From Radio Resources
“One European TETRA public-safety national network operator is moving forward with mobile data plans for its users through a commercial mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service rather than waiting for spectrum and technology details to be hammered out through the European Union and various public-safety association working groups.
ASTRID, the Belgian nationwide TETRA operator, is analyzing offers to a public tender for a data MVNO model under which the three Belgian GSM network services would be used initially. The service would incorporate a subscriber identity module (SIM) card configured with public-safety features such as nationwide roaming and end-to-end encryption.
“In Europe no spectrum is free from regulators to deploy a dedicated data network for public safety,” said Christian Mouraux, ASTRID product management and market intelligence manager. “People are working on it, but we are not there yet.
“In the meantime, we don’t want our users to go to the public GSM operator. We want to offer them an MVNO service, put in place and managed by ASTRID, so they can get a higher service level from GSM operators.”
The tender has three parts. First, ASTRID is seeking a third-party roaming hub partner to ensure international and nationwide roaming, something not currently available in Belgium. Another part of the tender includes a dual SIM card, with a mobile termination (MT) that would be activated by the roaming partner and a second MT that is silent and could be activated by ASTRID once it launches its own dedicated network. The third piece of the tender is for the management platform including the servers, virtual private network (VPN) and control units for the public-safety service.
ASTRID received applications in April and selected a short list of the best candidates in May. The full specification was provided in July. ASTRID received the candidates’ first offers last week and is starting negotiations. “Our objective is to award the contract to the best bidder by the beginning of February and then start with the implementation ASAP,” Mouraux said.
“This is a real step forward, especially in regard to being able to access not just one, but all in-country networks, using a common SIM card — ASTRID’s plans are ambitious,” said Duncan Swan, partner with U.K. consultancy Analysys Mason. “ASTRID has undertaken a lot of work to understand the level of data requirements from their users and came up with the unequivocal recommendation that mobile broadband is a necessity for public-safety operations.”
“Certainly with the sum of the three GSM operators, they have the coverage that is close to our coverage and might be better in some places,” Mouraux said. “Belgium is a small country with high population density.”
Mouraux said the main challenge of the service will be during emergency situations when commercial networks become congested. Priority access isn’t available through GSM technology, but once the commercial service providers roll out Long Term Evolution (LTE), priority access could be available.
ASTRID’s 40,000 public-safety users pay a yearly fee for the mission-critical voice service and low-speed data. Mouraux said the higher-speed data service fees would work the same way. There will be a monthly data volume, and users would pay more if they exceed that threshold.
Pricing the service responsibly will be a key to its success, Mouraux said. “Our users will be willing to pay a higher price to get the higher data service, but they won’t pay three times the price,” he said. “There will be a delta between GSM and the public-safety MVNO service because we will add value and security, but we have to take care that it’s not exaggerated.”
ASTRID officials are viewing the MVNO model as a short-term solution. Once a dedicated broadband network is in place, the MVNO service could still carry less mission-critical data traffic. “For the long-term approach, we are still working in some working groups to find frequencies,” Mouraux said. “It will be a minimum of 10 years to do that in Europe. For the short term, we would like to do the MVNO model.”
In the United States, recent legislation established 20 megahertz of spectrum and $7 billion for a nationwide public-safety broadband network. European regulators have not yet identified dedicated spectrum or funding for public-safety broadband services”
By Sandra Wendelken, Editor RadioResources