BAPCO Show 2019 report

By Ian Thompson*
Tuesday, 26 March, 2019

BAPCO Show 2019 report

The ESN, data privacy, drones and technological change were some of the topics of focus at BAPCO’s annual conference.

British APCO’s (BAPCO) annual conference and exhibition — the BAPCO Show, as it is known — was held in March at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, in association with TCCA’s Critical Communications Europe (CCE) event. The collaboration between the two associations was born from a desire to provide more to members, delegates and exhibitors and a realisation that interest in the event is not limited to the UK.

We all know that issues of public safety are not constrained by borders — locally, regionally or nationally. At BAPCO, we believe solutions involving public safety technology and critical communications should not be either. For this, as well as for many other good reasons, there is tremendous interest in any solution, technology or approach that is being tried in one place but which could be relevant and of benefit to another.

We’ve always seen interest at BAPCO events in what the UK is doing. This increased hugely when the replacement for the UK’s Airwave (TETRA) network was announced to be the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), to be based on LTE technology using the same network as consumer traffic. Subsequent work on the Emergency Services Network (ESN) rollout and development has only increased that interest. With similar projects being considered across the world, it was almost inevitable that the BAPCO Show and CCE would find common ground.

That mutual understanding and interest has its roots in public safety technology and critical communications, the lifeblood of our sector. This was reflected at the event, where many of the conference sessions in a packed program (as well as some of the technology on display) was about making the most of in-place TETRA solutions… squeezing maximum value, functionality and sometimes life from them whilst at the same time acknowledging the inevitable move to broadband solutions based upon LTE.

People gathered in the exhibition area of the BAPCO Show

People gathered in the exhibition area of the BAPCO Show

The ESN reset has meant the UK moves from the leader in TETRA replacement to one of the first to change. FirstNet in the USA is moving at pace, while South Korea’s solution, sometimes called SafeNet, is progressing well. Delegates heard from Ed Parkinson, CEO of FirstNet, in a keynote presentation about its progress.

The ESN reset has seen a resurgence in the TETRA devices market in the UK. Many agencies thought they had bought their last Airwave radios; they were prepared to sweat the assets, as the saying goes, expecting to buy an ESN terminal in the next phase of their communications strategy. But with the probability of remaining on TETRA for another three years at the very least, those assets can be sweated no more and we are seeing Airwave radio procurement taking place again. The Metropolitan Police, the UK’s largest force, has recently announced the purchase of more than 32,000 radios… an indication that it thinks it will be using TETRA for critical voice communications for some time to come.

The need to provide best service from the technology is as much an issue for the developers, manufacturers and suppliers as it is for agencies and users. They must work to provide best value from existing solutions and keep updating them while knowing a change of technology is coming, bringing with it the ability to do so much more. At the same time the demand from the public, driven by consumer experience and relentless technology updates, risks those solutions being left looking outdated and expensive.

Whilst there is always, quite rightly, a focus on what is being used now and what is coming, there can be danger, challenge and opportunity from new technology that arrives ‘suddenly’ (suddenly in emergency services terms, that is). At BAPCO 2019 we saw a ‘drone zone’ for the first time and a dedicated presentation stream. This was one of the most popular features at the event, with visitors showing tremendous interest in the technology and the range of solutions already available. UAVs are no longer just toys or for the exclusive use of the military or larger agencies. There are real operational benefits and cost savings for public safety agencies using and sharing this technology.

Drones/UAVs highlight one of the biggest issues for our sector. New technology, rapidly and easily adopted and available, is providing a raft of information to inform the common operating picture.

People gathered in the exhibition area of the BAPCO Show

If only it were that easy. The technology raises so many questions. Who owns the data? How is it transferred? Where is it stored? How is it shared? And so on. Most public safety agencies in the UK still struggle with the ability to receive enhanced data, such as video, never mind share it with each other. It is still common for agencies to have to telephone each other to share information about an incident they are both working on or when something needs passing on. The Multi Agency Incident Transfer (MAIT) protocol was established in the UK some five years ago to help solve this issue. It has laid largely unused for much of that time, but it’s great to be able to report a recent resurgence of interest and an appreciation amongst suppliers and users that this work needs to be done and on a hub basis across the country.

As ever, it’s an exciting, as well as challenging, time for the public safety and critical communications sector. What we have needs to be maintained and remain effective; lives depend upon it. At the same time, we must always be looking forward to what is coming and be ready to implement that technology. This brings its own challenges as the amount of data and information available to our emergency services and public safety agencies increases. That’s before we even consider the proliferation of devices on the Internet of (Public Safety) Things and what information they are already providing. Perhaps we’ll need artificial intelligence to help us manage that? What we do know is that it should never be acceptable not to use information or technology that keeps people safe. That’s the biggest challenge.

*Ian Thompson is CEO of BAPCO. You can find more information about the BAPCO Show at

Pictured top: Ian Thompson speaking at the BAPCO Show. All images courtesy BAPCO.

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