July Update 2019

Comms Connect New Zealand 2020 dates announced
The dates have now been set for Comms Connect New Zealand 2020, with Wellington, as mentioned in last month’s RFUANZ newsletter, being selected as home for next year’s critical communications event on 6-7 May.
Whilst Auckland certainly delivered for the two years it was home to the conference and RFUANZ Awards dinner, the plan for a return visit was always there, said Paul Davis, WF events lead organiser, ‘ We may now see alternating years between the two cities, or even the possibility or a third city being included in the mix, but the key, as always, is to deliver a first class outcome for all, with a quality audience for exhibitors and sponsors, ensuring this important industry event continues for years to come’.
Exhibition and sponsorship opportunities will be shared soon, with re-booking rates expected to be extremely high given the very positive feedback for this year’s event. Contact will be made with all previous exhibitors and sponsors shortly, or you can express your interest prior to this by contacting Paul Davis @ pdavis@wfmedia.com.au
Paul Davis
Comms Connect
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Why is everyone talking about critical communications?
Communications have never been more important than they are today. Businesses, public safety, utilities, and other enterprises rely on communications being available all the time.
For years, critical communications have been defined by the major land mobile radio digital technologies including TETRA, P25, and DMR.
The parameters for mission critical voice and data services have been framed by what land mobile radio could deliver. But now, some are saying that LTE (or Long-Term Evolution) and eventually 5G will better meet all the core requirements of public safety, utilities, transport, mining and other critical communications users.
These technologies won’t replace their predecessors overnight, but the transition to embrace broadband data has already begun, and users should start planning now for this future.
AT&T estimates that there are roughly ten million LMR radios worldwide, of which 40% can be classified as ‘critical’ communications users. While LMR still dominates the market, people are also using mobile phones, tablets, smart devices, and cameras to stream video, automate asset tracking, perform mapping, run real time data analytics, monitor health status and other advanced functions that are well beyond LMR.
The difference is data. New technologies such as LTE can deliver lots of data – fast – something LMR cannot do. And more data means more capabilities. Just consider the difference between what you can do on a two-way radio and what you can do on a cellular phone. There is a smartphone application, often with a slick user interface, to cater for almost any need. Businesses can readily develop their own applications to meet customized requirements. Because most of these applications take advantage of the much higher bandwidth of LTE, they are also difficult to extend to radio so, in contrast, LMR applications are few and far between.
Open standards for connectivity have led to the development of a wide variety of specialized devices aimed at professional users. It is not uncommon to see a policeman with a P25 radio, Bluetooth microphone, tablet, cellphone, and wearable camera (with maybe more comms equipment such as an MDT in the car).
In principle, all of these could be connected into a common system, but typically the agency will support the radio and cellphone (for example) on separate systems.
Some have argued that this profusion of comms equipment is over-complicated, too expensive, and completely unnecessary. In particular, LTE technology can carry nearly all of the services – voice and data – required by professional users. Additional communications bearers, such as LMR, should probably be retired. A few commentators have even suggested that LMR users would be better off renting capacity on commercial LTE networks rather than maintaining their own radio systems.
And this is already happening. Small businesses, hotel chains, casinos, construction and trucking companies have ditched their LMR in favour of LTE smartphones. But organizations who have made this move tend to be non-critical communications users.
Communications are ‘critical’ when they are essential to the operation of an organization. Failure or disruption of communications either seriously impacts or halts an organization’s activities.
There are several senses of ‘critical’ that may be involved:
- Business critical – where comms failures severely disrupt business activity and may result in significant penalties. For example, power utilities face major financial penalties if comms failures during maintenance lead to downtime exceeding allowable targets.
- Mission-critical – where comms failures stop or greatly degrade a mission activity. For example, an emergency response during a disaster.
- Safety critical – where comms failures lead to property damage, injury, or loss of life. For example, communications failures during a SWAT team response.
- Security critical – where comms failures lead to the loss or damage of sensitive data or a compromise of system integrity. For example, in banking systems.
Depending on your organization and what it does your communications may be critical in any or all these senses. For instance, during a hurricane response, communications for a Utility are critical to the business, mission, safety, and security of their operations and their customers.
So, what general features would we expect a critical communications system to have?
- Coverage – where you need it including Remote, Rural, Urban and City environments as well as in buildings and tunnels as required.  For critical systems, overlapping coverage should also mitigate the effects if a site outage occurs.
- Resilience – high availability for systems rely on mitigations of any single points of failure through techniques like redundant servers, un-interruptible power supplies (including battery back-up), overlapping coverage, redundant paths and protected links.
- Capacity – the ability to manage periods of high traffic.  This is particularly important during significant events like natural disasters when critical communications are an important part of the response.  In some cases special operating procedures are implemented to limit traffic in such circumstances.
- Features – specific features such as group communication, fast call set-up, priority calling, data, encryption and direct mode communications are important for critical communications users.  Standardisation is also important so that interoperability and a choice of devices is supported.
Mike Head
Tait Communications Ltd
Committee Member – RFUANZ