Managing the deployment of mission critical broadband applications

11 May 2022

Tero Pesonen, chair of the Critical Communications Broadband Group and vice-chair of TCCA

Tero Pesonen, chair of the Critical Communications Broadband Group and vice-chair of TCCA

Around the world, the emergency services and other first responders are increasingly using broadband applications to augment existing mission critical voice and narrowband data services, such as those delivered by the Airwave network in the UK. This is catalysing a focus on the quality of ‘mission critical’ applications.

Unlike consumer apps, mission critical apps may be supporting users in life or death situations, and there can be no weak link in the ecosystem. This means that the successful implementation of mission critical applications will be a complex task. TCCA, the global representative organisation for the critical communications ecosystem, has published an advisory white paper that looks at the key considerations that need to be taken into account when developing and deploying true mission critical applications.

Authored by TCCA’s Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG), the white paper provides guidance to Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) operators and users as they define their strategies for deploying and managing mission critical applications utilising broadband systems. In parallel, the paper aims to inform application developers on the specific requirements for delivering mission critical solutions over broadband systems.

Operators of public safety networks need to clearly understand users’ requirements and the risks they are prepared to accept when deploying mission critical applications. Different user groups have different requirements – it is important that these are well understood and addressed by the operator’s application strategy.
The paper emphasises the importance of the user experience. Users must absolutely trust their communications services, whether the network, the device or the application. Broadband technologies – the basis of the UK’s Emergency Services Network (ESN) – will enable a wide array of new applications to greatly enhance the effectiveness, productivity and safety of public safety users and other critical organisations. However, the introduction and management of these new applications on to mission critical networks will require careful planning.

For users to gain trust and confidence in using mission critical applications on broadband networks, users first need to understand where they can expect the applications to be available. In the UK, the Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme (ESMCP) has the ‘ESN Assure’ application that provides cumulative understanding of the broadband radio network coverage. This is an important step forward and helps the emergency services to measure and report on ESN coverage in their area, and report where improvements need to be made.

ESN Assure runs on a handheld ESN device and includes an app that monitors coverage while users are on the move, as well as offering a view of which areas are predicted to be covered. Extensive coverage testing is being conducted by the emergency services and ESMCP together, to ensure coverage issues are addressed and to build user confidence in the ESN coverage availability and performance.

To be truly mission critical, apps need to achieve end-to-end mission critical Quality of Service (QoS) levels in terms of priority, pre-emption, availability, security and resilience to ensure user trust. From secure hosting environments for the application servers, through the transport and cellular networks to the devices and their associated operating systems, each needs to be mission critical in its own right.

TCCA also highlights that to do their job effectively, first responders will typically require both mission critical and non-mission critical applications to be used on the same device. The white paper considers the use and potential misuse of device resources and how they are shared between the applications running on the device. As mission critical applications may depend upon services provided by third parties, the whole chain of device and application support must be carefully managed to avoid degraded operation.

Mobile application development moves very quickly compared to traditional government projects. Many applications provide new functionality every month, of which the users will want to take advantage. The validation and testing process should support this speed of development by, for example, having a lightweight process for minor updates of existing applications, or accepting validation or certification done by selected similar organisations.

Security and bug fix updates for the mobile operating systems (OS) are important and should be deployed without extra delay. Minor updates to mobile OS are also common, and major updates with large changes typically take place yearly. Validating applications for each user or agency separately would be cost prohibitive for many applications. Work under way by TCCA and the Global Certification Forum to establish common interoperability testing for Mission Critical Services (MCX) protocols will enable a vibrant competitive interoperable market, as has been achieved through TCCA’s TETRA IOP process.

Although targeted primarily at the PPDR sector, the white paper will also be of interest to any organisation requiring or dealing with mission critical broadband applications. The full paper, ‘Mission Critical Broadband Applications: A guide for deploying and developing mission critical applications using broadband technologies’ can be read here.