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Mobile Network Operators Can Offer Strong Services For Public Safety Networks with the Help of OMA Standards

Author: Frank Korinek & Francesco VadalĂ 

Date: 2014-05-12
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Public safety communication is a significant and vital need all over the world. Communication services for First Responders such as police, fire and emergency services personnel have strict requirements in terms of performance, robustness and reliability. Life is at risk if these communication services fail for any reason.


The Importance Of Public Safety Networks

The key requirements for public safety networks are coverage, resilience, performance and control. Public safety networks need a higher degree of coverage and availability than commercial networks because they must be available during incidents. We can see from the Boston Marathon bombing that standalone networks played a key role in the fast response of the emergency services when the commercial networks were unavailable for voice calls because they were overloaded. Resilience ensures networks continue providing a service even through outages that could affect the service, for example severe weather can illustrate how networks can struggle to provide service at a critical time. Finally, control over the ownership of the assets that are used to provide public safety services is crucial. Assets can be at risk if ownership of the operator changes. As an example, a new owner may change the network and reduce coverage in areas that are considered vital.


Public Safety Networks Today

Today, public safety services are most commonly provided through regional public Safety standards including TETRA and P25 that provide features not previously supported in commercial mobile systems. These standards have also been applied to commercial critical communication needs such as airport operations. There is growing industry support for the use of LTE broadband commercial technology, both with private and shared commercial range for public safety networks and services. This could provide new levels of investment, economies of scale and a global standards based approach that ensures interoperability between vendors and networks.

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Public safety users are an important community both economically and socially but the market for systems based on public safety standards is much smaller than for commercial mobile. Specialised public safety and critical communications technology would not be able to achieve the level of investment and global R&D that is put into commercial mobile networks. Establishing common technical standards for commercial mobile and public safety, offers benefits to both communities. The public safety community gains access to the economic and technical advantages created by the scale of commercial mobile networks. The commercial mobile community gets the opportunity to address parts of the public safety market as well as gain enhancements to their systems that have interesting applications to consumers and businesses.

A strong standards-based approach will help to bring interoperability between different vendors leading to a competitive equipment market. 


Working To Improve Public Safety Networks

3GPP who have been collaborating with the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) are working to enhance LTE to meet public safety application requirements. Including “Group Communications System Enabler for LTE” (GCSE_LTE) to define group communications over LTE for critical communications, “Proximity Services” (ProSE) to define device-to-device critical communications over LTE, and “Mission Critical Push-To-Talk over LTE” (MCPTT) to define service requirements for push-to-talk functionality over LTE suitable for critical communication use.

3GPP’s objective is to leverage the considerable strengths of LTE and continue adding features needed for public safety. A further goal is to maximize the technical unity between commercial and public safety aspects to provide the best cost effective solution for both communities. Additional standards organizations, including OMA are collaborating with 3GPP to develop comprehensive standards and specifications to address public safety service requirements.

OMA’s vast experience in developing standards that promote global interoperability makes it an excellent partner to develop application and service layer standards for the public safety market. OMA’s initial effort to address the market is the Push-to-Communicate for Public Safety (PCPS) v1.0 project, version 1.0 is expected to be released in the fourth quarter of 2014. PCPS will incorporate LTE as well as support multiple access technologies enabling ubiquitous coverage, management of resources across multiple access technologies and management of levels of services across multiple access technologies. PCPS will be based upon the OMA Push-to-talk over Cellular (PoC) Enabler, as PoC standardizes a two way form of communication that allows users to engage in instant communication with one or more users by pushing a button on the handset. The OMA PoC standard has been prototyped, developed, and with multiple commercial deployments in the market, is a strong baseline for further enhancements to meet public safety broadband use cases.

PCPS will incorporate the 3GPP public safety LTE enhancements as they are defined in 3GPP. OMA also has and continues to develop other standards that may be applicable for public safety including Device Management, Location and Presence.

The OMA Device Management Enabler (OMA DM) is a framework that enables device customization and services configuration remotely, which will allow public safety devices to be managed in an efficient and standard way. OMA has developed several location and positioning enablers focused on user plane (e.g. Secure User Plane Location – OMA SUPL), and is currently focused on extending location services into other areas considered difficult to serve (i.e., Indoor Location), as well as supporting the latest technologies such as Wi-Fi positioning, image recognition based positioning and sensors. OMA Presence is an OMA Enabler able to interact with the OMA PoC Enabler providing contact and presence information, contact lists, etc.


The Future

As the relevance of OMA standards to public safety increases, government agencies including FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority, an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s NTIA) and the United Kingdom Home Office have recently joined OMA to support this focus on public safety standards development. In addition, companies including AT&T, Fujitsu Limited, Harris Corporation, Kodiak Networks, Motorola Solutions, NextNav, T-Mobile USA and Thales Group are also supporting OMA’s PCPS project and many others are continuing their support of OMA’s Device Management, Location and Presence projects.

As LTE networks will soon support voice and data services, these could be deployed as dedicated networks, or commercial networks that have been 'enhanced' to meet the three fundamental public safety requirements. With OMA standards, supporting public safety using commercial networks is a cost effective and robust approach due to the collaborative efforts of the OMA, 3GPP, government agencies and industry. To support or get involved with the OMA’s work within the public safety sector then please visit the OMA website at


Frank Korinek is the Director Strategy & Business Development at Motorola Solutions.  Francesco Vadalà is the Service Layer Standardization Manager for Telecom Italia.


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