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British APCO 2012

Date: 27th April 2012
Topic: Monthly Features
Technology: Digital PMR, TETRA
Manufacturer: Hytera, Motorola Solutions
Tags: Airwave

British APCO 2012 – the annual event held by the British Association of Public Safety Communications Officials earlier this month – has been heralded as a great success by organisers and a marked improvement on last year’s show. Taking place at Manchester Central (formerly the GMEX) after several years in London, the event offered a mix of meetings, development sessions and an exhibition showcasing the latest technologies available in the sector.

The general consensus among delegates and exhibitors was that the change of venue gave the show a real boost this year. Alan House, president of British APCO, commented: “We are here in Manchester following the decision to change the long established tradition of being in London each year. We knew this move to be something that had risks, but we also saw it as a move to present new opportunities and carry the message that British APCO is being reshaped to meet the challenges that face all of us in the public safety communications sector now, and which are likely to face us in the future.”

Development sessions

A large section of the development sessions focused on the deployment of LTE and other 4G mobile broadband technologies. Peter Goulding from Motorola Solutions looked at how new developments in data networks and the existing strengths of current public safety communication services can bring real benefits and advantages to users and communities.

This was followed by Euros Evans, chief technology officer of Airwave, who introduced LTE as the potential future public safety technology. He looked at the roadmap to transition to LTE considering both voice and data needs.

Spectrum harmonizing was also a regular theme and day one concluded with a question and answer session featuring both Peter and Euros. This lead to some lively debate and Peter commented that it could have gone on for a couple more hours if they had been given the time.

Analysys Mason kicked off day two with a presentation on its telecoms predictions for 2012. It also focused on whether ICT is more of a help than a hindrance in bridging the funding gap at a time when Europe, and not just the UK, has the pressure ratcheted up on reducing public sector spending.

The sessions concluded with several senior figures from the emergency services debating the major disorder last summer which had a significant impact upon control of resources, working practices, liaison with other agencies and the new potential threat concerning social media.

The Tetra and Critical Communications Association (TCCA) was very active at the show and there was a lot of interest around elections for its critical communications committee. Tony Gray from P3 communications, an active member of the TCCA, said: “British APCO ’12 in Manchester was refreshingly improved over the last few years’ events from the TCCA’s perspective. The venue seemed better suited to the event, and both the exhibition and conference sessions felt busier overall. The quantity as well as quality of attendees certainly made it valuable for the TCCA to be there, and we were pleased at the level of overall interest – in particular in relation to broadband futures for critical communications. This is currently a high profile focus point for the TCCA, and we met and had some very positive discussions with a number of potentially key players in the field at the event.”

The exhibition

Exhibitors at BAPCO this year were showcasing a wide range of products and solutions, in many cases focusing on helping the emergency services become more efficient and integrated – but still containing costs. In some situations, this involved applying the potential of newer technologies – such as satellite and LTE-based broadband wireless to extend and expand connectivity – while other, more solution-focused vendors looked to eliminate friction, inefficiencies and waste through tighter integration and more intelligent ways of working.

Tetra service provider Airwave used the event to showcase three new solutions. Firstly, it was demonstrating its award-winning two-way messaging device – Tetra Messenger. This is a secure, resilient alerting solution that delivers two-way messaging over Airwave’s Tetra network, complete with GPS-based location and receipt acknowledgement functions. Pre-programmed respond and react responses can be readily integrated into existing control room systems to allow operators to access updates in real time. Secondly, to increase service transparency to its customers, Airwave was also demonstrating Insite, its web-based management and reporting tool that’s already in use by a number of users. Insite subscribers have access to live traffic and incident reports – including map views to put information into geographical contexts – enabling decision makers to identify peak usage times, gather information as incidents unfold and then analyse activities for better future planning.

In conjunction with its subsidiary, Kelvin Connect, Airwave was also showing its Pronto electronic police notebook and information management solution, aimed at helping police transform core business processes and empower the front line on the street. Lothian and Borders Police have been using the product for over four years and have reported combined cashable savings of over £600,000 per year so far, while the company has also recently won a contract to add another 500 users to its existing relationship with Surrey Police.

