New year’s revolutions: critical communications predictions for 2020


Ahead of what is likely to be a crucial year in the realm of critical communications technology, TCCA board chair Mladen Vratonjic anticipates developments in the realm of standardisation, as well as giving an overview of the Spanish market prior to CCW Madrid.

What are the most important issues for the critical communications sector going into this year?

We continue to recognise the trend – especially among nationwide public safety operators and users – to evolve to 3GPP-based critical broadband, although it must be remembered that many organisations will retain and enhance their TETRA networks. The standardisation and implementation of critical broadband is an ongoing process, and the first movers are expected to begin operational trials this year and in 2021.

The retention of TETRA networks demands an interworking standard between TETRA and LTE, and this work is in progress, with the standard expected by the end of 2020.
TETRA systems will continue to serve their users well, and we must ensure that the technology continues to be enhanced to ensure it evolves with user needs. As an example, ETSI has already announced work on strengthening TETRA security to protect against ever-increasing cyberattack risks.

What do you hope will have been achieved by the end of it? Can you foresee any roadblocks?

The 3GPP Release 17 will close, and Releases 13 and 14 implemented into operational use, but it will only be with Release 15 that we consider the majority of TETRA functionality to be standardised for broadband.This is why we are looking forward to, and expecting by this year end, the standardisation process for interworking between broadband and narrowband systems to be completed.

One of the problems may be that the introduction of critical broadband does not mean that all the standardised features will be available immediately. If released equipment is standards-compliant that may mean that only the subset of features and characteristics that are standardised will be implemented. Users may have to wait for additional features to be developed, but open standards increase competition, and the support and promotion of all standardisation and research work is the basis for TCCA’s existence

At what point will ‘new’ solutions such as AI, UAVs etc start to make a genuine – transformative – operational impact? To what degree is that happening already?

As a sector, safety and security services could benefit from the use of artificial intelligence in a number of different spheres. AI for video analytics and extracting useful information from big data, as well as drones, are already widely used. Also, IoT is an important part of Smart and Safe City concepts.

TCCA is reaching out to, and building relationships with, key players in emerging technology segments for critical communications such as AR, VR, AI, IoT and drones. We are connecting them with TCCA members to proactively drive a rich broadband application ecosystem of complementary technologies. The target is to build critical mass, momentum and knowledge across the end user, operator, research and vendor community, and to grow the overall solution space for users.

Critical communications is the one area of telecommunications that needs to cope with various different requests, services, speeds and unpredictability of required capacity. As 5G is all about providing next level flexibility, coverage, capacity, security, data rate and low latency, it is the ideal network - once it becomes widely available - to deliver a wide variety of services across different environments in a highly efficient and robust way. 

What will be TETRA’s role going forward?

There will be a significant time period when both narrowband and broadband operate in parallel. According to the latest research from analysts IHS Markit, the TETRA market is showing steady growth so standalone TETRA networks will continue to be in play for decades.

TCCA supports the TETRA market through its working groups, including the Technical Forum - which is responsible for the world-leading TETRA Interoperability Testing & Certification (IOP) process -, the Security and Fraud Prevention Group, and the TETRA Industry Group. It also promotes the benefits of TETRA to relevant users worldwide.
TCCA is the meeting point for TETRA users and the industry to co-ordinate further development of the technology as it continues to be enhanced. We also have a number of active country/region-specific forums around the world that work to ensure the strength of TETRA. These include the North America TETRA Forum, the Australasian Critical Communications Forum, and the TCCA China Society.

What are your hopes for CCW 2020? What unique opportunities and challenges exist in Spain and its neighbours?

When we choose the location for CCW, we aim to give a boost to the local critical communications market and, at the same time, to find an attractive location where participants would like to come. Critical communications in Spain a very dynamic and interesting market. The Tetrapol network has been upgraded to use IP transport network.

TETRA is well represented in different parts of the country as public safety networks, as well as in many other parts for utilities. The Spanish MoI plans to use a combination of 450 MHz [2x5MHz] for rural/countryside coverage, supplemented by 700 MHz [2x10 MHz] spectrum for cities. 450 MHz spectrum is already available and in use in trials/initial deployments and has been since 2019, for instance in Seville, Ceuta and Melilla.
The MoI will also use commercial mobile operator networks to complement dedicated infrastructure in 450 MHz and 700 MHz, and will investigate Tetrapol-LTE interoperability too.
These developments all make Spain an excellent venue for CCW 2020. We are working together with key stakeholders in Spain to provide a dynamic, engaging and memorable event for visitors and exhibitors.
Are there any parallels between now and 25 years ago, during the first days of TCCA?

We are currently celebrating TCCA’s 25th anniversary year, and our core principle of open standards – the foundation for the success of TETRA – has remained unshakeable since we were originally founded as the TETRA MoU Association in 1994. The success of TETRA is built on the unique IOP process. The first IOP certificates were published in November 1999, and 20 years later the IOP process continues to lead the world in independent certification for critical communications.

For mobile broadband, TCCA - together with a number of our members and other stakeholders who are active in 3GPP - have succeeded in getting critical broadband features included in 3GPP standards for 4G, and that work is ongoing to include 5G. TCCA is the 3GPP Market Representation Partner (MRP) for critical communications. It has worked with other industry partners to drive the inclusion of standardised features such as the MCX series [Mission Critical Push to Talk, Mission Critical Video, and Mission Critical Data] in 3GPP Releases. The implementation of these and other standards relevant to critical communications gives the sector a solid platform for the long-term transition between narrowband and broadband.

How has the organisation evolved in that time? Has its remit or method of working changed?

We were founded as the single guardian of a single ETSI standard, responsible for much of the development of , and we established the TETRA IOP. From that beginning, we have led the industry as critical communications became mainstream, driving the development of critical broadband and seeing major industry players and operators joining and expanding the eco system. Today we cooperate with a number of organisations including 3GPP, The Global Certification Forum, EUTC, 450 Alliance, PSTA, NIST, and many others who share our commitment to excellence in critical communications.

Our remit is now much wider and our method of working far more collaborative, but our original tenets remain unchanged. Members of TCCA design, manufacture, build, implement, utilise, analyse, promote, develop and deploy critical communications worldwide. Collectively we have created the critical communications of today. Together we are shaping the critical communications of the future.

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Media contact:

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