Interview: TCCA’s Tony Gray and ACCF’s Kevin Graham


By Jonathan Nally
Monday, 27 April, 2020



Interview: TCCA’s Tony Gray and ACCF’s Kevin Graham

The mission-critical communications industry is firmly on the path towards open standards-based broadband solutions.

TCCA, a global body representing the critical communications industry, and its Australian regional affiliate, the ACCF, have spent the past two decades or more promoting the development and deployment of standards-based mission-critical communications systems. Both organisations began life focused on the narrowband TETRA standard, but in recent years have broadened their spheres of activity to encompass broadband as it begins to make inroads.

To find out more about the two organisations’ efforts and aims, and where they see various communications technologies heading, we conducted the following Q&A with TCCA’s Chief Executive, Tony Gray, and ACCF’s founding Director, Kevin Graham.

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TCCA has turned 25 and the ACCF will be 20 next year. What’s the secret of your success?

The success to date, and ongoing, was and continues to be based upon the core principles upon which the Associations were founded. TCCA and the Australasian Critical Communications Forum (ACCF), as one of its regional organisations, have drawn together the critical communications ecosystem from around the world, and around Australasia, under a common set of objectives — to drive the development of open standards that address mission-critical-grade user functionality for voice, data and security.

This work involves significant collaboration between key manufacturers and user groups, particularly public safety, to define the essential functionality/user requirements, to advise the standards development organisations and — once commercialisation of products emerges based on the standards — establish a rigorous testing regime to confirm interoperability between vendors. This approach has been proven in the success of the TETRA market, and ACCF and TCCA are working to ensure the emergence of critical broadband follows the same principles.

How is TCCA leading or contributing to standards development for LMR and broadband?

There are many initiatives underway, but there are a couple of specific examples. For TETRA, the standard continues to be enhanced through the work of ETSI’s TC TCCE (Technical Committee – TETRA and Critical Communications Evolution). This work includes updating the Inter-System Interface specifications, improving the performance of TETRA packet data and developing new security algorithms. TCCA’s Security and Fraud Prevention Group is closely involved with this work.

For critical broadband, TCCA provides technical support for the ETSI MCX Plugtests, which validate the interoperability of a variety of implementations using different scenarios based on 3GPP Mission Critical Services in Release 14. TCCA’s member-driven Broadband Industry Group and Critical Communications Broadband Group are key to gathering industry and user requirements, and TCCA is the 3GPP Market Representation Partner (MRP) for critical communications. This enables TCCA to bring into 3GPP a consensus view of market requirements such as services, features and functionality that fall within the 3GPP market scope.

How should industry contribute to achieving robust critical broadband?

Stakeholder collaboration is essential — the success of TETRA has demonstrated the benefits of standardisation and cooperation for the benefit of all. The open standards model for broadband is attracting participation from a broad ecosystem of interested parties, and this is evident from the diverse nature of the new members that TCCA and ACCF are attracting, from commercial mobile network operators to application developers.

The critical communications market is very small compared to the number of consumer users of broadband, so a common voice is essential. History has shown that standards development underpinned by the most exacting public safety requirements has been well accepted and adopted across a broad range of other sectors that also require secure and reliable critical voice and data communications to support their business operations. These include utilities, energy, resources, mining, transportation, network operators, industrial, manufacturing and enterprise sectors.

Why has TETRA been so successful in the Australian mining, oil and gas and long-haul rail sectors?

TETRA is the optimal choice for mission-critical users the world over as it provides a complete multiservice and unified system (critical voice and narrowband data), meeting their communications needs, whilst providing high levels of availability and reliability.

TETRA came late to the market in Australia due to spectrum issues but it was quickly recognised by the Australian resources industry that TETRA is a mature and time-proven open standard with competitively priced and interoperable products and solutions from multiple vendors.

How do you see TETRA expanding in Australasia over the next 25 years?

TETRA will undoubtedly remain strong in some vertical sectors. DAMM Australia’s announcement last year regarding TETRA VHF frequencies will mean additional benefits such as improved propagation in challenging topographies.

