Broadband  |  2023-08-31

ASTRID Plans 5G Critical Communications Broadband Network in 2027

Source: The Critical Communications Review | Gert Jan Wolf editor

New management agreement provides the basis for a new 5G communication network for the Belgian emergency and security services.

The Council of Ministers in Belgium has approved the fourth management contract between the State and ASTRID. This will allow the telecom operator of the emergency and security services in Belgium to start developing a new 5G radio network. Communication can make the difference between life and death at crucial moments. The innovative broadband network that ASTRID wants to develop and install in the coming years will be able to send larger amounts of data to and between the emergency services in a safe and reliable manner.

ASTRID has been arranging communication between the various emergency and security services in Belgium for 25 years. The Federal Police, the local police zones, fire brigades, ambulance services, ... are connected in one large radio network. ASTRID is also responsible for the technical management of control rooms 101 and 112. From the first emergency call that enters the control room to communication with the emergency and security services that have to intervene in the field: ASTRID integrates the entire communication cycle in one network.

"Technology is evolving at lightning speed. Video, artificial intelligence and equipment that can be connected to the internet will become more and more important in the coming years for the optimal functioning of our emergency and security services. ASTRID will be able to work in the coming years on the development and installation of ambitious and progressive communication via the 5G network. The two types of control rooms (101 and 112) will also be upgraded," said Annelies Verlinden, Minister of the Interior.

Salvator Vella, director general of ASTRID: “ASTRID is the lifeline for the emergency and security services. This makes an important contribution to ultimately ensuring the safety of citizens. Communication can save lives, in emergency situations every second counts. The TETRA communication on which our network relies today is reaching its limits and is not built to transmit very large amounts of data. Data traffic over 5G networks creates new opportunities for fast, secure and reliable mission-critical communication. Minister Verlinden has always propagated a vision of modernity and innovation and therefore supported this project for the necessary transition to 5G for the emergency and security services. I would like to sincerely thank her for the efforts she has made on this file so far.”

Hybrid network

ASTRID will opt for a hybrid solution with the new broadband network. Because it would be too expensive to build separate antennas and transmission towers, and because it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain permits, the network will use the infrastructure of the commercial telecom operators. But the core of the network, the 'brain', of course remains entirely in the hands of ASTRID, and therefore of the government. The telecom operator for the emergency and security services thus guarantees the security, reliability and confidentiality of all communications.

New generation of emergency centers

The new management contract will also provide for the introduction of an entirely new generation of emergency centers (101 and 112). In the future, they will be able to work much more proactively than they do now, using artificial intelligence, sensors, social networks, video feeds, etc. Thanks to such an enriched environment, responders and teams on the ground will have better situational awareness and be able to intervene faster and more effectively this for the benefit of the population.

International trend The TETRA technology, which is today the standard for critical communication of emergency and security services in most European countries, is primarily voice-oriented and voice will remain essential in the future. But a clear move towards broadband applications is underway. Just think of situational awareness through drones and camera images. In a number of countries, such as South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Finland, renovations started a few years ago. The movement is now in full swing in the rest of the European Union. Brussels as the European capital, but also the central location of Belgium are essential for the image of Europe, so the means of communication for national and international emergency and security services must also be adapted to what is used and modernized in the rest of Europe. 

Robust communication of vital importance: an example

The floods in Belgium in 2021 have demonstrated the importance of robust, multidisciplinary communication systems for the emergency and security services. During such natural disasters, ASTRID's systems demonstrate their overall robustness, saving lives. The planned back-up systems have done their job and the batteries have taken over the power supply, resulting in an autonomy of eight hours. Two mobile antennas were also deployed and emergency power generators were installed to ensure continued communication. The robustness and continuity of the service will also be paramount with the new future 5G network.

The plans were confirmed in a new management contract. With these plans, ASTRID will be able to continue working on the development and improvement of both the radio communication network and the emergency centers.

Ever since Minister Verlinden took office, strengthening the 112 emergency centers and the police communication and information centers (101) has been a priority.