MCT 2018 Recap: A Holistic Approach to Mission-Critical Tech

Ken Rehbehn
Principal Analyst

There is no shortage of excellent conferences and exhibitions focused on public safety communications and technology. Across different regions of the globe, event organizers provide important platforms for service providers, ecosystem partners and government agencies. With its launch event in London on June 14, 2018, Mission Critical Technology 2018 (MCT2018) is the latest to appear on the world stage. 

I made the trip to London to serve as MCT2018's Day Two conference Chair and as Chair of the Day Two Stream B "Back-end Innovation: Communications networks." Because MCT 2018 was housed side-by-side with the expansive KNect365's TechXLR8 exhibition, I had many opportunities to check out vendor stands, listen to presentations and meet with industry movers and shakers across a richly varied set of topics. This exhibition was clearly something more than just a communications tradeshow.

It was a busy two days of walking around enormous ExCel Halls taking in a bustling exhibition. But several important themes emerged during my travels. Here is an overview of my takeaways from the first Mission Critical Technologies conference:

ESN continues stepped-up outreach, but with handcuffs. Over the past year, the UK Home Office Emergency Services Network (ESN) team expanded engagement its prospective users. In addition to demonstrations at BAPCO 2018 and an energized LinkedIn presence, the ESN team held forth at Mission Critical Technologies 2018 at a dedicated exhibition stand. When a critical mass of emergency service agencies in the UK converts to ESN, other agencies will have no other choice for mission-critical broadband communications. Until then, however, ESN must build trust amongst its prospective user base and convince agencies to sign on for deployments. This need means that smart marketing efforts are an essential element of the Home Office plan. At MCT 2018, the ESN stand provided visitors with the chance to get educated about the planned capabilities. Unfortunately, until ESN delivers its long-awaited status report to Parliament, the education effort must necessarily be constrained. Fundamental questions on mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) remain unresolved, including an answer on how ESN will cope with direct mode voice communications when users are out of network range. With its report not coming until the end of July -- at the earliest -- ESN missed an important opportunity to educate prospective users.

Mission-critical cloud grows in importance. Public safety organization attitudes towards system ownership and control are changing rapidly. Driven by the same forces that pushed commercial enterprises towards cloud technology, emergency services organizations now show increasing interest in cloud-hosted mission-critical and business-critical applications. Reflecting this trend, Mission Critical Technologies 2018 prominently staked out exhibit hall space for the Microsoft Public Safety and National Security Solutions Hub. This hub provided Microsoft with a potent stage to spotlight the power of its Azure cloud and a broad range of cloud-powered solutions from its partners that serve the public safety mission. Microsoft's partners included Axon (smart weapons, body cameras, digital evidence management), Black Marble (software development), cloudThing (social media intel), Genetec (IP-based security solutions), Hexgon (computer-aided dispatch), NICE public safety solutions (digital policing), and RapidDeploy (computer-aided dispatch). 

Mission-critical technologies are more than just radio systems. A valuable aspect of MCT 2018 was its physical placement adjacent to 5G World. To be sure, visitors could take in the broader view of future radio technology advances by visiting extensive 5G-focused stands hosted by Ericsson, Huawei, Intel and Nokia. But beyond 5G World was an expansive TechXLR8 exhibition that helped expose synergies across a comprehensive set of cutting-edge technology including IoT, AR/VR and AI. A tour of the large exhibition hall at ExCel Centre provided many opportunities for serendipitous discovery of concepts, applications and tools that can be applied to the public safety mission.  Within the Mission Critical Technologies exhibit space visitors could check out advances in drone technology with DJI, a leading supplier of drones for law enforcement, search and rescue. A primary value of MCT 2018 was its synergistic blend of technologies under a single roof. 

Private LTE is coming into its own. LTE deployments are not necessarily the province of highly scaled system suppliers. At Mission Critical Technologies 2018, ip.access showed off its approach for private LTE deployments. Likewise, Parallel Wireless -- a supplier for ESN's vehicle-mounted LTE systems -- highlighted its progress in markets around the world. But perhaps the most telling illustration of the growing role for private LTE came from Air France. Christian Régnier described an intriguing trial of a private LTE network deployment at Paris-CDG and Paris-Orly airports. Using TDD spectrum allocated by the French regulator ARCEP for private networks, Air France tested deployment of LTE-based business-critical applications for ramp service operations. The results were promising and suggested more private LTE deployments may be coming in France and Germany.

The Mission Critical Technologies 2018 program and exhibition hall delivered on the conference's promise to serve up a multidisciplinary blend of network communications, application and device technology squarely aimed public safety mission delivery. In an era where rich data helps drive operational efficiency and effectiveness, the topics of MCT 2018 covered essential technology advances that help agencies reap the benefits of mission-critical LTE. But while MCT 2018 was a formidable exhibition, I expect MCT 2019 to take this holistic approach to mission-critical technology to the next level. It will be fun to see what takes shape in 2019 as governments and their supporting ecosystem partners continue fast-paced innovation. I look forward to seeing you there!