CCW host operator focus: Estonia

Ahead of Critical Communications World in Helsinki, CEO of the Estonian State Infocommunication Foundation, Sven Heil, discusses the challenges facing the country, and its progress towards mission critical broadband
CCW host operator focus: Estonia

Could you give me some background about Estonia as a country? What are the main challenges facing it as a nation from a geopolitical perspective? How are those challenges relevant to emergency services organisations?

The biggest security threat to Estonia is the Russian Federation, whose goal is to destroy and reshape the European security architecture and the rules-based world order and restore the policy of spheres of influence.

Cyber security, energy security, migration pressure, pandemics, climate change, food security and terrorism are also a strategic challenge, all of which directly or indirectly affect both national and external security.

External and national security has received increased attention and resources, with defence spending reaching three percent of GDP. Cyber security, energy security, population protection, police, border guard, rescue organisations and secure communications have also received additional resources in recent years.

How are emergency services organisations structured and governed? Is it centralised as in the UK, or more regional? What dynamic does that governance create in terms of the provision of emergency services communications technology? What challenges and what opportunities?

Emergency service organisations are mainly centralized as Estonia is a small country, and they are governed by the Ministry of the Interior. Medical emergency services in Estonia are provided by different ambulance foundations and coordinated by the Social Ministry. IT applications and device management are ensured by ministries' IT departments. Central state communication, cyber and IT services are managed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

There are a total of 4,194 volunteers who assist police officers, helping with sea rescue operations. These include volunteer rescuers and volunteer call responders at the Emergency Response Centre.

The Police and Border Guard Board has four regional prefectures: North, South, East and West. Their main functions are related to national security, guarding the border, sea rescues and issuing identity documents. The Rescue Board is responsible for rescue work, fire and chemical safety surveillance, emergency prevention, explosive ordnance disposal and crisis management. It also has four regional rescue centres with approximately 2,200 employees.

Emergency service communication technology and state communication development must be coordinated between different organisations to avoid each organisation spending more money and the quality of communication between them not meeting expectations. In general, the services are well managed.

The main challenges revolve around finding optimal and effective solutions across services and across the country, for example, how to implement satellite communication as a back-up connection to existing national services across the country.

Another big challenge will be the mission critical broadband service implementation. We benefit from being a small country, as it is easier for us to implement changes, but we still must find answers to the same complex questions which leave everyone else scratching their heads at the moment.

We are currently reviewing our governance model for managing nationwide communications, including mission critical, satellite, secure voice and data services. Clarity of roles is an important prerequisite for solving national issues.

What is the current mission critical comms system for public safety? When was is rolled out, and what were the key drivers?

We have been using TETRA technology since 2007. The same factors as in other countries have been key drivers, such as secure connection between first responders, reliable devices, group calls and messages, good voice quality and coverage, and device-to-device connection.

Today there are over 10,000 users, including yellow light services, with coverage across 98 per cent of the country.

Also, in January 2023, Estonia launched an SMS-based public warning solution, in cooperation with Emergency Response Centre, SMIT, RIKS, telecom operators [Elisa, Tele2, Telia] and Everbridge. Discussions are taking place currently on how to further develop the public warning service and integrate it with sirens, a ‘Be ready’ app and other communication channels.

What plans (if any) are currently in place to bring in mission critical broadband? How far forward are those plans?

The plan is to introduce the broadband service around 2030. The roadmap [incorporates] best practice around clarity of roles, analysis and preparation, pilot and tests, phased launch, and migration. There are a lot of challenges, including user needs, legislation, technological architecture and integration with other state communication solutions. Additional challenges include funding, the border with Russia and cooperation with partners and MNOs. The goal is to manage the core network by state and buy in the radio network. We are starting with the management model convention.

What level of cooperation is there between Estonia and the other Nordic countries, again particularly in terms of the emergency services?

Emergency services have bilateral agreements with Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Finland. Estonia is also involved in different cooperation formats with Nordic countries and pan-European associations, the EU Commission and EU expert groups. We meet our neighbours regularly, sharing information and learning from each other's experiences.

In the field of critical communication, we actively participate in the Broadnet (BroadWay) project, as well as the Airbus Operators Forum, Global Public Safety Operators Conference and in TCCA events.

You can find out more about Estonia's mission critical projects at CCW 2023 in Helsinki, 23-25 May. Visit the website here for more information. 

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