May 31, 2017

Network Slicing: The Silver Bullet That Killed Old School Thinking in Critical Communications

Exhibiting at Critical Communications World show in Hong Kong, our Sales VP Tomas Granö and I were party to a number of heated discussions on using IP networks and shared frequencies for mission-critical purposes. The argument pits the old school types, who contend that only Circuit Switch connectivity over owned infrastructure can serve mission critical operations, against another camp that says quite the opposite. Though much more quiet, this latter group represents the majority who argue that infrastructure can be shared but is has to be built more robustly. Perhaps needless to say, we heartily agree. And this doesn’t just relate to the important issue of network planning, but touches on network hopping (as provided by our newest partner, Goodmill Systems) but as well battery life, weight and efficiency.

In fairness, while its true that network sharing for critical communications isn’t there yet, the old school folks, quite rankly seem to be missing the forest for the trees. Priority service levels are already delivered via circuit-based services but they are confined to voice, and in this case most importantly group voice. But with the move to IP we’ve opened a vast sea of services, from detailed location information to HD video and real-time database access, not to mention voice via VoLTE. Public safety organizations are already using these services delivered to them upon shared networks, but their lack of reliability is an unavoidable bi-product of Best Effort. The point is that this will remain the same even on a private, dedicated network, because even if it is serving a smaller number of users this essential character flaw doesn’t disappear.

This all begs the question, not of how public safety organizations are going to afford to build out their own private networks, but rather how we may offer the services they already use on shared commercial networks more reliably. The great news is, we already know the answer. Native to 4G LTE and soon to be the dominant feature of 5G is network slicing which amounts to a silver bullet for public safety and much, much more. Even though the world’s public safety users number only some 70 million, their stuff needs to work well all the time, period. The ability to provide dedicated, SLA-assured slices on existing mobile networks not only removes the pervading conundrum over shared vs. private, but opens up a huge number of opportunities for critical communications organizations and the carriers that support them.

But this coming sea change will need to be managed, and public safety agents will be required to move with the times and onboard new technologies that will radically extend their capabilities. While the current cohort of agents, habituated to using group calls to get information will need to be re-trained, the next generation of operatives will ask which AI system their dispatchers are using. Real-time data delivery is already a component in game-based training where teams solve problems in the field with the help instant, AI-delivered data.

A corollary to this, and though on its face may seem quite different, is in the area of billing. This came up last week at another conference, the TM Live! Forum 2017 in Nice, France with KPN CTO Erik Hoving asking a rather disruptive but squarely on point question. “Why do we have a billing system at all?” he asked, pointing to the fact that the number of digital companies sending bills amounts to about zero. “We’ve spent zillions on BSS, but who wants a bill?” and he’s right. No one wants one, and the cost to carriers for this unwanted part of their service is phenomenal. And yet, just like old school public safety people are reluctant to jump aboard the shared network bandwagon, mobile operators, many of whom define themselves as billing companies, show all the nervousness of an identity crisis when the idea of a bill-free future comes up.

Once again, like dedicated networks, big billing systems are the product of the age oldcircuit switch voice era and are confined to counting minutes or bytes. And this, along with Best Effort is among the core reasons why consumers don’t feel a great deal of loyalty to their carrier or feel the value is there for the high monthly bills they pay. They don’t want to pay a middle man, but they are more than willing to pay content providers for the stuff that they love. On the flip side, one trick pony services like Spotify and Netflix have paved the way for this with unlimited services at bargain basement prices.

As mobile operators venture into these waters, the idea of integrating these services into their behemoth billing systems makes no sense. But further, and what does make sense is moving their entire business model over to unlimited, or time based service and hey, why not go the age-old net zero path and bring those advertisers aboard? Certainly customers love it, and revenue potential is huge.

And while we’re on the subject of revenues, let’s return for a minute to network slicing which will play an enormous role in all of this coming together. While everyone selling any technology will talk about the "Win-Win", or even triple win and always big Op Ex and Cap Ex savings and revenues, I have been in the tech and telecom world for a while and I have never seen anything like this. Network Slicing not only allows the mobile operator to deliver real value within their core business (which is not billing btw), solve the issue of serving multiple industry segments, including public safety, but most importantly all but guarantee a dramatically improved customer experience; and all this at a fraction of the cost of traditional network deployments. What’s more, network slicing can be delivered and paid for OTT in the same way Netflix or Spotify does.. There are too many wins to name, but you get the point.