With the release of combined TETRA/LTE and P25/LTE and hybrid/multi-mode products in Australia and the introduction of private LTE 4G and 5G solutions, true critical broadband for mission-critical use will become a reality over the next 10 to 15 years.

What’s happening in other market sectors in Australasia, such as railways?

LMR using TETRA, P25 and DMR remain important and continue to grow across all major user sectors in this region. The Future Railway Mission Critical Standards (FRMCS), based on LTE, will be the next-generation standard ultimately replacing GSM-R with a single, secure communications backbone, for trackside and station communications. Mission-critical broadband standards are important for the evolving Industry 4.0, IoT and private LTE use cases emerging in many local sectors.

Broadband has widened the remit of TCCA and ACCF. How has ACCF ensured it continues to anticipate and meet industry needs?

The ACCF fully supports the TCCA charter. ACCF continues local advocacy and education on global standardisation efforts. Facilitating exchange of information between the local mission-critical fraternity and the eco-systems (including ETSI, 3GPP etc) is important to ensure future solution pathways for local users take maximum advantage of international harmonisation efforts. Local industry support and contribution will be essential in developing local capability and opportunities.

In 2018, ACCF extended its charter beyond TETRA to include other widely adopted standardised LMR technologies, such as P25 and DMR, so future unified solutions including mission-critical broadband can evolve more cooperatively. ACCF has ongoing collaborations with aligned local industry organisations such as the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Disaster Management & Public Safety, ARCIA, Telsoc and INCOSE.

How important are the volunteer Working Groups, member involvement and cooperation between industry competitors?

Without the members, TCCA and ACCF would not exist. Their support and collaboration are invaluable in driving the critical communications market forward and many competing manufacturers participate in the same Working Groups for mutual benefit. All TCCA’s Working Groups contribute in different ways to advancing the industry, from the Technical Forum’s management of TCCA’s TETRA IOP process, to the Future Technologies Group horizon scanning for emerging innovations that might be harnessed for the benefit of critical users.

The Global Certification Forum and TCCA are looking at certification for mission-critical broadband. How is that progressing?

The joint task force announced in January aims to move certification forward for mission-critical voice, data and video services. The initial actions of the taskforce will be completed during the first half of 2020 and progress will be reported then.

The goal is to develop a mission-critical broadband certification process that will be an evolution of both TCCA’s unique and highly successful TETRA Interoperability and Certification Process (IOP) — which was developed to enable a truly open multi-vendor market for TETRA equipment and systems — and GCF’s certification for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G devices.

TCCA was involved in the MCOP project and is now involved in MCS-TaaSting. Why are they important to the industry?

The Mission Critical Open Platform (MCOP) project is all about making it quick and easy for applications developers to bring to market standardised and interoperable mission-critical PTT services, complying with the 3GPP MCPTT standard. It provides an open source API and SDK and has been an important step in the commercialisation of mission-critical broadband.

Once mission-critical services are developed and available, the final stage before market acceptance is conformance and interoperability testing and certification of the various products. Availability of suitable test sets has been an issue up to now, with test equipment manufacturers not seeing adequate volume in the market. Mission Critical Testing as a Service (MCS-TaaSting) will develop an IP-based test engine that will be available via both a cloud service and LTE hardware for the conformance testing of mission-critical applications. This will help to drive the market forward and benefit the entire mission-critical broadband communications ecosystem.

TCCA has formed lots of alliances recently. Does this reflect converging needs across sectors or a sign of a maturing market?

Actually, it’s a bit of both. TCCA has always maintained collaborative and cooperative arrangements with relevant complementary organisations. However, with the increasingly widespread application of critical communications across diverse markets and geographies, and specifically as a result of the move towards 3GPP standardisation of mission-critical broadband, the number of interest groups and parties has increased.

TCCA’s alliances across the critical communications ecosystem help all parties to develop and disseminate best practices, and are vital to support and evangelise the use of open standards, which is at the heart of our philosophy.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/MoiraM

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