Collaboration at the speed of trust

BAPCO chief operating officer Duncan Swan discusses some of the key learning points – particularly around ESN - from the association’s 2023 Conference & Exhibition
Collaboration at the speed of trust

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British APCO, the UK based Association for professionals using or developing Public Safety technology, held its annual conference and exhibition at the beginning of March and it’s interesting reflecting back on some of the key discussions around the planned Emergency Service Network (ESN) that will underpin public safety critical communications once it is up and running.  The update from the Home Office Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme highlighted they are seeking a new partner for the key MCX[1] elements – not just a mission critical app, but everything that sits around it to provide the service required by their public safety users.  It’s not a trivial ask and the Home Office were clear that this part of the jigsaw would require a consortia approach.  It will take time to procure and will need to slot in alongside the other 60 contracts that the Programme currently has in place.

Which dovetails nicely with a quote I heard from a major manufacturer this week – “Collaboration happens at the speed of trust”.

There is so much that is true with that quote – and in the case of delivering ESN in the UK its not just about the consortia who are lining up to bid, but the Home Office teams managing the procurement and writing the requirements documents.  How all the elements that go into putting a contract in place work together will determine how quickly a contract can be let, ready to be delivered.  It needs collaboration; and to be successful and to be delivered demands trust.

So how is industry seeking to tackle the move to mission critical broadband as both standards and user thinking mature?  There is no doubt that the approach by industry and users alike has morphed since the early days of the ESMCP.  There is recognition that there is the need for unique expertise to design, develop & deliver these programmes of work.  They represent not just a huge technology change but a deep transformational change.  It is true that in all areas of today’s society, smartphones have become an extension of ourselves; they are a transformational tool.  And in the case of critical communications, they provide a myriad of enhanced features that all go to help our first responders and incident managers; improved situation awareness, team monitoring, emergency management, alert in case of danger/emergency, telemetry and supporting video.

It's no surprise then that industry is hiring new skills and talent to tackle the mission critical broadband challenge - Business Analysts are a key part of the team to ensure all facets of the user experience are understood and baked into the design.  And that architects able to facilitate both System and Service integration provide the collaborative glue to bring everything together.

Whoever is leading such a consortium needs to develop partnerships with integrators, the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), device providers, communication control room suppliers and other key vendors.  The needs of the critical communications community also diverge from the public and business users; MNOs who want to be involved need to recognise the change of paradigm for critical communication support.  And there are different models that critical communications programmes are following to incorporate one or more MNO into their solution; the UK and France favour building out a thick MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator), other jurisdictions are adopting a MOCN (Multi-Operator Core Network) approach. 

But following a similar approach still has some fundamental differences in how availability and resilience are built in.  In France, the RRF (Réseau Radio du Futur) has two core networks (Orange & Bouyges) with the ability for national roaming across all four MNOs “just in case”; the UK ESN has just a single core network provided by EE.  And looking beyond the radio access elements at overall business continuity and disaster recovery, both seek by design to eliminate single points of failure, have in place vulnerability management, seek to ensure threat prevention and detection, and provide security & crisis management.

There are differing approaches being taken to rolling out a national mission critical broadband network, with the majority following a phased programme that recognises co-existence of current technology for some time.  Timelines vary; supplier combinations too; and even where significant progress has been made to date, such as in the US with their FirstNet programme, the key players continue to evolve their involvement and work scope.

So, when a programme is asked to put a firm stake in the ground and confirm their delivery timelines it should be remembered that “Collaboration happens at the speed of trust” and until you have all of the collaborating parties in place, whilst you may be able to define the journey, it simply is not possible to say when you will arrive at your destination.

[1] Mission Critical Services (Mission Critical Push-To-Talk - MCPTT, Mission Critical Data - MCData and Mission Critical Video - MCVideo, collectively known as MCX services)

First published in Networking+ March edition.

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