None of this will happen over night, and certainly it will take a major change to the culture, thinking and business model of the mobile service industry, but the opportunity is simply too great to ignore.

By Mika Skarp, Founder and CTO, Cloudstreet

Mar 30, 2017

Public safety vehicles need to be always online!

For many years, public safety organisations around the world have implemented land mobile radio systems (LMRS) to improve the communication capabilities of their field operations. Some nations have been the forerunners in this area, boosting digital networks with excellent coverage throughout their respective countries. Others are slower to adapt, with rollouts still ongoing in many territories. These systems, whether TETRA, TETRAPOL or P25 technologies, were designed for specific public safety voice applications and often use technology similar to the first digital mobile networks. Although the systems provided a great improvement over voice-only services, their networks now face great limitations due to very low data capacities. Data traffic carried over digital LMRS networks may even jeopardise the primary voice services. 

The data solution required today must improve the main functionality of voice while simultaneously offering data communication that meets the capacity and requirements of public safety. The requirements for current and future critical data connectivity are:
  • Coverage;
  • Availability;
  • Data integrity;
  • Session persistence;
  • Cost efficiency; and
  • Interoperability.
What are the used services?

The required services are the key reason to implement new data connectivity. Services that are needed today within public safety vehicles include:
  • Image and file transfer;
  • Location-based services;
  • Database queries;
  • Biometric checks; and
  • Video streaming.
Information sharing between different public safety operations is a valuable tool for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of these service providers. This means collecting, sharing and forwarding data between databases controlled by different jurisdictions or pure command centre interoperability. These important applications are impossible to implement within the technological limitations of traditional voice and SMS-type data services. It is obvious that broadband capabilities that fit public safety requirements are essential in order to improve efficiency. This creates the next dilemma: what is required from a police broadband solution technically, and how can we afford it?

Using multiple networks is the "blue ocean" of critical connectivity

Utilising multiple networks simultaneously is the key to using these new data applications efficiently. The idea is to combine two or more relatively well-functioning networks into one connection that meets the requirements of field operations. Multi-channel router technology offers the means to utilise existing parallel commercial and/or private networks. Multi-channel routers need to be populated with several wireless terminals supporting a wide variety of different radio technologies or operators’ networks, and directing mission-critical traffic should always be performed using the best connection available. This enables the minimization of investment into new and expensive networks and does not require necessarily allocated frequencies for public safety. 

Services used

As a first example, the services police authorities use with the data connection are many and varied, with the future offering seemingly limitless capabilities. The first step is to enable a basic functionality (e.g. enabling e-mails with larger data files to be sent without interruption). The increased data capacity also significantly improves situational awareness (e.g. seeing in real time where all other units are and what their status is). With broadband data for police vehicles capabilities, it is possible to drastically expand the area within which units can be surveyed. Other immediately accessible services include real-time blogging, where units can write their observations to specific shared pages on a region by region basis. This service in particular has been extremely well received. The safe connection eventually enables easier and secure sharing of confidential information. It is possible to call up a suspect’s criminal record, any outstanding/previous fines, or even vehicle information. With this approach, all the needed tasks can be performed on the spot, while required documents can be created and printed immediately. This includes a wide variety of tasks, including:
  • Reporting an offence;
  • On-the-spot fines;
  • Sentence claims;
  • Preliminary investigations;
  • Crime enquiries;
  • Technical investigations;
  • Weapon register checks;
  • Personal ID checks; and
  • Passport checks.
The use of broadband in ambulances is somewhat similar. The hospital district needs to chart patients and share data in real time in order to more easily manage ambulance trauma workflow and analyse patient data. The applications used help hospitals realise significant clinical and operational benefits, as well as improving performance and quality. It is even possible to capture data using a touchscreen interface, making charting quick, accurate and comprehensive. The applications enable hospitals and staff to see the status of all patients, including real-time information from charting in the field. It is also possible to use a workflow management system that allows agencies to manage EMS through review and approvals, ultimately replacing the paper trail. The hospital district can then use pre-built server reports and a powerful data analytics package to observe trends and effect change. 

