Accurate testing provides safety

Effective communication technology saves lives. International security experts contracted long days to test broadband solutions at the Kuopio Plugtests in Finland.

Functioning communications technology saves lives. Rescue experts convened in Kuopio, Finland for the international Plugtests event.

A restrained, multi-lingual bustle goes on in a high-ceilinged hall. A hundred experts from all over the world are sitting amidst rows of tables and cables. Their session is a link in long-term development work that will be manifested in next-generation authority communications in the future – in Finland, in the form of the Virve 2.0 network service and the hardware and software using it.

The fourth ETSI MCX Plugtests event organised in Kuopio had representatives of dozens of companies and public organisations from around the world coming together in late September, 2019. For a week, they tested the technology required by function-critical MC services of the future.

Spanish Antoni Díaz de Cerio, Fidel Libera and Antoni Izura radiate enthusiasm, even though five days of intense and challenging tests are behind.

The air in the sports hall of the Savonia University of Applied Sciences was oozing with intensity, alternating successes and hardships, questions and solutions.

“Those who write the specifications are living in the stratosphere,” said Kari Junttila, Development Manager for Virve 2.0 at Erillisverkot, who took part in organising the event.

Kari Junttila, Development Manager for Virve 2.0 for Erillisverkot, and Heikki Riippa, an Expert, are responsible for keeping customers and end-users in mind when developing hardware and applications.

The work of those living in the stratosphere, at least mentally, has impacts on everywhere people can act. Air, water, ground and underground. Peculiar and dangerous places where people can need help and help others.

Specs are written so that the Tetra-based communications network currently used by the authorities can be replaced with a new broadband solution. Besides Finland, the transition is prepared around Europe and the world.

Commercial cooperation is absolutely necessary

The authorities’ volumes are low everywhere. That is why businesses are required for the cooperation.

“If integrated circuit manufacturers do not incorporate the features we need into their products, they will never enter use,” Kari Junttila says.

Jeppe Jepsen, who represented Motorola, a maker of communications hardware, and the Critical Communications Association TCCA in Kuopio, sums up the meaning of the tests.

“Working in the most difficult conditions possible is the norm in security communications. People have to rely on technology in situations in which they are risking their own lives and health. That is why nothing can be left to user testing alone.”

“TCCA supports the development of global standards for equipment and applications needed by security authorities,” said Jeppe Jepsen, vice chairman of the association (on the left) and Tony Gray, CEO.

Working face-to-face reduces errors

MCPTT group calls, MC data and MC video, which are important to the authorities, were at the core of the work in Kuopio. The sessions ran through more than 1,800 tests, of which 95% passed as expected. The observations made will be important in shaping up the future technical specifications.

Such events are organised once every 10–12 months around the world. All of the participants consider face-to-face meetings to be very important, as the majority of testing takes place in an online environment.

Harald Ludvig, chair of the TCCA’s technical forum, emphasises that working and talking side by side helps to avoid a lot of misunderstanding. In online cooperation, the risk of misconceptions is by far bigger.

TCCA Technical Forum Chairman Harald Ludvig (left) and Kees Verweij of the Dutch police and authorities network emphasize the need for people in development to meet each other face to face. Better results and fewer mistakes occur around the pool table.

A round table also improves the results and minor errors are easier to find.

The work of the actual testers was monitored by 30 international observers in Kuopio. They guided the process by creating scenarios where next-generation service and hardware solutions were required.

The end customers purchases functions and features. Therefore, the observers do not only pay attention to the big picture, but to small features as well.

”Even if the amount of work is infinite, you have to start somewhere,” said Kees Verweij, representing the Dutch public safety network (C-2000) and police.

Aiming at better quality and price

According to Tero Pesonen, vice chair of TCCA’s Board of Directors,security communications make up a small and fragmented market internationally.

”If there are seven billion potential customers for mobile communications among consumers, there are less than a hundred million of them in users of critical communications. The difference in scale can be seen in the development and prices of the products. If different authorities are able to use the same or similar devices, it pays for companies to invest in product development. This also makes it possible to get the price of the final products to a level that is feasible with tax-payers’ money.

Tero Pesonen, vice chairman of the TCCA board and chairman of the Critical Mobile Broadband Task Force, points out that sharing knowledge and participating in international development projects is a security act.

The activeness of Finland in development work is a national advantage according to Pesonen.

“Our security industry is of premium quality, but the purchasing potential of the domestic market is small. Therefore, it pays for us to show our expertise and get the big countries to want the same thing that we need.”

He encourages everyone who can have an effect on the international visibility of the Finnish security industry to have a say.

“It is important that officials also be bold in telling about the solutions that we are using.”

People need standards as well

One of the observers at ETSI’s Plugtests is Heikki Riippa, an experienced professional in public safety radio communications. As a representative of Erillisverkot, Riippa  brings both user experience and strategic insight to the sessions.

“From the point of view of users, the biggest challenge with Virve 2.0 is to guarantee adequate capacity at all times, everywhere and under all conditions,” Riippa says.

“The authorities need secure real-time infrastructure to support their work. The police, for example, already aim for dealing with as many issues on the spot as possible. This is not possible without broadband connections.”

The European ETSI is setting up open standards for equipment manufacturers and network operators. ETSI’s Saurav Adora (left), Claire Gauthier and Jean-Luc Freisse praise the good atmosphere of the test days and the new creative atmosphere.

Riippa reminds us that a large-scale situation involving several agencies can escalate anywhere at any time. In such situations, perceiving the situation is made decisively better and faster with the new services.

He emphasises the significance of standards, not only in technology but in human activities, too.

”Formal procedures guarantee that the message gets through, regardless of language or cultural background.”

Standards are the foundation of cooperation

  • ETSI, the main organiser of Plugtests, is the official European telecommunications standards organisation. The open standards it has created for use by equipment manufacturers and network operators lay down the foundation for system compatibility.
  • Another force behind the event, TCCA, connects network operators, equipment manufacturers, application developers, providers of digital services, authorities and other user organisations. They can represent public transport, mining or energy distribution, for example.
  • The equipment in the test hall built by Savonia University of Applied Sciences in Kuopio came from ETSI facilities in France, and they were connected to Savonia’s WAN. The server environment was secured and closed. The starting points of the work were the 3GPP, ETSI and IETF standards.