04 October 2021
An analysis by the Global Certification Forum (GCF) has revealed that the rate of adoption of 5G technology in mobile devices is significantly outpacing the rate at which 4G LTE was adopted in its early years. GCF is a non-profit, global, membership driven organisation. With more than 300 members from major operators, MVNOs, all major device and IoT manufacturers and the test industry, working together with key industry partners on certification programmes demanded by the market.
One of 5G’s cornerstones will be ultra-reliable low-latency communications, significant for mission critical use cases including semi-autonomous driving, and many more benefits are promised. Much of this improvement, the increases in performance and efficiency, and greater flexibility and variety of offerings, will be built upon the virtualisation of services. Here, hardware and software will be separated and commercial off-the-shelf computer systems will replace dedicated equipment proprietary to specific vendors within the telecom infrastructure.
What effect will this have on the provision of and demand for, mission critical services (MCX)?
These new 5G services will take time to roll out but the established 4G networks already provide many functions that blue light services and other critical users value, such as broadband internet access and high-definition video. Currently, in order to access these functions, operatives must carry additional devices, which are connected to non-mission critical networks. This is clearly not ideal and consequently there is a demand for a mission critical broadband solution. Such a solution would require a hardened radio network (LTE or 5G – both standardised by 3GPP) that, as defined by The Critical Communications Association (TCCA), “is capable of a very high degree of availability, priority, pre-emption, trusted security and extensive coverage”.
So, where are we on the path to MCX over LTE?
Working together, GCF and TCCA are on track to launch a certification programme for mission critical devices based on 3GPP wireless protocols during 2022. Ensuring mission critical devices and networks are interoperable is a key part of GCF’s vision to enable the high quality, reliable and secure wireless communications demanded by users and industries across the globe, and of TCCA’s mission to promote standardized critical communications solutions and the benefits of open and competitive markets in efficiently developing and delivering these solutions. GCF certification, developed in close cooperation with TCCA, is the way to ensure that broadband LTE devices are interoperable with mission critical networks and services. With lives sometimes depending on it, complete trust in this interoperability is crucial.
What are the next steps?
Having completed an extensive gap analysis, GCF’s Mission Critical Services workgroup has defined the scope of a first phase of certification. GCF and TCCA are tracking the progress of deployments of mission critical LTE, currently ongoing in the USA, UK and South Korea, and gathering inputs from stakeholders to make sure that when mass scale deployments begin there is a fully proven certification process in place. A number of field trial test cases are being developed with the intention of submitting these to the GSM Association (GSMA)’s Field Trial Devices Group so that they may be included in a test specification. In the US, three National Institute of Standards and Technology ( NIST) funded conformance test tool projects are underway, including one with TCCA as a participant, and GCF is monitoring the status of these and the expected availability of commercial MCX test tools.
The next generation of mission critical services, delivered over 3GPP based networks and devices, will be revolutionary and their shape and scope are being defined now. GCF and TCCA are keen to ensure that all parties interested in ensuring the seamless interoperability of devices and networks in this new MCX world have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion and, in doing so, help to fashion a certification programme that benefits all stakeholders.
To learn more or participate in the GCF Critical Communications certification programme, contact firstname.lastname@example.org