Ambulances are outfitted with docking stations and tablet PCs. Data is entered via touch or voice recognition. Paramedics can send patient data in real time to the hospital, but more than this, the system allows users to quickly and accurately capture and relay far more information than a manual method via paper charts. The patient data is then available instantly to the emergency department and clinical audit staff.

Is this economically viable?

Is a multiple network approach an expensive solution due to hardware and software pricing, as well as due to high network data costs? To answer this, one should look at the costs of the whole unit on the wheels. Whether it’s an ambulance or a police car, one can add the costs of two persons in the vehicle to the vehicle costs, easily making between €100 and €200 per hour. The issue with the broadband connectivity is efficiency. Can we use this expense more efficiently if we have a reliable broadband to the vehicle? Yes, we can.

For work efficiency improvement the clue is whether the users actually begin their work on the move. If the connectivity is not good enough, no matter how cheap, the applications will not be used and the availability levels should always be more than 99% – in many cases up to 99.9% is required. Only this high availability assures the office application usage and makes the ‘office on the wheels’ concept a reality. 

The future is now

It has been proven by many implementations around the world that the high data rate and high availability broadband services offer are a tremendous advantage to public safety operations in the field. This is a direct response from users that have used the technology for years. The applications constantly demand more bandwidth, as well as those currently available. In the future, online streaming video will be the killer application.

Additionally, intelligence cannot remain in the vehicle’s on-board computer. This means that safe and high availability access to central databases is a must. A managed multichannel routing solution is the future-proof answer to these needs, and no huge upfront investments are needed: one can start easily with multiple commercial operators and the links can be upgraded to new dedicated networks when they emerge. A wonderful benefit of Goodmill is that it can use any available network technologies now and in the future, provided that there are modems available.

From a monetary point of view, the approach is rock solid. The payback is only weeks due to improved operational efficiency and, most importantly, the solution has been proven to save not only time and money but also lives.

Juhani Lehtonen
Vice-president, Sales and Marketing
Goodmill Systems Ltd
+358 50 572 5542

Oct 28, 2016

The Misunderstood vs. Real Demands of Critical Vehicle Broadband

The development of applications and solutions that help and improve public safety operators’ daily work has been rapid lately. This has led to a situation where traditional public safety narrow band connectivity seldom meets the applications’ requirements today and in near future. This all has been acknowledged by everyone involved in our field. However, there are some misunderstandings and misconceptions of what the connectivity requirements of future will be and even more of what the most beneficial and useful applications and services will be. I will highlight in this short article what type of services are the ones that bring public safety operations to a totally new efficiency level and what type of connectivity only assures that improvement.

The most common mistake any organization makes in developing and implementing the new services is either to take good connectivity as granted or to develop services where connectivity is not crucial. This seems controversial that both of these approaches are wrong. Let me explain.

Often organizations that have first experimented with broadband have come to a conclusion that they cannot rely on the single connection they’ve used and thus develop services where broadband is only “nice to have”. If it’s not there it doesn’t matter, because the connection problems can be replaced with local data storage or by postponing the required tasks to be executed in the office. This has led, as an example, to applications where cameras record everything but the data is saved locally and can be recalled then later in the office. This might be a good thing for the public interest when evaluating actions and procedures, but no use what comes to operational support. Another example is the paperwork on the road. If there is not always connection. the documents need to be downloaded later and there is no possibility to check the background information often needed to fill in all the documents. This often leads to reluctance to actually perform the tasks in the field and they are postponed to be done in the office. Both of these examples, as being improvements for sure, don’t bring the change in efficiency expected by the investors.

The key to significant efficiency improvement is the always online connectivity. If the users can be certain that the connectivity is there, the whole operational picture changes. Some of the users claim that the always online connectivity has brought a change that has been “bigger than changing from horses to cars”! How can this be achieved then?

