Is a Truly User-Centric Critical Communications World within our reach?
This very interesting article is setting out the basic goals & aspirations for the Quixoticity Index that Clemons prepared as a new vehicle for promoting best-practice & innovative new business models for public safety & critical communications users.
According to Peter Clemons, this article is likely to be the first of a longer series to be published over the coming days & weeks.
For the past 30 years or so, I have travelled to the four corners of the world, visiting, presenting & consulting to Governments, Universities, equipment suppliers, network operators, experts & end-users. No wonder I look so tired!
For over 20 years now, since writing my first TETRA report back in 1996, my main focus has been public safety & critical communications. Every morning when I wake up I ask myself the same question:
How can we use the right mix of technologies, processes, ideas & people to build stronger, more prosperous & most importantly, safer societies?
Down the years, I have -:
- joined global associations such as TCCA, 3GPP, ETSI & even the eLTE Industry Alliance (you might recognise Chairman, Huawei's Norman Frisch above!) in order to have a voice & a platform for my views in support of critical communications users & share these with like-minded organisations;
- taken part in hundreds of keynotes, seminars, panel discussions at events such as TETRA World Congress/Critical Communications World, IWCE, 5G World, CommsConnect to develop & share my ideas & opinions, & meet hundreds/thousands of interesting people with so much to contribute to our community;
- taken on leadership & consultancy roles helping to develop global standards & implement specific, local solutions for critical users around the world;
- watched countless natural & man-made disasters occurring, often in some of the most remote & deprived parts of the planet & wondered if we could have done more to prevent, mitigate or nullify the devastating loss of life, property & vital resources.
Our community gathered in the vibrant, bustling city of Hong Kong during May for the 19th edition of Critical Communications World (I have attended them all since Berlin back in 1998). I had the honour of hosting a wide-ranging, thought-provoking 75-minute panel together with 10 distinguished thought leaders from 5 continents representing industry, academia, operators & end-users.
These gentlemen in my photo above represent many of the organisations who are at the cutting-edge of a quiet revolution that is taking place within critical communications, about to provide exciting new tools for first responders & other critical users globally that will undoubtedly save thousands of lives. Most of them have provided decades of dedication to the cause of public safety & critical communications.
Change is in the air. We are tip-toeing our way from a well-known, well-understood, tried & tested land mobile radio world of VHF, UHF, TETRA, P25 & other narrowband voice + optimised data technologies towards a converged, hyper-connected 5G world of infinite possibilities. Such a daunting task will not be completed in one year, two years or even 5 more years.
My company, Quixoticity is working with a model of global critical communications that looks out to 2030 as a realistic date for our community to have successfully completed this transition. But, of course, we cannot wait for the time to pass & opportunities - and lives - to be lost. We must start today.
Around the world, we are seeing the first tentative moves towards public safety mobile broadband solutions. Authorities are following several different models based on legacy communications, geography, technology maturity, organisational structures etc.:
- some countries will build dedicated nationwide networks for their emergency services;
- some countries will depend on commercial operators, commercial networks & commercial spectrum;
- many more countries will choose a hybrid model where the public & private sector work together to build on their own particular strengths to deliver a public safety mobile broadband capability.
- most countries will continue to operate their existing LMR/PMR networks until end-users are comfortable with the new service;
- other countries will attempt to save money by switching off the existing network & moving all users to a new network.
I have documented my opinions regarding the strengths & weaknesses of each particular model elsewhere. Today I want to focus on the major global trends empowering end-users & citizens to take greater control over those issues that matter most to them in the world, that will also impact the way public safety & critical communications services are delivered in the future.
We all now understand the power of social media. I find it hard to believe that I now have 30,000 LinkedIn followers. Amazingly, having checked the whole long list recently, almost all of you share a common interest with me in some area of global ICT. Being connected to anyone on the planet is a powerful tool for keeping an eye on central authorities & flagging up any projects or processes that are being abused or going off the rails.
The IP world is now - finally - converging with the mobile world. Cloud first, mobile first is becoming a reality. Underlying technologies can now be separated from applications. Over the next decade or so, we will be forced to move towards the next-gen Internet that is secure & private by design & optimised for mobility, multi-hosted applications, IoT etc. Full fixed-mobile convergence is now becoming a reality.
Next-generation secure-by-design, cloud/fog/edge-native, software-based, service-oriented networks that can be implemented with off-the-shelf hardware, standard interfaces & no single point of failure, with the separation of control plane & user plane to create more responsive, intelligent, faster, more resilient, low-latency communications all the way to the edge will gradually & incrementally become possible as 5G is rolled out from the centre all the way to the periphery over the coming 10-15 years. The impact of such a transition will be far-reaching & profound.
Existing, well-established, highly respected suppliers, technologies & business models will not be wiped out overnight. Hopefully the more innovative & forward-looking organisations will embrace the transformation that our community will undergo, showing us the way. But, yes, there will be new players, new ideas, new models to guide us - many of which don't even exist today.
The full implementation of 5G will truly put vertical industries & end-users front stage for the first time in the history of communications, leading to major paradigm shifts in:
- the way we build networks & solutions,
- how these are financed,
- who is in control of them,
- how new services & applications are added,
- how networks adapt over time.
However, we need to be careful how we embrace change & how fast we proceed:
End-users will still require Governments, authorities, suppliers, operators & consultants to guide & educate them.
Someone still needs to finance, build, operate & maintain these next-generation networks & devices.
Crimes, floods, terrorist attacks, malware attacks, earthquakes & traffic accidents will still occur in this new world.
Human nature that has been moulded by our environment down through the ages will not be modified so quickly within the course of a single generation.
This revolution will be made up of hundreds & thousands of small changes occurring daily over a decade or more. We will only be able to understand its full impact when we look back on the whole exciting, chaotic roller-coaster ride from our future vantage point in 2030.
However, what is clear to me is that:
Government bureaucrats & civil servants will no longer be able to impose sub-optimal solutions on the end-user community (UK ESN, are you listening?).
Equipment suppliers will no longer be able to tie network operators or end-users into expensive, long-term contracts with carefully crafted & concealed proprietary solutions.
Network operators will no longer be able to over-charge end-users for services they don't need or services they don't use.
The winds of change are now blowing strongly within our critical communications world. We can either batten down the hatches, keep doing what we have been doing since the beginning of time & hope the storm will pass, or we can embrace the change, taking an active role in the global 5G standardisation process, listening to end-users; making sure critical communications has a voice;, developing exciting new user cases together with emergency services; giving first responders the necessary tools to implement best-practice local solutions; moving away from a narrow focus on the technology & how much money Governments are going to save & starting to focus on what really matters.
So, after over 30 years wandering around in this alienating wilderness called "modern life", scratching my head, pondering the meaning of life & searching for a higher goal, I believe I have finally discovered it right under my nose:
To develop & evolve the radically & refreshingly new, constantly evolving & adapting Quixoticity Index together with the global critical communications industry & community, supported by my 30,000+ LinkedIn followers & all like-minded, open-minded people who care about the world we live in & where we are heading. Let's commit ourselves to delivering a truly user-centric vision of critical communications, whatever the obstacles.
I believe such a vision is now within our reach if we understand - & are able to grasp - 5G's true potential.