Technical Advisor, MOI Qatar: “We see significant benefits to deploying a technology that is universally adopted”

Ged Robinson

Ged Robinson

Ged Robinson, Technical Advisor, MOI Qatar is speaking on Day Two of the LTE MENA conference

Ged Robinson, Technical Advisor, MOI Qatar is speaking on Day Two of the LTE MENA conference, taking place on the 13th-14th May 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai. Ahead of the show we gain his insight into the challenges the carrier market is facing in meeting the needs of the critical communications market.

What are the most fundamental requirements for a Public safety/critical communications network and why does LTE fit the bill rather than any other proprietary technology?

As with all public safety and mission critical systems, availability and resilience are key.  For us LTE is the choice because we particularly wanted a network with full support for mobility. Competing comparable technologies didn’t offer that and to our knowledge still don’t.

Added to this we see significant benefits – as well as some detrimental aspects too – to deploying a technology that is more universally adopted and, again, we decided that LTE was likely to win that battle in the marketplace over and above the competing technologies.

Can LTE really offer all the security, reliability and resilience necessary for critical communications?

I believe it can and it will – though currently it doesn’t as there are significant areas in which development is still necessary. However, we’re encouraged that the industry in general recognises this, with collaborative efforts to address these issues by 3GPP and the TETRA and Critical Communication Association (previously the TETRA Association) for example.

The special interests of organisations like ours are represented by such industry forums and for us it’s important that our requirements are brought to the standardisation bodies through them.

The LTE MENA conference is taking place on the 13th-14th May 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai. Click here to find out more about the event.

What are the key challenges around setting up an LTE network for critical communications?

Of course spectrum and funding are always high on the list. Beyond that we have seen in our own project that many of the vendor offerings are obviously designed to scale upwards to huge networks. Typically they don’t scale downwards to networks like us with a few tens of thousands of subscribers. The implications of this aren’t only commercial but also impact  the complexity and maintainability of the solution. Typically we would prefer more lightweight solutions where the emphasis was on availability and resilience and not on scale.

After the initial effort with our vendor to get the basic network designed and implementation underway we started to grapple with more abstract problems, such as, for example, subscriber modelling.  Typically for organisations like us, our subscriber base is quite complex consisting of broad and hierarchically deep tree structures, which are usually reflections of our organisational and operational make-up, with all the security, prioritisation and access control we need.

The subscriber modelling in a commercial operator solution doesn’t enable us to map our organisations into the subscriber database in a meaningful way. This presents challenges in how to control access to services, map quality of service definitions onto subscribers and services, and how to group and segregate user groups, etc. Again this is an area where TETRA has been designed from the ground up to suit our needs – we even have a term in the industry (fleetmapping) for the process – whereas comparably LTE is in a sub-optimal state for us. It will be adapted over time, by vendors interested in satisfying our needs, but at the moment it’s a long way from being a perfect fit.

What are the key challenges around reserving spectrum for Public Safety uses?

In a regulatory sense this didn’t prove to be a very great big problem in our case. Key was to engage our regulator and make convincing – and genuine – arguments to support our need for spectrum allocation, as the commercial operators do.  We were well received.

In terms of band selection, again speaking for our own case it was important to us that we didn’t get pushed into 2.x GHz or whatever. We can’t make a business case around revenue or monetary return on investment. Average revenue per user and other revenue metrics aren’t relevant. Given this context it was important to us to be able to deploy LTE alongside our TETRA infrastructure with maximum real estate re-use and 700MHz or 800MHz were our choices in that respect. Considering how we anticipated device availability developing at that time, of the two, we preferred 800MHz. So far, we’re not unhappy with how we see it developing.

Voice is surely vital for critical communications – how important is the VoLTE standard to you?

It’s of great interest, and we anticipate it being the future.  But we’re not unrealistic about timescales. We have no intention in the short term of replacing TETRA with LTE for mission critical voice. We see developments coming along in the medium and long-term future, and personally I don’t doubt that eventually we will be operating one single converged network – based on what is now LTE – for voice and data.

But for mission-critical voice TETRA fits us like a made-to-measure suit, whereas even the VoLTE standards currently address only basic telephony as we would see it. There’s quite a long way to go before it’s going to be fit for 999 users.

Is the LTE hardware community up to speed on the needs of the critical communications sector?

Again, my perception is no. But I see increasing representation of our needs within the LTE community as a whole and I have quite a high confidence that LTE will, eventually, be suitably specified and adapted for use in organisations like ours.

One challenge we often face is in engaging vendors who have been addressing the cellular market for years and years, and now, with our interest in LTE, are starting to address the Public Safety market.  Often, we’re not well understood as customers and the initial vendor messages are completely wrong, with emphasis on how to “monetise” our network and “minimise cost per bit”, etc.  These messages are completely irrelevant to us. I think the vendors in the LTE space could do more to understand their market when they’re talking to Public Safety organisations. The fundamental business drivers are very different to their traditional audiences.

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