Airbus’ Secure Land Communications business is one of the major providers of public safety critical communications networks in Europe. The company says that it works closely with the ministries of the interior of various European countries and has many nationwide and long-term customers in the European Union. It has implemented Germany’s BOS digital radio network, which Airbus says is the largest of its kind of the world; the Astrid first responder network in Belgium, Virve in Finland, Rakel in Sweden, SIRDEE in Spain, and INPT in France, among others.
RCR Wireless News asked the company to reflect on current trends in first responder communications in the EU and United Kingdom. The following Q&A was conducted via email and has been lightly edited.
RCR: What are some of the challenges for first responders in the EU, and what makes this market unique?
Airbus spokesperson Eric Davalo: First responders in the EU enjoy the availability of nation-wide TETRA and TETRAPOL systems. This is not true in all countries around the globe. This has allowed secured, nation-wide, interoperable critical communications among public safety agencies. As such, TETRA and TETRAPOL are not only technologies; they are based on operating models and thus a way of working that has allowed interoperability.The interoperability topic has always been quite high on the public safety agenda. One of the challenges for first responders is to maintain an interoperable, controlled and secured mode of operation when introducing new tools and technology. That is particularly true when talking about data. Public safety is a unique market in that the implementation of new technology is done keeping always in mind that trust and legitimacy of public safety agencies are maintained.
RCR: What trends are you seeing in public safety and/or critical communications?
Davalo: We identify two major trends in the public safety market. Firstly, public-safety organizations want to leverage technology evolution in order to be more efficient, to deliver more services to citizens and to increase safety and security. They want to leverage 4G and 5G mobile broadband capabilities to have access and to share more information on the move. They are interested in cloud-based architecture that allows scalable and fast roll-out of new applications. They are also investigating what data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning can bring to their daily operations.
Secondly, they still want to be able to rely on mission critical communications which are
used today and on which their mode of operations rely. This means being able to use their TETRA and TETRAPOL systems until 2030 and even 2035. Those two trends are not in conflict. They complement each other.
RCR: What role do you see mobile broadband playing in this space? How does your portfolio
Davalo: Mobile broadband brings many opportunities for public-safety organizations to gain in performance and to deliver more services to citizens in order to improve safety and security. Time spent on administrative tasks can be significantly reduced. It allows users to be more present on the field (in the street) and to spend more time on effective work. Planning and use of resources and equipment can be also significantly improved. Mission management tools allow tasks to be allocated and managed real time in the street. The capability to gather, analyze and share relevant data can also significantly improve situational awareness. The point is not to bring more information to first responders, but to help end users to make better and faster decisions. Examples include the possibility of searching open-source data, or benefiting from different video sources to bring the relevant information to end users.
One important point when introducing new technology is to remember that it must support first responders’ tough environments and be deeply embedded in their operational model. TETRA and TETRAPOL systems are not only radio technology. They integrate radio access network, core network and applications. Those applications are push-to-talk, short data services, tactical management, radio dispatch and others. They are all fully embedded in public safety operational models. It means that they are the tools that support specific requirements and way of working.
The same will happen to mobile broadband solutions in order for them to deliver full value. This is why Airbus portfolio is not only about new technology to bring to Public Safety. We have many of them including all the services included in Mission Critical Services, such as group-based exchange of data and video, location services, field dispatch, and also open-source data mining and video analytics. What we believe makes the difference is our capability to integrate those technology with current operational models as well as to smoothly develop new operational models with end users. For example our secured messaging solution is fully integrated with our Tactical Management tool. This is the only way to ensure secure interoperable messaging.
RCR: How do you see the market playing out in terms of the use of terrestrial private networks, cellular (possibly on either private networks or on mobile network operator networks) and satellite?
Davalo: Each country is responsible for the allocation of spectrum to public safety, and this is most of the time the role of governmental agencies. It is clear that not all countries have decided to follow the same path. Some have decided to allocate spectrum for broadband [public protection and disaster response, or PPDR], such as the USA with Band 14. Others have decided not to allocate any spectrum such as the U.K. Others are exploring mixed models. At the end of the day, our solutions have to be able to work on any type of model. This is not an issue as all mobile broadband technology used are coming from 3GPP and have standardized interfaces which allows mobile broadband applications to run on and interface with any 3GPP compliant mobile network.
As an example, we launched our MVNO service MXLINK in Mexico earlier this year, which relies on radio access networks provided by different MNOs. This service complements and interfaces with our TETRAPOL and TETRA systems in the country. We also see that satellite solutions are delivering services that cannot be provided by terrestrial solutions at an affordable cost. They complement efficiently terrestrial networks in areas where terrestrial coverage is not affordable.
RCR: What role do you see IoT playing in public safety response, and how does that tie into smart city initiatives? Is this an area of interest for Airbus, and if so, what is Airbus doing in this area?
Davalo: The capability to enhance situational awareness for public safety users is a major trend. IoT should play a role in collecting various type of information from different sensors, processing it using advanced data analytics, AI and ML capabilities, and providing relevant inputs to dispatchers and users on the field. This can be a combination of biometry, movement and location information that can trigger alert messages. It can be a combination of video and noise captors also alerting emergency response centers. Many combinations and a huge variety of use cases can be foreseen. There is at least one strong link to smart cities: they need to be safe. The complexity coming with smart cities requires automated data collection, processing and alerting to make sure they remain safe.
We have been awarded a contract to explore how IoT can bring benefits to a customer in Europe. This is confidential and we will only communicate when we are allowed to. We are not the only one within Airbus working on IoT and Smart City. Airbus has very large factories and quite impressive engineering processes. The company is deeply involved in the use and development of IoT for its own industrial process, and we are working actively with them to bring our expertise in this area. Airbus also has the vision of unmanned aerial transport in cities. This has already been presented in major exhibitions. This is seen as a major element of smart and safe cities of the future.
Interested in more information on public safety and disaster response trends and challenges, with a focus on the European market? Check out RCR Wireless News’ recent webinar on the topic and the accompanying special report.
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