Finnish critical comms: success in cooperation


Philip Mason talks with chair of the TCCA Critical Communications Broadband Group Tero Pesonen about the progress of VIRVE 2.0, as well as how the national character influenced the formation of Critical Communications Finland.

The mission critical communications sector is currently going through one of the most crucial – and arguably challenging - times in its history, due to a variety of global factors.
First of all, the world is, or at least would appear to be, becoming increasingly dangerous. There are many apparent reasons for this including climate change, increasing global poverty and terrorism. Whatever the reasons however, the effect heading into the future is that nation states will likely need to react quicker and more effectively, integral to which will be cutting-edge technology.
At the same time the technology itself is becoming ever-more ‘sophisticated’, something currently symbolised within the sector by the gradual move from mission critical narrowband to mission critical broadband. Going forward meanwhile, innovations such as 5G, AI and so on won’t so much change the landscape as render it unrecognisable, both from a supplier and a user perspective.  
One of the key strategies through which the industry is likely to cope with all this is increased cooperation between stakeholders, something which in itself mirrors the increasingly connected nature of the technological infrastructure. Nowhere is this better exemplified at a national level than in the form of user/supplier network Critical Communications Finland (CCF).
You don’t know what you don’t know
For those who aren’t aware, CCF is made up of several different Finnish organisations, all of whom are, naturally enough, involved in some aspect of the roll-out and development of critical communications technology. These include manufacturers such as Bittium, Beaconsim, Goodmill – and of course, Nokia –, alongside users such as the National Police Board of Finland and the Keski-Suomi Rescue Department.
Tero Pesonen is spokesperson for CCF.  Speaking following TCCA’s annual Critical Communications World event in Malaysia, he described the group’s purpose as being “all about success in cooperation.” 
“We want to give everyone the opportunity to exchange their views with each other,” he continued. “That includes the government, operators and manufacturers, as well as first responders themselves. Obviously, we’re focussing very much at the moment on how we should be working in terms of the transition from narrowband to broadband.
“The reason for coming across the world to Kuala Lumpur is tied into that ethos as well. We had various delegations come to our stand at CCW 2019, both from Malaysia and other countries. Again, that gave us the opportunity to sit down and share ideas. Everyone’s on the same search when it comes to this transition, and you have to understand not only how different organisations operate, but different nations as well.
“Another area we’re obviously looking at is 5G. There are many things in that domain the we know we don’t know, but again the trick is to avoid groupthink. The organisations that make up CCF don’t have many peers in Finland, so we have look to different cultures for different points of view. That’s how we move forward effectively.”
Progress of VIRVE 2.0
Going back to the subject of the move from narrowband to mission critical broadband, Pesonen continued by giving an update on the ongoing roll-out of VIRVE 2.0 (the broadband network that will eventually replace the TETRA-based VIRVE). He began by discussing the relatively recent change in Finnish law though which mobile operators are now bound to ensure the availability of critical communications in all circumstances.
“Regarding VIRVE 2.0, Finland is currently in the procurement phase,” he says. “At the same time, new legislation came into force in February, mandating that current VIRVE operator Erillisverkot Group operates a dedicated core while at the same time enabling radio access to be bought as a service. In terms of access, the law also now says that whoever is the primary radio access provider has to ensure pre-emption and priority to our subscribers, on every frequency they operate. That will also include 5G when the time comes.”
Continuing on the same topic, he says: “Secondary providers are obliged to support national roaming for critical communications subscribers. However, they are not obliged by law to provide pre-emption and priority in the same way. That said – and I’m not part of the procurement process –, my presumption is that it should be possible to negotiate a commercial contract with them for exceptional situations.
“When it comes to 5G, it will probably be much easier for providers to productise their services, due to features such as network slicing. TCCA and GSMA are currently working together to develop and standardise pre-defined slicing ‘profiles,’ something which would be particularly relevant for Finland, for instance when our first responders go abroad. The network slicing agreement could specify a certain level of service not just across the country, but across nations.” 
Pragmatism and isolation
As indicated, the existence of Critical Communications Finland is predicated on a spirit of cooperation shared both between its members, as well as with other stakeholders around the world. That being the case, it’s enough to make you wonder why partner organisations from other nations don’t come together in the same way.
For Pesonen, one answer can be found in what he believes to be the constituents of the Finnish national character. According to him, this is exemplified firstly by a palpable sense of isolation in terms of geography, as well as a pragmatism not necessarily to be found in warmer parts of the world.
“If you’re born as a Finnish speaker you quickly become aware that you’re quite isolated when it comes to the countries situated around you [Sweden to the West, Norway to the north, and Russia to the East]," he says.
“No one speaks the same language as you, and no one shares your culture. That gives you an understanding that you’re not exactly the centre of the world, so if you have something which you believe is worth sharing with people, you have to take it to them. We are comparatively few, so our national market is limited – we prefer it to be global.
“We also tend to be quite pragmatic when it comes to cooperation, something which is probably to do with the tough winters. When it’s cold and dark, you have to help each other and from there you develop trust. Obviously, companies in CCF are also in competition with each other, but that’s ok.”
Staying on the latter point, that sense of mutual reliance has been developing within the mission critical communications context since at least the late 1990s when the country first began to roll out VIRVE. From that point in time, there has been what Pesonen calls an “upward spiral of trust, functionality, and understanding.”
In a world where cooperation and competition will likely need to go increasingly hand-in-hand, it seems like the Finnish contingent has hit upon something.   


Philip Mason
Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0)20 3874 9216