repeatedly confirmed during the event.
The demand of security solutions according to digitalization processes must be faced urgently
We had the opportunity to visit the Huawei booth at CCW 2015, and talk with Norman Frisch, who is committed to standardization within the 3GPP as a key step to achieve a secure communication solution, with no need to deploy proprietary networks. Network equipment in mobile communication infrastructures deployed in the cities will include the technology to offer services for commercial applications, and security, transportation, logistics and energy solutions in the context of smart cities.
It’s a slow process, and forecasts so far indicate that TETRA, TEDS and hybrid solutions, together with private or commercial LTE, will still be valid and operative solutions, along with eLTE-based projects roughly for a decade. 3GPP is working currently on revisions 11, 12 and 13, while many network devices deployed comply with the standard revision 9. 3GPP has shown special interest on the integration of valid technologies to adopt critical communication solutions as part of the future mobile communications standard, but this is a slow process with many implications, both for technology and economy.
The natural application field for eLTE has been so far in ad hoc projects, like subway networks in cities, oil & gas companies, and energy or logistics infrastructures, among others. Depending on the number of users, the necessary coverage or the amount of data to be handled, the communications system capacity should be dimensioned accordingly, from dozens to thousands of subscribers. Huawei has even eLTE mobile units able to deploy, in just 15 minutes, a several kilometres coverage long network in case of emergency like accidents in difficult locations or rescues under extreme conditions.
Critical communications and smart cities
In order to build a smart city, we need a solid, secure and fast communications infrastructure. Mobile communications networks have offered excellent speeds so far – with permission of the future 5G – but they are not solid neither secure. They are both at a commercial level, but not enough for a smart city to be organized. Deployment of sensors and other technologies like lighting or even traffic control systems are vulnerable to exceptional situations, like natural hazards or law and order issues. Current critical communications networks are dimensioned to include voice, but not data, so we can’t even think of them to be adapted to connect sensors or SCADA systems, like those used for infrastructures and services automation in fields such as transportation, industry and logistics.
We are on a key moment, when the need to adopt critical communications solutions has been detected, both for voice and data, by using much more resilient technologies than LTE. And to face this need, companies offering traditional solutions and new players like Huawei with eLTE, Alcatel Lucent – now part of Nokia Networks – or Ericsson with their hybrid Trunked Radio/LTE solutions must be coordinated. Moreover, we shouldn’t forget organizations like 3GPP responsible for defining the communication standards.
Goal: from a proprietary solution to a standard solution able to be integrated in all communication equipment
Urgency is upmost, and development and y decision taking times are shortening as technology accelerates its innovation processes. Even so, experts like Phil Kidner, CEO of the TCCA, and Tero Pesonen, Chairman of the TCCA Critical Communications Broadband Group, forecast that several years will pass before TETRA or TETRAPOL are replaced by new critical communications standards.
For the time being, when adopting critical communications solutions in cities or specific projects, different options must be considered, and this makes thinks more difficult for CIOs, advisor and consultants in charge of supporting decision taking processes at the government level. Events like CCW (Critical Communications World) are a good reference point to know globally the solutions offer for critical communications and how traditional and new technologies live together.
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