The BroadWay project: going mobile


The BroadWay project – which aims to enable emergency services broadband ‘roaming’ across Europe – discusses the lead up to its imminent pilot phase.

One of the key drivers for national emergency services broadband programmes such as ESN is to bring public safety communications on a par with what commercial customers have had for years.

This, of course, primarily involves the provision of vastly increased amounts of data, something which has already been seen with the likes of FirstNet, SafeNet and, of course, the Emergency Services Network. At the same time, however, there are also other ‘broadband benefits’ which most emergency services currently can’t even dream of, not least the ability to maintain communication while crossing international borders.

That being the case, in this article the focus is on the work of BroadWay, a pan-European project aiming to provide first-responders with the public safety equivalent of ‘roaming’. The initiative is just coming to the business end of its procurement strategy, culminating at last in the demonstration of prototypes.

Half a decade

David Lund is president of the Public Safety Communication Europe Forum, and lead on the BroadWay project. As he tells it, the latter began half a decade ago, prompted by the European Commission’s desire for a study looking at pan-European public safety comms requirements. A €2m budget was made available for an initial one-year project, operating under the auspices of the Commission’s ‘Horizon 2020’ research and development programme.

Going into detail about the early stages of BroadMap/BroadWay, Lund says: “The initial project brought together a team of 14 partners, which included national public safety operators, as well as first-responders themselves. The list of user requirements [eg, mapping] was somewhere in the realm of 1,500, which was then filtered down to around 700 to avoid duplication.”

Following BroadMap, the next task was to identify potential candidates for developing the technology itself. This process has likewise taken place across a series of ‘phases’, the first of which came to fruition last year, following on from a ‘pre-commercial procurement’ (PCP) request for tender. The four consortia working on their designs at that point were led by Airbus, Frequentis, Leonardo and Rohill. According to Lund, all the designs were of high quality, but the PCP process only allowed the strongest suppliers and prototype proposals.

Lund continues: “Following the end of the design phase, we are now in the prototype phase, which began at the end of last August. Airbus, Leonardo and Frequentis are the ones still involved at this stage, and we’ve recently been able to mount interim demonstrations, which is the first time we’ve been able to see the technology in action.

“We’ll have another competition once the prototype phase has finished, and the three supply teams will become two. We will then be into the pilot phase, with the technology installed, live and ready to go. We’re very optimistic from what we’ve seen so far.”

Drug dealer pursuit

As anyone following the progress of the Emergency Services Network in the UK will likely be aware, rolling out nationwide mission-critical broadband is hardly what you would call a straightforward task. That being the case, you can’t help but wonder just how complicated something like BroadWay has the potential to be, if for no other reason than it ultimately takes in an entire continent.

The answer to this, at least in certain regards, is really complicated, not least given the logistics involved in co-ordinating with mobile operators on a nation-by-nation basis.

Elaborating on this, as well as how BroadNet will facilitate emergency services ‘roaming’ – essentially by leveraging pre-existing commercial network coverage – Lund says: “A very basic way of conceiving of it is the public safety equivalent of what consumers can already do when they go on holiday. You would perhaps imagine that to be fairly straightforward, but it really isn’t.

“For instance, on top of the coverage piece itself, we also know that emergency services users have special requirements such as security, guaranteed service, priority/pre-emption, and so on. At the same time, there are – perfectly reasonable – commercial imperatives from the operators’ point of view, which further complicates things.”

He continues: “If you imagine a situation where a user is being handed over from one operator to another in adjacent countries, you immediately have the problem of who takes over the connection.

“There are mechanisms installed within the system which are there to ensure fair competition between the destination companies. If you took those mechanisms out, you would have seamless roaming. But politically… no. Commercially… no. The automotive sector is also investigating this issue where cellular systems in vehicles cross borders.

“This is why it’s so important that we have buy-in from not just the users and vendors, but also the mobile operators themselves. At the moment, the operators involved are Vodafone, Telefónica, T-Mobile and more, including satellite operators. We need their knowledge around coverage and, of course, roaming.”

Another equally important set of stakeholders are the governments of the European nations themselves, the involvement of which presents an entirely new set of questions. As Lund says, each nation – again quite rightly – has its own way of doing things, political culture, as well as unique pressures.

Asked how it is possible to achieve buy-in from such a diverse set of stakeholders, Lund says: “We basically explain the importance of what we call ‘operational mobility’, simultaneously outlining some of the potential use-cases and scenarios. All countries realise how important public safety is and take it very seriously.”

As Lund explains it, the core BroadWay concept of ‘operational mobility’ enables first-responders to communicate “whenever they need to, wherever they are, and with whoever they are tasked to collaborate”. One example of the principle in action – again according to him – would be a high-speed pursuit, with Spanish police following drug dealers across borders into northern Germany.

Illustrating the purely technical problems that this would currently present, he says: “As I mentioned, at the mobile radio level, all broadband devices have the capacity to work with each other, no matter who manufacturers them, or where in the world they’re being used. The situation isn’t the same as with TETRA technology, which, while standardised, is generally not interoperable between vendors.”

He continues: “The real issue comes at the information exchange level, which is a big part of the solution that we’re trying to develop. For BroadWay, it’s about putting together communication groups and protocols between countries, thereby enabling them to interface in an operational context. Some of these will be put into place ahead of time, with some being defined during the event.

“The public safety communications sector has gone a long way to solving that by asking 3GPP to put in the mission-critical service layer, and we’re of course working with the key 3GPP MCX standards as well. On the practitioner side, BroadWay evaluation is being led by the Bavarian Red Cross, and there’s about 60 other user organisations on the list.

“In terms of future progress, we are currently preparing to engage additional countries as we prepare for BroadNet. Governance is our primary concern. Now we have confidence that technical solutions are possible, we must ensure that BroadNet procures solutions, inspired by BroadWay, but taking into account the interests of all European countries, and not just a limited number of countries. Our next challenge becomes more political.”  

Broadband technology has the potential to revolutionise how public safety organisations conduct their business. The – now rapid – progress of the BroadWay project is sure to add an extra dimension.

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Philip Mason
Managing Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
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