Update: Mission Critical Communications

Basic systems tests for an open source 4G cell with a 5G core was an overwhelming success in recent tests delivered by Safenetics and the University of York, as part of Mobile Access North Yorkshire project (MANY).

Mountain Rescue TeamThe Mission Critical Communication use-case field-test assisted the MANY-project to explore new ways for Category 2 emergency responders to talk to each other in remote areas. This field-test also demonstrated the seamless ways of users could piece together different communication systems (in this case short range WiFi and a longer range open source 4G cell with a 5G core).

In this blog, Safenetics – who lead the Mission Critical Communications use case – team members Arianna and George provide an update including information about the field test and how it supports the next steps of the project.

Category 2 responders include teams such as Swaledale Mountain Rescue (SMR), who SafeNetics are working closely with. Typically, the SMR-team relies on public donations and do not always have the option of buying into expensive communications platforms and prefer not to pay for service subscriptions. Access to funding is the main difference between (government subsidised) Category 1 services – police, ambulance etc., and Category 2. Therefore, these tests were done to explore a new way for Category 2 emergency responders to talk to each other and were designed to coordinate emergency response communication. In essence, the team wanted to establish whether it would work.

Working with Professor David Grace and Dr Yi Chu from the University of York’s Electronic Engineering department, the field-test pieced together an 5G open source cell that could potentially be deployed using a Helikite balloon.

York’s’ set up included a radio head for the private LTE network was an Ettus Research USRP B205 mini with 10 dBm maximum output power. The USRP was connected to a laptop running the open source SRSeNB and Open5GS 4G/5G core. The backhaul was provided by a commercial LTE router with a three data SIM. The eNB was configured to operate at the centre frequency 2650 MHz (LTE band 7) with 5 MHz bandwidth (which can provide a maximum download speed of about 17 Mbps). The speed of the network during the field trial was largely bottlenecked by the backhaul.

Safenetics communication platform, which had been developed by working with experts in mission critical services, was based on 3GPP Mission Critical standards. These standards describe core functionalities such as group calls location services, interconnectivity and legacy management.

The platform and network (described previously) was tested in part by members of the Swaledale Mountain Rescue team. This testing included voice and video calling using the provided android application on the provided ruggedised mobile phones.

Once the test was deemed successful with features such as push to talk or dispatch calling, the SafeNetics team tested interoperability. Setting up a local Wi-Fi hotspot the SMR team found that a WIFI connected mobile phone could contact a mobile phone connected to the cell without any issues. This means that two different wireless systems were interconnected meaning the cell network plays well with other networks.

With the focus on Category 2 responders this field test showed promise. This is because it suggests that there is a way to bring costs down for emergency rescue teams. This would mean opening up new features and opportunities to a volunteer groups funded by public donations, such as mountain rescue services.

The use case – which make up part of MANY and is part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) 5G Testbed and Trials programme – is exploring ways to leverage the faster speeds and increase data capacity 5G can bring to teams which often have limited budgets and rely entirely on public donations.

5G has the ability to be a game changer for Category 2 responders. For example, if rescue teams are deployed and they find they need extra medical expertise, waiting for a medic could waste valuable time. 5G offers the ability to monitor life signs via the Internet of Things devices direct to a responders phone to be relayed back to base. Alternatively, live streaming video could save time in getting expert input without needing a medic on-site.

The MANY Mission Critical Communications use case is now one-step closer to opening up these possibilities and will move forward in further trials over the summer and autumn of 2021, including further interoperability testing with the MRTs DMR radio system and backhaul over 5G infrastructure.