Critical Communications Compliance

14 November 2023

Leonardo’s Nigel Lidster analyses the complexity of responding to major incidents and how a consistent approach to telecoms infrastructure and standards ensures emergency services have total confidence in the mission-critical communications networks they are using.

In the aftermath of high profile terror attacks, including the 7/7 central London bombings in 2005, the Manchester Arena bombing and London Bridge attack in 2017, and the Liverpool Women’s Hospital bombing in October 2021, the same questions are frequently asked… “What could be done to have stopped this tragedy? How could our public safety officers have reacted differently? How could they have been better served? What lessons can be learned to reduce the chances of such an incident happening again?”

A consistent focus in reviews of such incidents is the role and proficiency of the telecommunications equipment allowing first responders to act decisively using accurate information in real-time and with greater expediency.

Common themes almost always appear: interoperability, priority accessibility and network reliability. Now, however, steps are being taken on a global basis to address such issues for our emergency services.

A unified approach

Four organisations and one global initiative are key to the success of the future transition to effective broadband mission-critical communications, and the definition and adoption of common standards:

3GPP unites seven telecommunications standardisation bodies from across Asia, Europe and North America – ARIB, ATIS, CCSA, ETSI, TSDSI, TTA and TTC. Individually, they provide their respective members with a stable environment in which to produce the reports and specifications that define 3GPP technologies. Among the members are:

  • Device/network vendors (Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Sepura)
  • Mobile network operators (Vodafone, EE, AT&T, etc)
  • Government bodies (UK Home Office, National Cyber Security Centre, BDBOS (the German Agency for Digital Radio of Security Authorities and Organizations), FirstNet (the First Responder Network Authority of the United States, etc)
  • Other verticals/technologies (Automotive, Rail industry, Satellite, factories of the future, etc)

The project covers cellular telecommunications technologies, including radio access, core network and service capabilities, which provide a complete system description for mobile telecommunications. The 3GPP specifications also provide hooks for non-radio access to the core network, and for interworking with non-3GPP networks.

The original specific working Group for Public Safety initially setup was SA6 and its initial title was “Critical Communications Applications” but has now been broadened to reflect other areas such as Connected Vehicles (V2X), IoT, factories of the future, etc.

Developing common standards

SA6’s main objective is providing application layer architecture specifications for 3GPP, including architecture requirements, functional architecture, procedures, information flows, interworking with non-3GPP application layer solutions, and deployment models as appropriate.

It provides a set of standards and technologies designed to ensure reliable, secure and efficient communication solutions for critical operations and emergency services. These networks – typically deployed to provide network coverage of main urban areas and transport corridors – have needed expanding by governments and network operators to meet the unique needs (higher level of network coverage) of public safety organisations such as police, fire departments, emergency medical services and other mission-critical entities.

So how do these standards and the compliance of systems, such as those developed by Leonardo, ensure that public safety officers address the lessons learned and are better prepared to respond to future incidents?

  • Reliability: 3GPP MCC networks ensure high availability and resilience, even during disasters and emergencies. They feature redundant infrastructure, failover mechanisms and priority access to network resources, minimising communication downtime in critical situations.
  • Interoperability: 3GPP MCC standards promote interoperability among different public safety agencies and equipment manufacturers. This means that various organisations can communicate seamlessly, enhancing collaboration and coordination during emergencies.
  • Priority Access: Mission-critical users have priority access to network resources, ensuring that their communications are not adversely affected by regular consumer traffic congestion. This feature guarantees that emergency services remain operational even when networks are heavily loaded.
  • Secure Communication: Security is a paramount concern for mission-critical operations. The 3GPP TSG SA WG3 (SA3) has defined the requirements and specified the architectures and protocols for security and privacy in 3GPP systems.
  • Group Communication: 3GPP MCC networks support group communication features, allowing multiple users to communicate simultaneously within a dedicated group, therefore facilitating efficient team coordination and information dissemination.
  • Low Latency: Low communication latency is critical for real-time decision-making during emergencies. 3GPP MCC technologies are designed to minimise latency, ensuring quick response times and efficient handling of time-sensitive situations.
  • Enhanced Data Capabilities: 3GPP MCC networks offer higher data throughput compared to legacy communication systems, enabling the use of advanced applications, including video streaming, location tracking and data-intensive services for better situational awareness.
  • Enhanced Coverage and Capacity: This is provided by public safety Long Term Evolution (LTE)/5G networks, though commercial LTE/5G networks have always covered urban and high density populated areas over rural due to revenue from the investment. Going forward that will change due to IoT and connected vehicles, which will drive revenue in rural areas.
  • Future Proofing: 3GPP continues to evolve its standards to incorporate the latest advancements in communication technologies. This future-proofing approach ensures that mission-critical communications remain up-to-date with the latest developments, maximising the lifespan and usability of the deployed infrastructure.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: While the initial deployment of mission-critical networks may involve significant investment, the long-term benefits of improved efficiency, reduced response times and enhanced safety for both responders and the public can outweigh the costs.

For Leonardo, a company with more than 50 years’ experience designing, delivering and supporting mission-critical communications, this standardisation is key to delivering the next generation of first responder communications. 

The company is one of the few 3GPP members to have attended every annual Plugtests edition, which enable suppliers to validate their interoperability of a variety of implementations using different scenarios based on latest 3GPP Mission Critical Services in Release-X. Leonardo has fully endorsed and implemented the 3GPP standards throughout its latest, next generation Mission Critical Comms (MCX) product portfolio, MCX Application Servers (MCPTT, MCDATA, MCVIDEO) and MCX Clients (MCPTT, MCDATA, MCVIDEO). This results in our MCX solutions being 3GPP-compliant, delivering interoperability with other 3GPP clients and MCX servers, and delivering a solution with 99.999% system availability.

Making the future safer

Leonardo’s 3GPP-compliant MCX product solution provides a robust, secure and reliable communication platform for public safety agencies, enabling them to respond more effectively to emergencies and critical incidents, thereby saving lives and minimising damage. Additionally, its adherence to 3GPP standards gives Public Safety Officers the confidence and trust that Leonardo MCX’s solution can operate in extremely demanding operational environments.

Mission Critical Communications (MCX)

Mission Critical Communications (MCX)

Leonardo's CSP-MCX platform is an emerging technology ecosystem in Mission Critical Broadband Communications. The unified secure wireless broadband platform’s product portfolio is a complete end-to-end network solution compliant to 3GPP open standards.