The first example is the video streaming. With online video streaming the whole concept becomes a command and control solution. Wherever anything worth sharing happens, the unit in the field can share the view with the headquarters and with any other task relevant units. Data is shared online and in this case a picture is truly worth thousand words, minimizing also unnecessary voice traffic. Also recording is possible in this scenario, but the application and use is totally different and recording can happen in vehicle or command and control center. In some countries the camera in the vehicle is already considered the “third officer” due to its capability in information sharing!

Online video streaming is one of the high end solutions, but there are many more significant ones. The real efficiency improvements, when talking about saving time, come from using the vehicle as an office. When the connection is there one can always check any required background info from vehicle registers, customs, criminal records, tax registers; everywhere the officer has rights to. Also the required documents can be always up to date and filled and saved directly in the databases. This means one has to do the work only once. Think of the time savings achieved in writing a simple speeding ticket! In some scenario you can use the bank card to pay the fine on the spot even. We calculated with a client that this online capability saves 1,5 hours every shift in the vehicle. This means yearly savings of approximately € 100 000, - per vehicle per year! Being online to a level that you have uninterrupted broadband connectivity brings the benefits and savings. Any half-baked “low end” connectivity solution that jeopardizes the connectivity also risks the whole investment.

How to then make this happen? One would think that only dedicated country wide LTE network would be the only solution. On the contrary. As a dedicated network brings added resilience and can help to minimize congestion issues, it never provides the only solution. The best way to realize this is to combine available networks in a smart way.

Luckily we have already great examples of the solution. Norway, Finland and Iceland have implemented solutions with only commercial networks, using 2-4 networks depending on the area. Many Middle East countries have selected the dedicated network path supported by one or more commercial operators. The hybrid network approach offers also a very nice evolution path to the dedicated network builders as one does not have to wait until the own network is fully implemented. One uses the dedicated network when available and other alternatives when not. As the network grows, the resilience and the performance of the services increases.

Individual availability of three operators vs. combined "hybrid" availability. First a view of the whole tour statistics and second the statistics in Paris. 

There are also misunderstandings that multiple networks would not together add much to the availability due to site sharing and similar business cases of the operators. In all tests we have conducted this assumption has been proven wrong. We have tens of these tests that show all significant availability boosts. Here as a summary the results of a test conducted by Thales during Tour de France. In these cases, you would suspect network contamination as well as low coverage due to spectator crowds and remote mountain locations of the Tour. Nonetheless, the use of three commercial operators improves the connectivity to a level where it makes the needed difference!

Juhani Lehtonen

Feb 1, 2016

Public Safety Broadband and Mobile Operators: what if (when) the networks fail?

Public safety operations always concentrate on ‘what-if’ – scenarios. The most important one, when talking about mobile broadband, is the scenario of network failure. What happens if the used networks are be down? Too often this question leads to postponing the investments to wait for the perfect solution: “We want guaranteed 100% availability and we don’t do anything before that can be offered.” This leads unfortunately to development paralysis that keeps public safety applications and services tightly in the inefficient working habits of the past. Instead of searching a solution that’s never going to realize, the decision makers should invest into smart modern solutions that enhance the operational capabilities today. You can always, as you should, improve the used solutions to meet the strictest standards also later when you know more about the applications’ demands.

The typical approach for public safety mobile communication has been to build dedicated networks for public safety use. Tetra, Tetrapol and P25 have been the answer to communication in the past and are currently also serving well. You still hear once in a while comments like: “Tetra is the only technology you can rely your life on.” Or like: “Narrow band is the only way to guarantee critical connectivity needs.” For everyone’s information, these networks, like anything we humans do, are never 100% sure either. But what we are certain of, is that PMR solutions don’t provide for the broadband capacity required by modern public safety applications.

Single operator broadband availability in vehicle vs. multichannel router availability

The modern way to enhance the capabilities and to introduce modern working methods and services is to ensure the highest possible broadband availability by using several networks. These networks can be either commercial or a mixture of commercial and dedicated (government owned) networks. This approach gives huge monetary benefits, but also increases the resilience of the solution to a level unseen before in mobile access. The new approach is a paradigm change in our industry. Instead of spending billions in new networks, one can use smartly existing infrastructure and invest only into areas where commercial targets do not support investments.

