Updates from Finland: the move to mission critical broadband

Erillisverkot Virve COO Jarmo Vinkvist and Virve 2 programme director Ari Toivonen give an update on the ongoing Finnish move to mission critical broadband.
Updates from Finland: the move to mission critical broadband

Could you provide an overview of the contracts awarded so far in relation to Virve 2? Who is providing what, and why were those operators and manufacturers chosen?

Virve 2 runs MOCN (multi-operator core network) model, where Erillisverkot is the responsible service operator managing all the subscription and end user services whereas a commercial mobile network operator provides the 4G/5G radio access service.

The dedicated 4G/5G core network contract was awarded to Ericsson and the radio access contract to Elisa.

In addition to these and as an important feature for the migration period, the Airbus Agnet service is used to provide group PTT service and seamless connectivity between Virve TETRA and Virve 2 broadband services.

What stage is the project at in regard to building out the network, user interface, coverage testing and so on? What still needs to be accomplished and what’s the timescale?

The Virve 2 end-to-end service has passed security audit enabling it to be operationally offered. A prioritised data subscription was launched last year and voice services including group call will follow during this year.

Currently, the service covers over 99 per cent of the population but there is still some work to be done. Elisa is extending the coverage in very rural areas to reach the target of 97 per cent geographical coverage - including national sea areas - by the end of 2024. 

Field testing is in progress to finetune radio access network parametrisation, and also to gain experience in various situations. Plenty of work still needs to be done in terms of device management and logistics to optimise the related processes.

What’s your strategy when it comes to user engagement? What’s the level of collaboration between Erillisverkot and the emergency responder organisations and what form does that take? 

User engagement is a key value for Erillisverkot and a mandatory ingredient for success. We support the agencies in their planning work to take Virve 2 into testing and operation, helping them to update their field operational standard operating procedures.

What are the unique challenges of providing a network for Finland? What major difficulties have there been so far and how have they been overcome?

These projects take a surprisingly long time. Our broadband strategy was formulated in 2013-2015 and now ten years later we are in the implementation phase.

Required legal and regulatory changes require several years before procurement. The procurement itself is likewise not easy and again requires time. The technology part is also complex and demanding before it is all installed, tested and audited.

Worth to notice that typically all stakeholders have quite a lot of learning to do during the process. Cleary, the parallel work with users needs to proceed in deep cooperation.

To date we have had to update our original plan a couple times, typically due to underestimation of work load and complexity. In particular, ensuring the service continuation of various applications and integration users have in use with TETRA.

Field testing is something that has identified topics for further investigation, and to be solved in close cooperation with our suppliers and partners. 

The third area yet to fully start is the device and application integration. Again, a lot of testing needs to be conducted before acceptance, but also continuously throughout the lifetime whenever there are updates. In this regard, the work TCCA is conducting with The Global Certification Forum for 3GPP conformance certification is highly appreciated.

As we in Finland are one of the first ones to change to mission critical broadband services, we have noticed that the supply of broadband devices meeting the needs of security authorities is still limited. As security authorities have strict device requirements, a lot of testing is needed before wider acceptance of new broadband terminals can be achieved.

In a geographically large country like Finland, it takes time and money to build excellent geographical coverage. Building the required indoor coverage is also a huge task.

To what degree are you coordinating with Norway and Sweden, particularly in regard to cross-border working and interoperability? If each country is going at a different pace, what problems does that bring?

Finland, Norway and Sweden have a long history of fruitful country-level co-operation as we are Nordic democracies sharing same values. For the last five to 10 years, we have had very good working procedures for co-operation on the public safety operator level. This is also on the user agency level, to continuously develop cross-border operations and overall mutual co-operation in the Nordics. The same structures are used to address the ongoing TETRA co-operation, as well as planning for the future broadband use cases.

Clearly every sovereign country has its own decision paths and related schedules. Understanding of each other’s plans and status helps us to take those into account. The key is to ensure critical services to the users and citizens in the Nordics at all times.

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