Messaging services and infrastructure was also the focus of exhibitor PageOne Communications, operator of one of the largest paging networks in the UK, along with its partner Swissphone. PageOne highlighted the need for emergency services to gets the best performance and lowest operating costs for their critical messaging functions, using the event to offer a preview into its dual frequency scanning solution. Once launched, the solution will allow organisations to simultaneously monitor critical messages both on-site as well as wide-area, removing the need to maintain extensive on-site paging systems when wide-area paging coverage is already available. A dual-frequency pager will continually monitor both channels, decoding messages from whichever has the strongest signal.

At the device and systems end of the messaging chain, Multitone was displaying its Waterproof Pager (WP) device and its FireCoder Unified Communications solution. Providing up to 4000 hours of standard battery life, the WaterProof Pager is IP67 rated and had been tested in water up to one meter deep. Programming and management of the WP Pager is achieved by linking it up to a computer via a standard USB cable and pager cradle, allowing users and work groups to be defined, standard messages pre-programmed and up to 14 different tones can be specified to give instant audible meanings to alerts.

To support the operation of both full-time and retained crews, the Multitone Firecoder is Home Office accredited, to ensure secure message delivery and provide a full audit trail, while meeting the Home Office’s MG4 specification for fire-fighter alerting. In addition to system messages, the unit can also deliver ‘unsolicited’ messages to a GD92-based network manger, providing for a degree of self-monitoring with remote diagnostics and configuration functions.

Concentrating on one of the core themes of the show – improving decision making and the efficient use of resources – APD Communications announced the launch of Artemis, a module-based, comprehensive resource and information management system. By taking a modular approach, it becomes possible to create a platform tailored specifically for the needs of each individual customer, but without the need for extensive bespoke development and engineering. Commented Jonathan Hamill, sales and marketing director at APD, “UK police forces are under severe financial pressure, so solutions that assist forces in realising their transformational goals while reducing costs are of critical importance. Artemis can play a vital role in achieving more efficient resource management, improving environmental footprints and increasing public confidence.”

Modules available so far include: resource location, historical replay, reporting suite, resource utilisation, driver ID, driver behaviour, vehicle management, incident data recording, sat-nav dispatch, cross-border collaboration and customised applets to interface with peripheral equipment. One aspect of the Artemis portfolio that has already achieved very successful results in trials with both ACPO ITS and the One Box Consortium, plus organisations such as West Midlands Police, involves the ability to analyse driver behaviour and vehicle usage. With this in place, emergency organisations can promote driver accountability and reinforce economical driving behaviour – potentially saving large sums in fuel costs – while simultaneously monitoring vehicle conditions automatically to reduce ownership and maintenance overheads and keep vital assets on the road for longer.

Relative newcomer to the UK Hytera, recently moved to new premises in Slough, used BAPCO to present its new range of DMR and TETRA handsets and network infrastructure as well as its SmartDispatch digital dispatching solution for both public safety and enterprise users. Incorporating GPS and with ATEX-compliant products also available, the range includes a number of repeater units for backpack or in-vehicle use. Additionally, Hytera was also promoting its X1e digital covert radio, which it claims is the world’s thinnest and smallest device of its type currently available.

General Dynamics had a major presence at the event too, showcasing a broad range of systems and products, covering command and control, situational and geographic awareness and advanced video surveillance solutions. Highlighting the need for increased resilience for communications solutions when out of range of conventional networks or when existing systems are overloaded, the company was displaying its portfolio of ruggedised Pathmaker networked radios and devices that use ad-hoc networking techniques to support both private and group communications and user location on the fly.

This potential of newer technologies to empower and complement existing operational environments through improved resilience or new features was also a key feature of both seminars during the event as well as booth displays.

Staying with rugged computers, Panasonic was showing its Toughbook CF-19 convertible ruggedised tablet PC. The CF-19 has increased computing power, tougher standards and improved connectivity. It uses Panasonic’s circular polarising technology and has a magnesium alloy casing, anti-scratch and thermally reflective coatings, and an IP 65 MIL-STD ingression rating.

