Accurate testing provides safety
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”