Lte | 2017-10-18

ASTRID Launches the Next Generation of Blue Light Mobile

Source: The Critical Communications Review | Gert Jan Wolf editor

ASTRID, the specialist telecoms operator for Belgium's emergency and security services, today launched the next generation of its Blue Light Mobile service.

The launch was attended by the Federal Crisis Centre and 150 staff from across the emergency and security services. The new high-speed offering combines voice and data services and is now available to emergency response coordinators such as municipalities and contingency planning officials. Jan Jambon, Minister for Security and the Interior, handed out the first SIM cards today to the various public safety agencies.

Three networks in one

ASTRID first launched Blue Light Mobile as a high-speed data communication service in 2014. One SIM card now provides secure, priority access to three commercial mobile phone networks in Belgium and eleven networks in four neighbouring countries. Police departments and emergency services now enjoy the best coverage in Belgium, including border areas. In locations where there is no coverage for a given network, the user's tablet or mobile will switch automatically to the network providing coverage in that area. Data communication is fast, secure and high-priority.

Mobile office on the ground

Blue Light Mobile services offer significant advantages to users on the ground. For example, teams can now easily check vehicle registration numbers in real time using their tablets, as well as perform identity checks, draft reports, query the dangerous substances database or share a photo or map with the control room. The SIM card offers private access to the secure cloud, through which the rescue service can avail of a secure environment for its own applications, but also share applications to exchange data between support teams. Essentially, the concept of a "mobile office" means easy access both for teams on foot or in service vehicles.

New: priority voice communications

In addition to data, the second generation of Blue Light Mobile now offers voice communications. This means that users can now make priority phone calls quickly with their normal mobile or smartphone. Blue Light Mobile now boasts a unique feature - network priority over all other users.

Service offerings

There are two service levels: FIRST and PRIOR, with both offering priority communications. PRIOR card users have the added guarantee that their voice and data communications have absolute priority over all other mobile users. The number of PRIOR SIM cards is capped at 6,000 customers at present, to ensure that priority access operates effectively. However, there is still no limit on the number of FIRST SIM cards for all emergency and security services. Blue Light Mobile SIM cards can also be personalised and individual users can activate different communication methods and options. From 1 November, security departments and agencies can begin the phase-in of Blue Light Mobile SIM cards.

Who can use Blue Light Mobile?

Police departments, fire service units and medical response teams, as well as airports, city councils, local and provincial authorities, defence forces and many other public bodies will be allocated a certain number of priority SIM cards, based on their size. Each organisation can distribute them freely among their various divisions.

Jan Jambon, Minister for Security and the Interior, said: "The flashing blue lights of the emergency vehicles that we see in traffic now also operate in the sphere of telecommunications. Thanks to this service, 6,000 people who play a critical role in our security operations will, from 1 November, be able to avail of a special SIM card giving them priority network access at all times using their mobile phone. The PRIOR SIM card will ensure permanent network access, even when networks are busy. Voice and data communications will have absolute priority over all other users".

"Emergency situations and major incidents that this country has experienced recently have demonstrated just how important it is to have stable and efficient methods of communication", noted Frédéric De Fays, expert at the Federal Crisis Centre.

Complementarity between Blue Light Mobile and TETRA radio communications

With Blue Light Mobile, ASTRID addresses individual and priority communication needs. People who do not use their TETRA radio every day can now readily communicate using their normal mobile, smartphone or tablet. It should be noted however that Blue Light Mobile is not intended to replace the existing TETRA radio network, but instead represents a complementary service. The ASTRID radio network remains the primary method of group voice communication for all emergency services. Blue Light Mobile underlines ASTRID's innovative approach. Marc De Buyser, Chief Executive Officer of ASTRID, said: "With this new management contract, ASTRID can focus on renewing all of its communication systems. Our teams are also applying their technical expertise to initiatives supporting staff on the ground as they carry out critical missions that save lives".

Effective teamwork

"The development of Blue Light Mobile is the result of close collaboration: the ASTRID platform enabled its implementation, the IBPT (Belgian Institute for Postal services and Telecommunications) gave its approval and there was a strong will among many parties to do whatever it took to make it possible. The Users' Advisory Committee has been an ongoing source of support to ASTRID", noted Minister Jambon.