One advantage of the Toughbook range is its vehicle docking solution. This allows the laptop to be mounted vertically against the dashboard, making it easy to read the screen and operate the keyboard.

Business Systems was also at the show exhibiting its Vocal Interview and Evidence Suite application. Designed to meet the standards of public authorities, security services and associated law enforcement agencies, interviews are recorded locally, stored securely and can be made available for electronic distribution via secure networking.

Graham Dickinson, business development executive at Business Systems, commented: “Before commencing the interview a reference number is entered into the system and this provides a unique identifier to which all relational data is linked. When using video, two cameras provide a close-up view of the interviewee and a wide angle view of all participants at all times to guarantee integrity of process.”

With LTE now having finally emerged as the technology path to broadband services for the mission-critical environment, UK Broadband focused its efforts on explaining the potential of 4G for increasing the flow of information – and especially video – to decision makers both on the ground and back in the control room. As the UK’s largest commercial holder of 4G radio spectrum, UK Broadband is currently starting to build open-access wholesale LTE network coverage across the UK, while already offering localised coverage for specific events and emergencies via satellite uplinks for backhaul. Using advanced self-organising mesh networking techniques, video coverage from both fixed and body-worn cameras can be easily integrated with command vehicles for rapid deployment – without the need for line-of-sight alignments or complex set-up routines.

While LTE is the choice for the eventual future of terrestrial networking, the potential of satellite communications to provide wider or back-up coverage for the public safety community was also in evidence. New entrant Solaris Mobile is offering a hybrid terrestrial-satellite solution via Eutelsat that allows users within the EU equipped with the new generation of small, light and highly power-efficient devices to seamlessly move between 2G or 3G networks on the ground and satellite supported connectivity when out of range of terrestrial networks. Solaris especially highlighted its tiny second-generation Pocket Gateway receiver, equipped with cellular, DVB-SH and Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing users to easily connect other devices such as tablets and PDAs.

Matt Child, chief executive officer of Solaris Mobile, noted in a presentation at the event that public safety operations are becoming increasingly information driven requiring access to a wider range of wideband and broadband applications, demanding a service that can meet the specific needs of the sector whilst delivering economies
of scale.

“Solaris Mobile can provide unencumbered spectrum today for the deployment of dedicated networks for public protection, safety and disaster recovery situations. It provides a unique opportunity to co-ordinate and integrate public safety networks across Europe, ensuring greater levels of co-operation and economies of scale, both in terms of network provision and terminal design. By supporting high capacity broadband networks which could be dedicated to the Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) sector and benefit from new 4G technologies developed for consumers, this development will support the accelerated enablement of PPDR terminals and the transmission of video, audio and the faster downloading of large file data.”

Satellite communications experts AST and their partners Inmarsat were also promoting the potential power of near space to support and enhance terrestrial communications. Working with the UK government’s Resilient Telecommunications Programme for local authorities, and using Inmarsat’s BGAN service, AST has already showed this standby potential during the floods of 2007 when terrestrial communications came near to failure as water levels to within only a few inches of essential power infrastructure.

Stepping away from pure infrastructure and communications issues and focusing instead on the rapid growth of social networking as a force for both good and bad in public safety situations, consultants from two websites – www.socialsimulator.com and www.likeaword.co.uk – were explaining the impact that these new services would have on the emergency services sector. With social networks having played a major role in last August’s UK riots– in both circulating rumours and enabling mass criminal behaviour as well as empowering and consolidating communities to clean up afterwards – it’s clear that anyone involved in public safety needs to start integrating social networking strategies into their plans. With nearly fifty percent of the UK’s population now having a social media account and with the growing adoption of smartphones and tablets, traditional lines of communications need to be re-examined as the whole environment becomes far more dynamic, interactive and open. In only a few years, the familiar 999 world will increasingly start to look like a very 20th century system indeed. 


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