5G’s major role for mission-critical communications
Most talk around mobile networks focuses on areas like signal strength and download speeds. However, one of the most crucial yet understated roles of mobile networks, according to Phil Siveter, CEO UK & Ireland, Nokia, lies in their ability to provide ‘mission-critical’ communications (MCM).
This refers to networks that are essential and provide 24/7 coverage. Typically used by ‘blue light’ emergency and disaster response services, these communications relay vital information when life is at risk, and as such, their reliability, availability and clarity are essential to everyday operations. If these networks were to go down could, result in serious consequences for those reliant upon it.
Loss of life
This can manifest in a number of ways, from public disruption experienced by transport operators to something as extreme as the loss of life in an emergency room or the battlefield. Creating fast and secure channels of communication (e.g. between emergency service call operators, responders, the individuals in danger, and their local hospital) can be the difference between life and death in mission-critical situations, so the technology must work to help us mitigate these risks.
A lot of the challenges in MCM have been addressed by the introduction of 4G/LTE innovations which provided more reliable network infrastructure. 4G broadband networks are now used across a number of areas related to public safety, such as real time live video streaming via body cams/vehicle cameras, connected wearables with bio-sensors for first responders and in the use of drones within the fire brigade in risky emergency scenarios.
Another area of success is within the military, specifically for operations over remote terrain. 4.9G/LTE networks have been successfully partnered with radio networks and, unlike WiFi and Bluetooth which are easily hackable, have been designed from the ground up to be secure. In fact, no public LTE network has ever been compromised, and this has been rigorously tested by public safety agencies that use LTE for mission-critical emergency communications.
However, with IDC forecasting the number of connected devices worldwide to reach 55.7 billion by 2025 and the pandemic accelerating the shift to digital, networks are increasingly under serious amounts of pressure. Unsurprisingly, the introduction and rollout of 5G is a development which may well solve some of these issues.
5G networks will deliver speeds up to 10 times faster than current 4G networks while having the capacity to connect trillions of devices. However, the ultimate promise of 5G lies in its ability to deliver new essential services; services that will help to dramatically improve quality of life, and even beyond the quality help to save them.
Mission critical-communications is one of the key elements of this new build out. In fact, SNS Telecom & IT estimates that global investments in LTE and 5G network infrastructure for critical communications is expected to account for nearly $5 billion (€4.11 billion) by 2023.
For 5G to be effective in the MCM space however, there are three challenging areas which must be addressed:
- Managing increasing workloads of mission-critical networks and deriving insights from inbound data
- Seamlessly and properly integrating emerging technology solutions into existing infrastructure
- Addressing security concerns from network providers and end-users
Workload management and insights
The introduction of Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) will increase capacity, while Release 16 and 17 of the 5G standard will enable ultra-reliability, low latency; as well as massive availability of IoT and network slicing. It will also enable operations centres to collect data and analytics in real-time with sensors, video and immersive applications to keep emergency teams safer and facilitate disaster prevention and mitigation without putting emergency teams in harm’s way.
The introduction of drones into the military and emergency services is just one example of how emerging technology can increase safety within mission-critical comms. To be effective, any new technology must first be properly connected and integrated within the existing network infrastructure.
5G network slicing enables independent logical networks (set up for multiple devices) to run on one physical infrastructure that supports different service level offerings, and can support up to 100x the number of connected devices per unit area compared with 4G LTE. 5G will improve data driven insights and analytics for existing and emerging technologies and will drive the mission-critical industry forward by leaps and bounds.
Although progress has been quick in the field of mission-critical comms, 5G is promising a rapid enhancement of existing systems by enabling network slicing, bringing with it elevated levels of low latency connectivity.
Despite the slowing of the global economy due to COVID-19, Next-generation 5G will enhance and scale-up network support in these critical communications and have a profound effect on improving public safety. Combined, these innovations will allow public safety agencies to dramatically increase their use of data to meet a wide range of goals.