Juhani Lehtonen

Feb 3, 2015

Save Time, Money and Lives - How to Improve Public Safety Efficiency with Vehicle Broadband Solutions

Smartphones are used today even by our children and countless applications serve the users for better life, work and free time. I use my mobile for e-mail, but also for maps, navigation, parking, and of course entertainment. It is difficult to understand that public servants would have worse or in some cases none of these capabilities. Despite the almost endless debates about public safety network infrastructure demands, it is clear that a well- functioning broadband access would be an important addition to their work. In this blog I’m highlighting the issues on why public safety broadband is important, how it could be implemented and what are the alternative solutions to use.

The importance of mobile broadband to public servants

It would be really important to help public servants to use modern applications. There are vast amount of data available in open or protected data bases that could provide for excellent help. Also very simple modern applications like efficient office programs would be very useful whenever the officers are mobile. Also the modern command and control applications would benefit greatly from broadband. The larger data capacities would allow for up to date maps, more interactive and quicker updating situational pictures and better and broader sharing of data between the mobile units.

The current networks, like Tetra, Tetrapol or P25 are built to provide for high availability voice in critical situations, but also for small amounts of data. How about the current Broadband solutions

The importance of availability

Since we are talking also about saving lives, it is important to note that the availability of the online information is of uttermost importance. If one tries to fetch information from criminal records, latest building drawings in case of fire, or send cardio information to a doctor in hospital, the connectivity is crucial. It might not be a matter of a second or two, but one certainly cannot wait minutes for the data to be delivered.

When we talk about criticality, the command and control application become a focal point. With an efficient C&C application one can share information about other units’ location, target drawings and other various case specific information. More instantaneous the data is, better security it provides for the officers on the case. We have seen live situational picture shared from the criminal site to enhance co-operation and to minimize the inefficient use of mobile voice terminals. But can you rely that the pictures and other important data get transmitted?

One broadband network doesn't do the job a) Commercial networks

The most common mistake public safety has made is to rely solemnly on one commercial broadband network. It almost seems like all concentration with the development is on the applications. Too often the connectivity issues is handles by a short notions “… oh and we’ll use the broadband of the number one commercial operator, with a dongle or similar.” One network is never enough, no matter if it is a commercial or even a dedicated network. It is not within any foreseen organization’s or nations capabilities to build redundancy and availability required just for one network.

All networks have occasional service break downs, larger or smaller scale. Network have internal IP addressing changes also that break the links and require for a new connection set-up. A very normal availability over any larger single network when in full operation is about 96-98%.

One broadband network doesn’t do the job b) Dedicated networks

The obvious and most used solution to the broadband question in the market is to repeat the previous implementations in a new environment. The communication of public safety has been previously done by dedicated networks. It all started with RF – radios and with digitization the P25, Tetra and Tertrapol technologies have been implemented. These regional or even countrywide implementations have been paid with the taxpayers’ money and the argumentation for the need has been along the lines like “this is the only solution you can trust your life on”. Well, no solution is 100% sure and despite not much communicated, we know that the existing digital PMR networks are far from being perfect. A good questions today is if really a dedicated network is even needed for the voice services? There are novel push to talk possibilities, various MVNO approaches and such that could even replace the existing networks. If we select a dedicated networks for the public safety use, we should consider the cost vs. benefit.

How about the broadband data then? The approximate user amount of a dedicated networks compared to a commercial one is about 0,5%. The dedicated networks builders argue their point that this small amount of users isn’t interesting enough for the commercial operators. So is the answer to build an own networks with even higher availability requirements on top of that? With a simple calculation the cost would be 200 fold! How much are we really prepared to pay for this services? There is always a limit to everything and I have hard time to believe that dedicated network especially in Broadband would as a single solution fly anywhere.

I understand the need for something special in cases of network congestion during certain areas in crisis or coverage for remote areas where there is no business case for the connectivity for commercial networks. But elsewhere the commercial solution is very interesting.

