Shared from the 5/1/2019 RadioResource International eEdition

Finland Revises Critical Broadband Plan

Officials reworked the country’s five-step plan after dedicated mission-critical broadband spectrum remained elusive.

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Photos courtesy Erillisverkot (Studio Koivunen)

Finnish Facts

Area: 338,000 square kilometers Population: 5.5 million EU member state

EU Schengen land border: 1,340 kilometers

VIRVE 1.0: Dedicated TETRA network with nationwide geographical coverage; 1,400 base stations; 70,000+ users; 8 million short messages per day; and 150,000+ group calls per day

VIRVE 2.0: 4G/5G technology with State Security Networks Group (Erillisverkot) operating the dedicated 4G/5G core and broadband radio access provided by a commercial operator, complemented via national roaming with pre-emptive priority service on all frequencies and coverage and resilience extension requirements

In 2014, Finland established a fivestep strategy to reach mission-critical broadband (see RadioResource International, Quarter 2 2014). The plan was to set up a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) for high-speed data transmission, shift to operating a dedicated 4G core network and subscriber management system, and in the third step, extend dedicated broadband radio access in chosen locations. The fourth step was to introduce missioncritical voice services to the broadband network and finally, to dismantle the narrowband critical voice and messaging network once users had migrated operations exclusively to the broadband side. The estimated timeline for user transition to begin was in the early 2020s. The key prerequisites were frequency spectrum, technology and critical-level radio access availability. While Finland is technologically advanced, it is a relatively small market for critical communications, so flexibility and adaptability were at the core of the strategy.

Where Are We Now?

VIRVE, the nationwide critical narrowband TETRA network, has undergone a midlife upgrade, providing a foundation for flexibility in terms of time. If required, the network can provide critical voice and messaging services until the end of the next decade. Coverage, reliability and, most importantly, user satisfaction are high, and the number of users and user organizations is constantly increasing. For example, last year the national railways joined the public-safety organizations to become an operational user with expectations to use VIRVE until 2025. After that, railway requirements are included in the VIRVE 2.0 service, the name for the critical mobile broadband service.

Finland’s VIRVE network has also been connected across borders with the public-safety TETRA networks in Norway and Sweden, enabling smooth cross-border cooperation and operations. This forms a unique multinational critical communications network requiring close coordination as the Nordic countries migrate to broadband services.

In parallel with narrowband development, the need for broadband highspeed data services is constantly increasing. Use of drones and video feeds is a daily practice for the police and fire and rescue. For several years, a patrol car has been a police station on wheels providing the same access to information as the station. To address that need according to the 2014 plan, a dedicated 4G core network is in place and provides secure broadband data access to missioncritical users through one or multiple commercial operators’ radio access.

The broadband data service is complementary to mission-critical VIRVE. The offering includes a provisioning system and its own subscriber identity module (SIM) cards to simultaneously manage the rights in VIRVE and broadband, a highly valuable capability. However, the need for a mission-critical broadband connection increases each day.

Numerous tests for mission-critical voice services over broadband and for cross-connecting the narrowband and broadband networks were run. The tests provided plenty of insight and pointed out needs for improvement throughout the end-to-end system.

At the same time, the country made investments in maintaining and developing the national critical communications ecosystem. The ecosystem comprises public-safety user organizations, critical infrastructure providers, public transport and industry that provides critical tools and services. It will only be successful if the entire ecosystem cooperates. Information-centric field operations over broadband require new legislation; even deeper cooperation between stakeholders in smart society; and integration and sharing of information, communications and technology (ICT) and command-and-control systems. A national and local common situational overview also needs to be secured. The Finnish ecosystem has received international recognition for its successful cooperation so far.

No Spectrum Drives Legislation

In 2014, there were high hopes for Europewide harmonized dedicated spectrum for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) for mission-critical use of 700 MHz as part of the transition to digital terrestrial TV broadcast. Band 68 on the guard band is still an open question, but much of the commercial 700 MHz band has been allocated to commercial mobile operators. Finland conducted a “beauty contest” auction of 700 MHz licenses. However, the 700 MHz band turned out to be subject to interference, as Finland’s eastern neighbor Russia still uses it for TV broadcasting. Thus, the frequency band wasn’t suitable to form the basis of a national security communications network. In the short term, no other frequency band enabling wide-area coverage was coming available. This meant there would not be dedicated frequency spectrum available for mission-critical broadband, and an alternative solution had to be found.

In the original plan, commercial operators had a significant role in providing coverage outside the main cities and highways, whereas in the cities, a dedicated network on dedicated spectrum would guarantee the ability to operate even when commercial networks were congested. Because commercial carriers have exclusive access to spectrum, their role was extended to provide the entire radio access. To mitigate the risk of service degradation, a new set of laws came into force in February.

