Reflections on TCCA Critical Communications Europe and BAPCO Annual Conference & Exhibition March 2019

Anton Abrahams

The combination of TCCA Critical Communications Europe (CC Europe) and the BAPCO Annual Conference and Exhibition created an ideal vantage point to assess mission-critical mobile broadband’s promise, opportunity, and challenge. The venue’s location brought a distinct advantage, as the UK’s Home Office is in an advanced stage of launching its Emergency Services Network (ESN) program.

By hosting the event in the UK, TCCA and BAPCO leadership are facilitating an educational dialog between UK pioneers and interested critical communications experts from around Europe. Given its location, it is not surprising that TCCA Critical Communications Europe and BAPCO attendees will find a robust set of mission-critical LTE (MC-LTE) keynotes, panels, and presentations.

To date, large-scale mission-critical LTE network deployments are far from serving as a replacement for trusted Professional Mobile Radio (PMR) systems. Operational network deployments of any sort, are rare. And those that do exist, such as the US FirstNet offering, largely center on data-centric functionality rather than serving as a replacement for a legacy PMR operation. A variety of issues lurk as government agencies contemplate these offers, including:

Limited proven network performance. New MC-LTE services have not been in operation long enough to establish a solid track record. Both the network operators and their public safety customers are learning what works and what does not. Only with a good sample size of experience drawn from large-scale, real-world incidents will trust take root.

Mission-critical Push-to-Talk (MC-PTT) is fenced in by direct mode limitations. The 3GPP ProSe mechanism may not be enough to bridge the direct mode communications gap. A cumbersome physical layer protocol and constrained transmission power may forever keep LTE from serving of out-of-network user-to-user communication needs. End users and device suppliers will need to converge on a practical solution. Will this be the hybrid LTE and PMR device seen today? Or will it be an LTE coupled with a slim DMR-like direct mode?

MC-LTE devices remain centered around smartphone form factors. Firefighters will have a hard time using smartphones during a fire attack. The ideal form factor of an effective LTE-centric firefighting communications device remains a mystery. Likewise, where are the promising Internet of Life-Saving Things that can improve medical care, enhance building safety and facilitate emergency services operations?
But while tough issues need to be addressed by the ecosystem, the promise of MC-LTE is extraordinary. By incorporating rich data transmission capabilities into hardened mission-critical devices, device innovators help boost situational awareness, operational efficiency, and safety. These issues will be solved.

Conferences, such as the Critical Communications Europe and BAPCO event in Coventry, are a vital link in the chain of progress. It is in conference keynotes and sessions where experts exchange knowledge and trigger innovation.

At Critical Communications Europe and BAPCO, the program was particularly rich with these opportunities. A keynote speech from Edward Parkinson, CEO (Acting) of FirstNet provided a perspective on the American experience, where a large number of first responders now subscribe to mobile services protected by Quality of Service, priority and preemption capabilities.
Jarmo Vinkvist, CEO of Suominen Virveverkko (VIRVE), delivered a keynote reviewing the remarkable progress his organization is making with the Virve broadband network in Finland. Of course, UK stakeholders intently listened to an update from Bryan Clarke, ESN Programme Director, Home Office. These were rare opportunities to hear directly from the top leaders of pioneering mission-critical deployments.

Beyond these timely keynotes, attendees benefited from panel discussions and presentations that center on the evolution of critical communications broadband capabilities.
TCCA will share its vision of the future with the panel discussion “TCCA driving next generation critical communications.” Tero Pesonen, Chair of TCCA’s Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG), was joined by TCCA Chief Executive Tony Gray, Robin Davis, Philippe Agard (Nokia) and Hannu Aronsson (Sepura). A second TCCA panel explored the challenging issues related to spectrum for critical communications. On the heels of Ericsson’s critical broadband networks launch, Manuel Ruiz, Global Head of Ericsson’s Mission Critical and Private Networks spoke at the Showcase Theatre on the topic of enabling critical broadband for industries.
Finally, Dr. Mythri Hunukumbure from the Samsung R&D Institute UK provided thoughts on how early 5G connectivity can be provided to the emergency services.

Standards are not static. As experience grows with real-life mission-critical LTE deployments and as new knowledge emerges from research labs, 3GPP continues to evolve the fundamental mobile broadband standards. Likewise, as 3GPP standards offer value to an expanding range of industrial applications, new industry-specific extensions become necessary. A highlight of CC Europe/BAPCO 2019 was keynote speech from Adrian Scrase, ETSI CTO and Head of 3GPPs’ Mobile Competence Centre. For public agency planners and solution suppliers, Adrian’s informed view provides a valuable portal into the art-of-the-possible.

Blending TCCA Critical Communications Europe (CC Europe) and the BAPCO Annual Conference and Exhibition into a unified event was a smart move. The venue brought together kindred spirits from across Europe in a country with perhaps the most ambitious mission-critical LTE vision. Attendees will find the investment of time well rewarded.

Written by:
Ken Rehbehn
Principal Analyst | CritComm Insights
Web: www.critcomminsights.com
Twitter: @krehbehn