How technology can overcome the challenges of critical communications
By Sean Newman, director and principal consultant, Kalibre and Matthew Bertram, business consultant, Micro Focus
Saturday, 01 January, 2022
Modern applications can be used to bring together fault and performance data into a 'single-pane-of-glass' view of the overall network
More than ever before, public safety network providers depend on technology that provides visibility into their network to ensure they can support mission-critical communications.
We have seen in the last few years the additional pressure that natural disasters such as bushfires and extreme weather events can place on these networks. Telecommunications outages can severely impact the critical communication required to coordinate resources and keep emergency services personnel safe.
A modern public safety communications network is incredibly complex and diverse, with a broad range of devices that need to be monitored alongside the radio network itself. This can include DC power systems, generators, batteries, air conditioners, microwave and other backhaul transmission equipment, plus now even cameras that provide security monitoring at remote locations.
To provide radio coverage where emergency services need it, service providers often need to build towers in remote and difficult-to-reach locations. These remote locations, coupled with the severe weather conditions faced there, can place additional strain on power supply and air-conditioning systems, impacting on the ability for these systems to continue functioning.
On top of this complexity, service providers are being asked to meet increasingly stringent and rigorous service levels from state and federal government customers that demand high levels of network availability and performance. These service levels are backed by mandatory monitoring, measurement and reporting requirements to demonstrate compliance.
Against this backdrop, service providers face challenges in being able to effectively monitor these disparate network elements. Traditionally, the various devices and technologies are monitored with multiple discrete monitoring systems, resulting in a proliferation of screens and applications within the network operations centre (NOC). Couple this with the tendency for network devices to generate high volumes of alarms and the result is the NOC struggling to stay across the faults occurring within their networks. Fault diagnosis becomes very time-consuming, often requiring NOC operators and engineers to manually sift through an overwhelming volume of fault information to try and find the root cause.
The good news for service providers is that technology that can assist with this difficult task. Modern applications can be used to bring together the fault and performance data from multiple disparate technologies and systems into a single-pane-of-glass view of the overall network. These systems provide broad and flexible integration options that can ingest and normalise data from across the diverse technologies deployed in these communications networks.
Correlation technology has revolutionised how radio networks are monitored by bringing multiple disparate data streams together and correlating them into meaningful, actionable faults. This drastically reduces the number of events that operators need to process, reducing the manual handling of events. This lets network operators see through the noise to the actual impact and root cause of network faults.
Automation technology can reduce the workload on NOC operators in escalating and actioning faults once they are detected. Faults can be automatically escalated to notification and service management systems, based on highly configurable business rules. This eliminates the ‘swivel-chair management’ tasks where operators need to manually enter fault tickets into separate systems for customer notifications and field technician workforce management.
Real-time service health monitoring technology lets network operators identify the real business impact of infrastructure faults as they occur. The faults are mapped to the impact they have on the services they provide to customers, which means the NOC can more effectively prioritise restoration efforts to those faults having the greatest impact on customers.
Mobile-responsive web-portal technology is used to extend network status and performance information to the actual users of the networks. Emergency services members can view the availability and load on the radio network where they are, whether accessed from desktops, laptops, tablets or smartphones.
Modern data visualisation techniques can be used to present meaningful data to users in a way that can be quickly digested and understood. This data visualisation technology can also be used by emergency service control centres to manage network load during major events. Real-time network usage data is presented to operators using advanced data analytics techniques for fast decision-making to ensure that congestion of the radio networks is minimised, allowing communications to continue flowing during crisis situations.
Where technology has improved access to and sharing of information, data governance becomes an important element of a modern monitoring technology solution. Secure access to data coupled with a flexible authorisation model is required to ensure that only the right people have access to the data, and only the data that is relevant to their operational needs. Authentication technology provides flexible options for authentication and authorisation, including both push and token-based multi-factor authentication, along with a role-based authorisation model that provides granular access to system data and functions.
Vertical and horizontal scaling technology allows monitoring solutions to grow in order to meet the changing needs of these public safety networks. As these networks grow from covering limited parts of the country to encompassing entire states, the monitoring solution is also able to grow in size and capability to keep pace with service provider requirements.
As extreme weather conditions continue to be experienced across the country and around the world, effective and reliable emergency services communications will continue to be a vital part of the response. Technology also will continue to play a greater and greater role overcoming the challenges faced in managing these communications, for greater reliability and visibility of these networks.
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