CCMENA 2018: Spotlight on PPDR LTE Networks

Part 3 in a series of reflections in the lead-up to Critical Communications Middle East and North Africa 2018

Since the early days of radio, public safety radio systems centered around group voice communications needs. With the arrival of LTE-based mobile broadband technology, however public safety leaders see the opportunity to go beyond basic voice communications by embracing rich data application functionality made possible by the cloud. Compelling benefits, including boosted enhanced awareness, sharply improved operational efficiency and superior citizen interaction experiences make this trend an important priority for many agencies. At the same time, governments face challenges securing dedicated spectrum for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR). As a result, the topic of PPDR spectrum will be a valuable part of the September Critical Communications Middle East and North Africa 2018 (CCMENA) event in Dubai. 

As the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) world radiocommunication conferences (WRC) process has evolved the concept of dedicated PPDR spectrum allocations, governments have taken a wide range of approaches to the question of how best to utilize spectrum in service to society. Some nations, as in the Gulf States, elected to set aside dedicated mobile broadband spectrum for public protection. Because the PPDR requirements call for wide area coverage, the PPDR spectrum is typically in highly-valued 700 MHz low-bands. The host city for CCMENA is a prime example, with Dubai's Nedaa network operating pioneering mobile broadband services in support of the city's emergency services. Yet other nations have elected to avoid losing spectrum auction revenue by leveraging commercial LTE services run by mobile network operators. 

The prospect of shared PPDR bands supporting both emergency services and commercial users is made possible by enhancements to LTE access controls and expanded quality of service traffic management features. Access controls ensure emergency services users equipped with the appropriate SIM can gain physical access to radio resources, even at the expense of commercial users that get dropped off the network. Traffic management ensures data packets flowing to and from emergency services workers are treated with higher priority than best effort data sent by commercial users. These concepts form the basis for the UK Emergency Services Network (ESN) and the US FirstNet operations. In contrast, the Gulf States and Korea rely upon dedicated PPDR spectrum. One of the highlights of CCMENA is the opportunity to hear first-hand how the Dubai Neena operator has leveraged the benefits that come from dedicated PPDR spectrum.

Beyond the local operator experience, the CCMENA program incorporates several discussions around the growing role of LTE in emergency services through an expanding range of devices -- both LTE based and hybrid LTE/TETRA handsets -- that arrived in the market. The Mission Critical Broadband Futures Masterclass features a focused presentation from Motorola Solutions on the importance of PPDR spectrum, with an exploration of the importance PPDR spectrum holds and the responsibility governments have in ensuring a safe working environment for emergency services workers. Experts from Nedaa will also present the operator's perspective on applications enabled by its spectrum position as well as an overview of the city's network deployment progress.

To be sure, visitors to CCMENA have ample motivation to attend sessions addressing the challenging topic of PPDR spectrum. The issues are complex, and learnings from regional deployments such as Dubai's Needa network can help inform future decisions across the region and beyond. Sorting out the implications of dedicated versus shared spectrum allocations requires consideration of national budgets, mobile network operator business models, coverage requirements, operational governance and network security. Clearly, the informed perspectives offered by CCMENA speakers on PPDR spectrum issues have the potential to shape future government policy for years to come.