How broadband mission critical device certification is being led by GCF and TCCA
- 18 Jul 2023
- Asif Hamidullah - GCF Office
Mission critical services (MCS) and critical communications must be available when needed, reliably providing voice and data connectivity to first responders, public safety services, transportation sectors, and more. These services and devices must also support the sectors’ unique needs and operational protocols, and provide ubiquitous coverage that can handle high peak usage levels. Demand for broadband data services is increasing, as images and video become a central part of critical communications. Reliable voice communication, however, is still the core function that must be maintained at all times.
While TETRA remains the dominant mission critical standard for now, the next generation of Mission Critical Services are being delivered over LTE cellular networks and evolving towards 5G. These newer technologies, based on standards maintained by 3GPP, deliver the bandwidth needed for effective emergency responses.
To provide reliable communications, mission critical devices and networks must be interoperable. The Global Certification Forum (GCF) and The Critical Communications Association (TCCA) have been working together over the past few years to deliver a certification programme for devices supporting 3GPP standards-based mission critical services. This is based on prioritising industry requirements, and undertaking a gap analysis of required frequency bands and mission-critical functionalities against currently available functions and processes within GCF.
The programme will ensure that devices and applications are interoperable with mission critical networks and are compliant with the relevant standards and specifications.
The certification programme
To help deliver the certification programme, TCCA and GCF have created the Mission Critical Services Work Stream (MCSWS), open to all TCCA and GCF members, and invited experts from industry. GCF and TCCA are working to include all the relevant industry players in the discussion about this new MCS landscape and its certification programmes.
The workstream is tasked with the development of a certification programme with launch targeted for the end of 2023. The current scope of the certification focuses on Mission Critical Push-to-Talk (MCPTT), Mission Critical Video (MCVideo) and Mission Critical Data (MCData). In each case, the scope covers the relevant 3GPP Rel 14 and Rel 15 standards.
Certification of MCX products will include both conformance and field trials testing. Conformance testing ensures that the appropriate 3GPP standards are being complied with, and is mandatory for certification. Field trials testing is used to ensure interoperability between the device and commercial network, and is currently optional, given special authorisations required to access and test on commercial MCX networks.
To complete the certification programme, and to ensure a successful launch, GCF is responsible for validating conformance test platforms, while a TCCA sub-working group is progressing on development and verification of live network testing for field trials. An initial set of field trials test cases has already been developed, with finalisation and verification targeted for end of 2023.
Figure 1: GCF certification gives confidence in interoperability
To ensure the appropriate set of tests cases are targeted for validation, a survey to the MCS community has been undertaken, to understand the importance of MCX features required by the operators and the corresponding support from the supplier community. The feedback from this survey has been used to reprioritise certain test cases, to ensure the best targeting of the features required by industry.
How can agencies and companies engage and support this process?
Mission critical operators and authorities are invited to join the MCSWS to help develop standards-driven MCS, and to share their requirements regarding MCX products. They can also contribute to the ongoing technical development of the certification scheme and future roadmap planning, consider having field trials performed in their live networks, and help grow the certification scheme by requesting GCF certification for devices or clients in their commercial tenders.
Mission critical product suppliers are also invited to join the MCSWS. Device manufacturers and client vendors can work together in defining the scope of the GCF Certification program to ensure interoperability on key MCS functionalities, and to support test platform validation activities in GCF with devices and clients implementing the latest specifications.
By working together, the mission critical industry can help build a certification programme that benefits all stakeholders, and ensures the seamless interoperability of mission critical devices and networks.
Reliable and innovative communications
Mission critical services are constantly evolving, adding support for new technologies, and adapting to developments in the fast-moving communications industry. With huge advances reaching the market in LTE and 5G, the next generation of critical communications will bring revolutionary changes, and will move from existing technologies to be delivered over these newer, 3GPP-based networks and devices.
As the 3GPP standards continue to develop, we can see new features and enhancements coming up, that will improve critical communications in the years ahead. Coverage will be improved, interoperability with other types of communications solutions, such as with satellite connectivity, will become more accessible, and the shift from narrowband to broadband will enable better working practices based on intelligent data, more accurate positioning services, and enhanced support for images and video.
But we must not abandon our industry’s commitment to standardisation and interoperability, which is the bedrock of providing reliable communications. Balancing progress with guaranteed conformance is a delicate task, and everyone’s input must be heard. GCF and TCCA are keen to ensure that all parties interested in ensuring the seamless interoperability of devices and networks in this new MCS world can contribute to the discussion and, in doing so, help to build a certification programme that benefits everyone.
Working together, TCCA and GCF are delivering the certification programme needed by the critical communications industry. By combining their experience, they are creating a practical, focussed programme, that is relevant to the industry’s needs, while also guaranteeing the highest levels of interoperability – and thus ensuring that new generations of mission critical services and devices deliver the reliability and performance needed.
TCCA leads the global development of secure, reliable and standardised critical communications solutions for professional users. See https://tcca.info