Emergency Comms | Emerging Trends | Infrastructure | Spectrum Management
July 31, 2019

Evolving and modernizing PPDR radiocommunications

By Bharat Bhatia, President, ITU‑APT Foundation of India

Radiocommunications are critical for saving lives and protecting property during emergencies, major events and disasters. Public safety agencies that respond to such emergencies cannot function without the support of robust and secure wireless communications.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and its members realized the importance of harmonized spectrum and standard-based technologies to meet the radiocommunication needs of public safety agencies, hence the term public protection and disaster relief (PPDR — see definition at the end of article) radiocommunications was coined during the ITU World Radio Communications Conference 2000 (WRC‑2000), in Istanbul, Turkey.

The critical importance of PPDR communications

PPDR communications are generally used by first responders such as the police, fire and ambulance services, civil defence forces, border guards, armed forces, search and rescue missions, etc.

PPDR communications are critical during events that threaten public safety, including threats to life, property and the environment. Such events cause havoc to the public and the local economy, including loss of lives and injuries, material losses such as destruction of property and infrastructure, as well as economic and social losses.Investments may have to be postponed, diverted to other locations, or cancelled altogether.

PPDR radiocommunications are also an important tool used on an ongoing basis by first responders in their everyday work to assist people, coordinate tasks, and dispatch resources.

The need for robust, reliable and instantaneous communications

Whether used in responding to a simple traffic accident, or a petrochemical refinery fire, the communications systems need to be robust, reliable and instantaneous. At present, most of the PPDR radiocommunication networks are based on narrowband land mobile wireless technologies such as APCO-P25 (see definition in Report ITU–R M.2377) or Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA).

These narrowband networks are built for mission critical voice communication, support instantaneous push-to-talk group and device to device communications but have limited data capabilities. WRC‑2003 adopted Resolution 646 (last revised at WRC‑15 (see the Resolution below)) to harmonize the spectrum needed for such systems on a regional basis.

Real time — an urgent requirement

With the explosive growth and proliferation of smart mobile phones supported by broadband with high speed internet access, video and real time social media in the hands of general public (and criminals), PPDR agencies have realized an urgent need to access broadband data, social media and mobile videos in real time. In particular, high-resolution videos from the scenes of disasters or other major events are becoming increasingly critical for real-time situational awareness and intelligence-driven decisions.

New PPDR applications using real-time mobile video are helping detect and prevent criminal and other unlawful activities as well as supporting effective response to disaster events. The fusion of artificial intelligence, mobile videos and big data technologies is enabling video content analytics that support detection, tracking, extracting and identifying people, objects and their attributes.

Such advanced PPDR applications are already supporting crime prediction and crime prevention. Mission critical integrated voice and video conversations integrated with information on the location of emergency responders, real-time updates on public transport movements and even social media activities are helping PPDR agencies in responding to major events.

Mobile broadband PPDR networks could also enable fingerprint sensors to identify criminals or victims at the scene of an incident, saving valuable time and gathering vital intelligence in the moments that matter.

Timely availability of harmonized radio frequency spectrum is important for realizing dedicated broadband PPDR networks.

These networks can also enable live feeds from traffic cameras or drones, or the use of number-plate recognition in real time to track and intercept suspects before members of the public are put at risk.

Harmonizing spectrum for broadband PPDR

Timely availability of harmonized radio frequency spectrum is important for realizing dedicated broadband PPDR networks. The ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC‑15) revised and updated Resolution 646 (Resolution 646 (Rev. WRC‑15). to harmonize spectrum needed for broadband PPDR on a global as well as regional basis. The frequency range 694–894 MHz was adopted by WRC‑15 as the globally harmonized frequency range for broadband PPDR. This frequency range includes the most commonly used PPDR bands in 700 MHz (3GPP bands 14, 28 and 68) and 800 MHz (3GPP bands 5, 20 and 26).

In order to develop the new features and applications required by PPDR users such as Mission-Critical Push To Talk (MCPTT), Mission-Critical Data (MC Data), Mission-Critical Video (MC-Video) and Device-to-Device (D-to-D) communications, the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has created a working group (System Architecture SA6). The applications are progressively being built into IMT (see Report ITU–R M.2291) technology, starting with longterm evolution (LTE) release 13 and continue to evolve and mature in specifications of Releases 14, 15 and 16, and going into IMT‑2020.

The challenge of how to establish broadband PPDR

As broadband data rapidly becomes a necessity for PPDR users, many governments around the world are faced with the challenge of how to establish broadband PPDR communications. Building new PPDR infrastructure for the coming decades requires radio spectrum resources, financial resources, infrastructure sharing of towers and sites, right of way rules and decisions on a governance model to be followed, as PPDR users historically belong to multiple agencies and operate under different jurisdictions.

Broadband PPDR networks must meet the operational and functional requirements of PPDR agencies and be robust, secure and have the geographical coverage and capacity to provide mission-critical broadband services, such as real time video communications and real-time data.

Modernizing and transforming PPDR operations to respond to evolving challenges requires substantial investments in infrastructure, workflow, systems and applications.

A number of countries have already implemented dedicated broadband PPDR networks. Others have dedicated harmonized spectrum for PPDR and a contracted service provider to build and operate the networks for them. Few have opted for commercial carriers to provide them infrastructure as a service (IaaS) against longterm contracts and operational requirements with specific quality of service norms.

Public safety and the 700 MHz band

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) nationwide public safety LTE (PS‑LTE) network in the United States, in the 700 MHz band, is the first example of a large broadband PPDR data network to supplement the country’s statewide P25 narrowband mission-critical voice network that equips first responders to save lives and protect communities. A nationwide LTE network in the 700 MHz band is also being implemented in South Korea to supplement its existing TETRA mission critical voice network. Similar networks are under implementation in many countries around the world including the Emergency Services Network (ESN) in the United Kingdom, and similar networks in the Middle East and some Asian countries.

Modernizing and transforming PPDR operations to respond to evolving challenges requires substantial investments in infrastructure, workflow, systems and applications. Regardless of the approach chosen, the availability of funds to deploy, maintain and secure a PPDR capable infrastructure requires government planning for funding and securing and policy decisions in a stable regulatory environment. Mission critical intelligence and real-time data analytics and multimedia dispatch capabilities are becoming just as important as push to-talk voice in responding to PPDR agencies communication needs.

In the coming years, LTE-advanced and 5G networks will enable enhanced mission critical applications requiring ultra reliable low latency and high mobility designed to meet the high demands of mission critical video and data by the PPDR agencies.

The ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU–R) is also working towards defining the future role of IMT‑2020 to support PPDR applications.

*This article is one of a series commissioned for ‘Terrestrial Wireless Communications’ edition of ITU News Magazine. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.

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Evolving and modernizing PPDR radiocommunications

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