What role will 5G play in delivering critical communications?

11 November 2021

Jason Johur, TCCA board member and chair, TCCA’s Broadband Industry Group

Jason Johur, TCCA board member and chair, TCCA’s Broadband Industry Group

5G networks promise greater capabilities to critical users but further specification work is needed to ensure their unique requirements are met. A new white paper from TCCA, the global organisation for the advancement of standardised critical communications technologies, says that ultimately, 5G will enable cooperation between critical users to become more efficient and effective. As a result, the safety of first responders and the communities they protect will be enhanced.

The white paper addresses a number of key questions raised by the critical communications community on the role of 5G, including how it compares to 4G LTE, the initial use cases, the expected impacts on user operations and the likely market availability of such solutions.

5G opens up the potential for a range of new services, most notably driven by 5G’s ultra-reliable low latency communications and support for massive machine-type device deployments. Use cases that will benefit users include enhanced situational awareness through the use of advanced video recognition capability and artificial intelligence-powered analysis of data. For first responders, this means control rooms will have a far more accurate view of a situation and can better allocate people and resources. Information can be shared between agencies seamlessly, via cloud-based application platforms.

In terms of standardisation, several of the 5G network enablers have been specified in 3GPP Releases 15 and 16. However, some enablers critical for use cases such as broadcast and device-to-device communications are still in development and not expected before 2023. The white paper outlines the expected timescales for this work and warns that although there are some early 5G devices available now, those suitable for critical communications will not be available for at least another year. Similarly, while applications that could benefit critical communications users have been designed for 5G networks, these are not yet mature or proven enough for mission-critical operational use.

While 4G LTE delivered a paradigm shift in critical communications versus previous technology generations, 5G brings evolutionary change in terms of speed, latency, security, breadth of use cases and quality of service. There is a growing global ecosystem committed to driving further standardisation and development of 5G features and services to ensure the networks, applications and devices will fully support the crucial work of critical communications operators and users.

“There is no doubt that 5G has earned the attention of mission critical communications customers with its promises to address their demands for flexibility and higher speeds to help the evolution of their traditional voice-centric communications and adopt disruptive multimedia features like prioritised video sharing, real-time data analysis and location-based services - all under an augmented focus on reliability, capacity, security, and cost efficiency,” says Ildefonso de la Cruz, principal analyst - industrial and government critical communications at Omdia. “We have started to see examples of 5G deployments taking business automation to the next level in other industries. However, the ongoing 3GPP standardisation efforts are necessary to overcome gaps such as direct-mode communication and support for MCX services to enable 5G to make significant inroads into the critical communications market. Read the white paper here.”

Jason Johur is head of strategy and market development for Ericsson’s mission critical networks business.