On a mission

Walid Lahoud, Head of Sales, MENA Airbus SLC talks to Comms MEA on the company’s expanding market in the region
Tetra, 5G


How are local emergency services managing the change between mobile broadband technologies and existing digital radio systems (such TETRA)?
In the public safety world and emergency world, broadband is quite new; traditionally, it has been voice and narrow band. Therefore, the final management of TETRA services in broadband is still not completely defined. As a manufacturer, we are helping emergency services customers to define their strategies and policies. This is because it is important to introduce broadband into the industry as it brings more capabilities to public safety such as data and video. 

Are the challenges of adding broadband to public safety technological or operational?
Voice in digital radio systems today is completely secure and has been proven since the 90s. But voice over broadband is not secure at all it and has actually failed several times, so the voice has to remain in the digital sphere. The data on broadband is still being tested and is proving very reliable. The main technological issue is how to bridge between this digital voice between the narrowband and broadband.

What’s Airbus's strategy in introducing broadband to TETRA? Is it deploying smartphone technology to TETRA or is it bringing TETRA to smartphones?
We are using Android to host Tetra functions; Android is a strong technology and so that is why we decided to pursue this strategy. There are some other manufacturers that decided to use a TETRA platform on top of which they are adding Android platform. This approach is proving problematic.

What are some of the frequency issues in the Middle East and what needs to be done to manage these?
All public safety organisations in the region run their own private networks and don’t rely on commercial operators or third parties. However, there are no earmarked frequencies for emergency service currently. However, regulators are starting to understand the importance of dedicated frequencies and are starting to carry out new frequency mapping in order to allocate frequencies to public safety organisations. In the Middle East, the fight over frequencies is being addressed

How is the region’s move to embrace 5G networks helping resolve (or further complicate) these issues?5G is progressing very fast; our devices and our applications support 5G but today but there are still a lot of question marks on how the industry will address 5G.

Airbus has spoken about hybrid networks and equipment for some time; are local emergency services embracing this technology?
We found out that voice is not reliable on broadband so we decided to keep it on the narrow-band and to develop additional services to utilise broadband. We have a hybrid product that has taken us time to convince the customer of its validity. Many customers were hasty; they wanted to scrap TETRA to move to-wards full broadband. Some tried and failed and came back to our hybrid solution. Our hybrid solution became mature only at the beginning of the year and we have customers implementing it. It is proving very successful with positive feedback from users. We believe that this is the ideal progression path before moving fully to LTE and broadband.

Are there cost limitations in adopting broadband for providers?
Customers are not scrapping TETRA when they move to broadband. They are keeping their investment but adding a broadband layer on their existing infrastructure. This helps to justify any investment they may be making in this area.

Airbus is LTE agnostic. Users can use technology from any LTE vendor and we will add our application and security layer on top of that.

Data requirements for emergency services is skyrocketing with rising demand for video and image support. Please discuss
Airbus SLC is keeping track of these changes and we have created several programs in our portfolio. I can mention two: Situation awareness and mission management. You need to use the data coming from different sources to create awareness and mission management because you need to help the user to execute his mission. We have been operating for more than 35 years and accompanying public safety organisations. This is the difference between typical mobile operators or LTE manufacturers.  By working closely with public safety organisations, so understand exactly what they need. When we are creating a mission management programme, we know exactly what the missions are that they need to do, and we create those scenarios in order to define how we can support them. For example in stress management awareness, by using sensors to capture the stress of a user, you can determine if he should continue the mission, or he should abort it.

How is Airbus working with application developers to provide more apps/services for Secure Land Communications?
At Airbus, we have applications at the centre of our offerings. We produce some in-house applications but the most important part is that we have created a common platform that allows applications developers to talk to our customers and to develop applications that are specific to their needs. We will not bring applications from Europe to apply it in the UAE for example; we determine what UAE customers need and then our application developer partners can developing applications addressing the specific requirements. To do so, we have created several hackathons in which we invite our customers to be the judge and jury, they evaluate the applications and decide which suits their needs.

Our APIs are very secure; although our APIs are open, we screen and we supervise developers to avoid any security risks.

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