Finland still ahead as next-gen comms move closer

By Peter Clemons, Founder, Quixoticity
Monday, 17 December, 2018

Finland still ahead as next-gen comms move closer

Many countries are moving ahead with public safety mobile broadband, but Australia still has some catching up to do.

A lot has happened over the past 12 months in the critical communications world. The critical communications industry and community is on a long journey from the ultra-reliable, low-latency voice and short data-centric solutions of 2010 towards the fully developed 5G URLLC solutions of 2030. The challenge our relatively niche community faces is to make sure our full needs and requirements and those of our wider societies are included in the 5G roadmap.

At the recent Comms Connect conference in Melbourne I presented some of the findings from the latest research conducted for the Quixoticity Index.

Finland once again has emerged as a prime example of best practice in critical communications. The country has a culture of close cooperation, it understands the importance of public safety and public service, and it has a sensible, pragmatic, multi-stage approach to migration to next-generation services while preserving the best of current systems. The Critical Communications Finland community is also extending its close ties with other countries.

Following closely behind Finland is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE continues to move forward with its ambitious 5G-ready, next-generation critical communications broadband network following the signing of a comprehensive cooperation agreement between Nedaa and Nokia. Large parts of the network have already been deployed, with extensive testing underway ahead of an imminent launch so that full coverage of Dubai can be achieved in time for Expo 2020.

The UAE prefers dedicated spectrum for both narrowband TETRA services and broadband LTE/5G services. Visionary leadership, unlimited ambition and the desire and willingness to test out innovative new services and applications continue to drive this still-young nation forward as an example for other countries in the region.

Progress has also been rapid in the US, with FirstNet receiving approval of all 56 states and territories in late 2017 and moving forward with deployment of mission-critical services based on Quality of Service, Priority and Preemption (QPP) with partner AT&T, with a dedicated core network enabled during 2018.

Other carriers, including AT&T’s main rival, Verizon, have also made positive announcements about prioritising first responders and emergency services, as the US had been hit by a number of natural disasters during 2018. In fact, the remarkable progress made by the US in public safety communications would have led to the country seriously challenging Finland for top spot in the Quixoticity Index 2018 were it not for its sheer size and complexity, and, perhaps a more challenging current social and political environment.

Peter Clemons on stage at Comms Connect Melbourne, delivering his latest findings

Peter Clemons delivered his latest research at Comms Connect Melbourne in November 2018.

The United Kingdom continues to move forward with its own ambitious Emergency Services Network (ESN). Following several highly publicised setbacks and delays to this program, a full review was undertaken during 2018, leading to a more sensible incremental approach to the launch of services beginning with data, and with a multi-year extension to the TETRA-based Airwave program. Challenges remain for the ESN team, but the program appears to be more aligned now with global best practice.

France and Germany, together with the rest of Europe, continue to move forward with their plans for next-generation services that are urgently required to build upon existing, highly reliable, ubiquitous narrowband networks. Perhaps those countries such as France, Spain and Switzerland, who chose Tetrapol over TETRA for their existing critical communications, feel a more urgent need to move forward.

However, there is a growing consensus across Europe that mission-critical networks based on global 3GPP standards such as LTE and 5G will bring enormous benefits in terms of closer cooperation, greater (inter)operability and more advanced services… perhaps best encapsulated within the European Commission’s ambitious pan-European project, BroadWay.

Full, guaranteed, prioritised access to prime spectrum remains a major issue in Europe, with most countries deciding to auction off the 700 MHz coverage layer to commercial network operators, with bands in 400 MHz also under consideration for less bandwidth-intensive operations.

South Korea continues to move forward with its plans for three separate-yet-related public safety LTE networks under the banner of SafeNet — a public safety network, a railway network and a maritime network. Trials and tests are continuing and South Korea remains closely engaged with all global standards and agency cooperation processes.

Although Australia remains in last position in the Index, there have been very promising signs over the past 12 months. The federal government created a new super-ministry, the Department of Home Affairs, with a dedicated Emergency Management Australia team driving forward the public safety mobile broadband network with renewed vigour.

The New South Wales Telco Authority has launched an RFP and a call for a proof of concept. Telstra recently hosted a 3GPP plenary on the Gold Coast and has launched a number of new initiatives building on its LANES offering. We will be watching developments in this space in Australia with great interest over the coming months.

Bar graph showing rankings of countries in terms of PSMB development; Australia is ranked lowest

Australia is still bottom of the rankings in the Quixoticity Index.

It is, of course, Quixoticity’s wish to increase the number of countries included in the Quixoticity Index in 2019, having now established a more stable methodology, model and benchmark during this year’s research. We will be making important announcements about new markets to be studied during early 2019.

Quixoticity has also begun to study eight major vendors: four from the traditional PMR space (Airbus, Harris, Hytera, Motorola Solutions) and four from the LTE/5G space (Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung). Following research conducted throughout 2018 using publicly available information, we have produced a preliminary report of findings, although we believe that additional primary research needs to be conducted before any full report will be published.

One very positive note is the increased level of trust, understanding and cooperation among all industry vendors over the past 12 months or so. Almost all the companies mentioned above are active members of 3GPP, TCCA and other key bodies dedicated to next-generation critical communications.

It will be interesting to see how the market for products, services and applications develops in time. It will also be interesting to see which other players emerge from within or outside the global ecosystems being built by the major players.

We are at the beginning of a very long journey. The final outcome of this journey is far from certain. Critical communications matters. We must continue to fight for a better, smarter, safer world by 2030. For our children and grandchildren’s sake, we cannot fail.

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