Shining the Light On A Bright Mission Critical Communications Future
An outlook for the MCC/MCX industry from Anatoli Levine, Director of Products & Standards at IP Communications Enabler Softil.
Softil is already seeing green shoots in the coming Mission-Critical Communications (MCC or MCX) revolution and expects more MCX solutions and services to be launched into the market in the coming months and years ahead.
Let’s look at a few examples.
First MCPTT deployments by First Responders
First Responders will soon replace the humble radio so trusted by multiple generations of fire fighters, police officers and emergency workers over the years with smartphones. At first, these might also be dual-mode devices, combining LMR and LTE capabilities. Once smartphones become commonplace in MCC, all will be able to work faster and better.
Bridging Between LMR and MCPTT Worlds
It is nice to envision how new generation of the technology replaces the old generation in a blink of an eye – just like you see in the movies. This is not how it happens in real life – the old and new must peacefully coexist for a while. Moreover, they do not just coexist, but rather interwork. While dual-purpose devices supporting both LMR and MCPTT might help, it is expected the interworking will be primarily achieved via LMR/MCPTT gateways implementing Interworking Function (IWF). IWF functionality is standardized to connect to the MCPTT world, and standardization is expected to be fully complete by the end of 2019, so we can expect trials of LMR/MCPTT gateways to start in the first half of 2020.
Mission Critical Communications for Trains will continue to advance
Mission Critical Communications for trains, commonly referred to as LTE-R, are already deployed, but on a limited scale. Today, South Korea is leading the railway world with new MCC LTE-R terminals deployed on its high speed rail networks. However, as the standards for MCC for Railroads are in the final stages with 3GPP Release 15 providing the base, and Release 16 defining the necessary changes in architecture, Softil expects many more LTE-R trials and deployments over the next 2-3 years – especially as GSM-R (old communication technology for trains) will sunset in 2025.
Managing MCC through Dispatch Consoles
The Dispatch Console is a critical element of emergency communications – someone has to have a “10,000 foot view” of everything happening with First Responders in real time to coordinate all activities. This is where the dispatch console operator comes into play. As MCC over LTE trickles onto the front line, dispatch consoles will manage video streams, video communication, chats and more. The console will become the critical element in the interconnection of the LMR and MCX worlds and be in service before the end of 2019.
First MCC Recording solutions
It is essential to keep track of what is happening on the front line – we need to create records of all the activities of emergency workers at all times. In the past, voice and some unassociated videos were recorded, but in the new MCX world, there is a mass of data that needs to be recorded and archived. This spans audio, video, chat, location and much more from a vast array of supplementary data from “Life-saving things”, commonly known as IoT devices. The industry will begin to see the first recording solutions appearing soon as they are critical for the overall MCS umbrella.
Private LTE becomes key to advancements in the MCC for Mining
In the mining industry, communication is a key element of the ecosystem and on a par with all the sophisticated machinery and tools in use. MCC over LTE new communication capabilities, such as video, chat and file exchange, offer great advantages to miners over the traditional radio. However, common LTE towers cannot provide reliable connectivity inside mines and such deployments will require private LTE. Softil expects pilot Private LTE with MCS (Mission Critical Services) setups to go into trials in 2019, with full-scale deployments in 2020/2021.
The impact of 5G on MCC will become noticeable
5G developments are advancing quickly, driven by the insatiable appetite for speed, bandwidth and full QoS/QoE spectrum of humans and machines alike. Core 5G trials are already under way around the world, but that doesn’t affect MCX at the moment. However, Softil expects to see some alignment of MCX technologies with 5G networks and architectures in the next 3GPP Release 16 (due December, 2019) and further enhancements in Release 17. The year 2021 will most likely will be the year when MCX will commercially start running on top of 5G, offering greater speeds and capabilities.
Voice Controls for First Responder devices will make their debut
Voice controls are not new – Siri and Alexa have been helping with everyday tasks for several years now, but as First Responder smartphones appear, Softil expects that voice controls will be elevated to the next level of importance in 2019 with commands such as “alert all my group members,” “show me the map,” “start recording my video,” and “switch my primary camera” becoming commonplace – all while wearing gloves.