This series of posts looks at different aspects of managing the migration from TETRA/P25 to public safety broadband.

Predicting the future is sometimes a bit difficult but always fun: The TETRA/P25 systems will remain the core mission critical voice service until the standardised public safety LTE systems are available. Different broadband solutions will be deployed (MVNO, dedicated networks) in the meanwhile mainly for data purposes and to some extent for proprietary voice services. We expect a long period of parallel use of these systems (hybrid operations). Management systems and applications should be designed with hybrid operations support.

The discussion on the Critical Communications Broadband is boiling happily in the community, so we are not attempting to address all related aspects here. Our focus is on Managing the Migration from systems and operations viewpoint.

New technologies introduce complexity for operations. It is vital to consider the manageability of the systems as part of operations, as this is not purely an administrative function – it is part of guaranteeing efficiency, flexibility and security for the organization’s core function.

Critical Communications Broadband Networks: The Subscriber Challenge

Subscriber Management, i.e. delivering the correct configuration of user data to the network elements to allow the users to access the network services, is a completely different problem in Critical Communications networks compared to Commercial networks. As the user requirements are fundamentally different, it is important to understand how the LTE based systems need to evolve in this respect. In this regard, the Critical Communications networks can initially look like an “unrewarding” segment for the main stream LTE network providers.

The first big difference is the projected amount of users: it is not something that is going to grow exponentially. These networks will be in most cases acquired for a purpose, and the organization fulfilling that purpose has a limited size.

You are deploying new networks, but your users are mostly still the same. How is their daily work changing due to the new technologies?

The second big difference is the concept of a user. The “Fleet map” is a model of the professional organization describing the operational structure, roles and communications requirements of each user. Critical Communication is a tool for leading the organization and the fleet map expresses that structure. In commercial networks this concept naturally does not exist. Users are mainly individual consumers, each with only an individual interest to access the thickest possible pipe to access the content on the internet.

As the focus of Critical Communications LTE will be also on group communication, the users and their communication have a deep relationship with other users and the organization they belong to.

This combination of characteristics creates a fundamental difference in the way the users and configuration of the system and devices need to be managed. The Public Safety LTE systems and management systems need to be designed to express the command structure of the organization and use that information when allowing communications between users.

Hybrid Management – preserve your fleet map!

For organizations that are currently using e.g. a TETRA system a good approach is to use the existing fleet map as basis of the hybrid user model. The fleet map as implemented already now by the TETRA system describes the communications structure. As new network technologies are taken into use (e.g. via MVNO or dedicated LTE networks), this will in most cases happen in parallel with TETRA use. The 4G (and 3G/GSM) devices will be part of the same operations with TETRA and should be manageable as part of the same fleet.

LTE Subscriptions can be seen as extensions to the existing communications hierarchy, and in the management systems handled as part of the same user service. This same model is also extremely useful when defining billing models. (We will cover the issue of Billing in Critical Communications Networks in the next post…).

Hybrid Management focuses on managing the users and organizations to avoid the pitfall of building silos of management systems for each different network technology. This also allows building on the tried and tested communications hierarchy, which is what subscriber management in Critical Networks is all about!