First, State Security Networks Group, the government-owned operator of VIRVE, was assigned as the national service operator for the VIRVE 2.0 mission-critical broadband service. The group was also tasked with procuring a new dedicated 4G/5G core network, as well as radio access service from mobile operators for mission-critical broadband. The winning operator is now obliged to provide pre-emptive priority on its frequency bands and on all its current and future technologies from 4G to 5G. Furthermore, all mobile carriers are obliged to support national roaming for mission-critical users to guarantee them access to services as long as a mobile network can provide coverage.

Current Status

The procurement of a 4G/5G core network and radio access network (RAN) service is in progress. A request for information (RFI) on radio access service for 4G/5G core network suppliers and the Finnish carriers was conducted in 2018. The legislative changes enabled the procurement to move forward. Procurement notices were published in March. Clarification negotiations will be conducted with eligible parties with the intention to issue a final request for tenders (RFTs) near the end of August and to reach a procurement decision by the end of the year.

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A global interoperability and testing certification program, similar to that for TETRA, must be implemented for broadband technology as well.

In parallel, preparation for missioncritical applications such as Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standard-defined mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT), missioncritical video (MCVideo) and missioncritical data (MCData) is ongoing. An apps RFI should launch in October, enabling the start of the apps procurement in the first quarter of 2020.

Progress But More to Go

The original and current timeline are remarkably the same. In 2014, the estimate to begin full mission-critical broadband service was around 2022. Now, the target stated in the procurement process is to have the network and applications in place during 2022, enabling user organizations to begin migration exclusively to VIRVE 2.0. The window for transition is open until 2030 and potentially longer than that regionally. However, the target is to have the majority of the organizations shifted by the end of 2025.

A key national challenge is to meet the mission-critical users’ requirements for availability and coverage. Current power and transmission resilience in commercial mobile networks must be significantly enhanced to enable public-safety operations during natural or man-made disasters. Another challenge is extending commercial mobile coverage. Despite the fact that 4G service covers about 99% of the Finnish population, there are still significant geographic areas — especially at the eastern European Union Schengen border — that are covered only by narrowband VIRVE 1.0 service.

A common international challenge for all mission-critical users worldwide is to push forward with the 3GPP standardization and beyond that into the deployable products. The Finnish expectation is to be able to start with 3GPP Release 15 by 2022. By then, it would be important to have solid multivendor supply of various types of devices in an interoperable manner.

In that sense, the lack of missioncritical broadband interoperability testing and certification is concerning and highlighted as a potential risk preventing not only Finland, but many other countries as well, in proceeding as quickly as otherwise possible. Also, replacement of narrowband device-todevice capabilities remains to be solved in the field. Here, the work in various forums, but mostly in the 3GPP, is important, along with other mission-critical communications stakeholders such as the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) in the United States.

Another common challenge is the overall security framework. The 2014 strategy increased vulnerability because of unprecedented dependence on information networks, power and global events. The cyber environment and network vulnerability have since increased, perhaps more than expected. The critical mobile communications service needs to be built and operated in a way that it provides safety to society even under unusual circumstances.

Academic Research

Finland’s five steps to critical broadband strategy is part of Matti Peltola’s doctoral dissertation “Socioeconomic benefits as criteria in the valuation of broadband mobile services for public safety and security” published in September 2018.

http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-60-8118-2

Finland is following the general path laid out in the 2014 five-step plan. The unavailability of dedicated spectrum shifted the broadband radio access entirely to mobile operators for now. The procurement process has started for dedicated 4G/5G core networks and commercial carrierprovided broadband radio access. After the procurement and the deployment, the interconnection of TETRA and 4G/5G needs to take place to enable efficient parallel operation and smooth migration, followed eventually by dismantling the TETRA radio access once broadband service meets mission-critical users’ requirements.

Jarmo Vinkvist is the CEO of Suomen Virveverkko, the national operator for the VIRVE shared authority network in Finland, and chief operating officer (COO) of parent company Erillisverkot Group. He has been in the telecom industry since 2005 with key roles in providing mission-critical communications to Finnish authorities.

Tero Pesonen has been developing critical communications plans for more than 20 years. He serves as senior advisor to Suomen Virveverkko and is a board member and a director of TCCA. In addition, he chairs TCCA’s Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG).

Matti Peltola is senior consultant at MAPELCON and a former chief technology officer (CTO) and country manager of EADS Secure Networks, now Airbus. He previously worked in various senior management positions within Nokia. He completed his doctorate in 2018 with a dissertation on socioeconomic benefits as criteria in valuation of broadband mobile services for public and security. Email feedback to editor@RRMediaGroup.com.

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