Mission Critical LTE App Ecosystem: What CCW 2018 Can Show Us

Part 2 in a series of reflections in the lead-up to Critical Communications World 2018

Critical Communications World 2018 marks a sea-change for data-centric mission-critical communications. As smartphone applications emerged to bring end users visually rich interfaces that transformed many facets of commerce and society, the world of critical communications was left behind with voice-centric push-to-talk applications. While TETRA Short Data Service did allow some non-voice exchange, the full breadth of application innovation found in high-end consumer devices remained out-of-reach for critical communications users.

The world, however, is changing. As more devices enter the market combining support for trusted mission-critical push-to-talk technologies with LTE-based mobile broadband, new opportunities emerge for an expanded application innovation ecosystem. The reason why this is possible now is two-fold. First, LTE-based mobile broadband opens a communications path to cloud resources. This high-speed data pipe means that massive data stores and heavy compute power can reside on flexible server resources with high capacity and performance. Secondly, high-performance visual interfaces provide users with intuitive view portals into complex information.

To make the dream of application innovation a reality, however, device vendors must provide application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development platforms supporting simulation and testing. Along with this, developers need excellent documentation and mentoring. Apple and Google have produced frameworks that opened up access to smartphone innovation to creative developers all over the world. Now, the addition of mission-critical APIs controlling unique mission-critical device functionality as well as cloud-based resources can result in compelling new approaches to incident operations.

To be sure, hybrid TETRA/LTE and LTE-specific devices aimed at critical communications are not new. Exhibitors at Critical Communications World 2018 have already brought devices to market. Airbus SLC, as a case in point, introduced its Tactilon Dabat as a flexible platform for both traditional TETRA communications and mobile broadband data. The company offers its SmarTWISP application developer program to supply software developers with resources and support. To stimulate interest in its platform, Airbus hosted a “Critical App Challenge” recently in Munich, Germany. Likewise, Hytera launched its PTC760 Multi-mode Advanced Radio to offer hybrid capability leveraging TETRA and LTE networks. And while Motorola Solutions and Samsung do not offer hybrid devices, these suppliers provide hardened LTE devices aimed at critical communications applications supplementing TETRA voice communications.

Looking forward to Critical Communications World 2018, we can expect more evidence of rapid progress towards a vibrant application ecosystem. The program includes the "Leading Edge Critical Apps" Masterclass that will review European application deployments and provide guidance on how to get application projects into action. In addition, the main conference program includes an important session focusing on the Mission Critical Open Platform (MCOP) program. Here, Dr. Fidel Liberal will present an update on efforts to provide mission-critical stakeholders with open interfaces between different technologies available in devices. The MCOP initiative is an essential precursor to widespread critical communication application innovation. By providing developers with a "write once, deploy to many" framework, developers can leverage investment across many target platforms. 

This is a pivotal time for critical communications. With Critical Communications World 2018 program elements focusing on the application ecosystem that is taking shape, the conference and exhibition promises to be an essential and timely training ground for developers and users alike.