A multichannel approach is needed

Everything previously discussed summarizes that utilizing hybrid dedicated and commercial networks or a combination of commercial networks brings the availability to the accepted level for Public Safety vehicle use. It is then always a matter of resilience on what the approach selected in each region or country would be. What we have experienced is that with constant monitoring capabilities and Mobile IP enhanced session persistence, the multiple networks approach combined with selecting always the best one even exceeds the current needs. The key elements include that multichannel routing solution needs to have short switch over time between networks and that the sessions need to stay up when the IP addressing changes. The solution needs to be network agnostic, so that the applications don’t have to know anything about network changes!

Goodmill example: systems’ benefits

Goodmill has most likely the largest installed base of managed multichannel routers in the public safety in the world. The solution has been used in nationwide implementations for years with MBTF of more than 400 000 hours for the routers in use. The remote management (over-the air) OTA management capabilities provide for constant online view of the whole fleet connectivity and provides access to routers whenever needed. All software features can be remotely updated quickly and without any specific routing knowledge. The product family consists of multiple routers from desktop applications to highly rugged versions with EN50155 vibration tolerance and IP65 environmental protection. The much specified customer base includes highly skilled and most advanced public safety operators in the world. Company will grow and develop the products to meet the highest standards also in the future.

What is economically viable?

I have met many partners and customers who have stated that multiple network approach is an expensive solution, not only due to hardware and software pricing, but also due to high network data costs. Let’s look at this with a bit more detail.

First of all one should look at the costs of the whole unit on the wheels. No matter if it’s ambulance or police car, one can easily calculate the costs of two persons in the vehicle and the vehicle costs jointly adding easily up to €100 to €200 per hour. The issue with the broadband connectivity is efficiency. Can we use this expense more efficiently if we have a reliable broadband to the vehicle? Well, for sure we can!

The availability increase by using 2-4 WAN links instead of one is very dependent on area and country. However, in almost all cases only the availability increase and the efficiency it brings, gives paybacks according to our calculations of less than 6 months. As short as seven weeks paybacks have been reported, and this includes all the extra network and equipment costs! The normal availability increase is about 3-4 percent, but also even 18-19 percent increases over single network have been registered!

It the table we have concluded some data from a police vehicle used in Scandinavia. The clue is, whether the users actually start to do their work on the run. If the connectivity is not good enough, no matter how cheap, the applications will not be used! As an example the Goodmill’s router solution brings almost always the availability to a commonly accepted “office level” availability and thus enables the full use of the efficiency enhancing apps! The availability levels need to be always more than 99% and in many cases up to 99,9% is required. Only this availability doesn't affect negatively the office application usage and the “office on the wheels” gives huge advantage with hours of effective working time savings each shift!

The savings are achieved because the reliability of connectivity is so high that the office work can be done in the field. Everything is done only once, directly in the database. For instance parking tickets and other forms can be electronically filled already in the car, so no paper to computer tasks are required. Additionally customer's identity can be checked by using online photos and videos and unnecessary trips to precinct can be avoided. Additional advantages include improved safety for officers and customers and obviously much improved situational awareness all in all!

Why to choose seamless multichannel routing: a summary

It is thus proven that the high data rate and high availability broadband services give a tremendous advantage to police and public safety operations on the field. This is direct response from users that have used the technology even for years now. The applications demand all the time more bandwidth, also the current ones in use. In the future online streaming video will be the killer application.

Additionally all the intelligence cannot remain in the vehicle computer. This means that safe and high availability access to central databases is a must. A managed multichannel routing solution is the future proof answer to the needs and no huge upfront investments are needed: one can start easily with multiple commercial operators. The links can be easily upgraded to new dedicated networks when they emerge. A wonderful benefit of Goodmill is that it can use any available network technologies now and in the future, provided that there are modems available.

From monetary point of view the approach is rock solid. The payback is from only some weeks to months in pure savings for the whole systems introduced! And most importantly: the solution has proven to save not only time and money, but also lives!

The author is Juhani Lehtonen, Sales and Marketing Vice President of Goodmill Systems Ltd. Juhani’s details can be found in LindedIn at:

Aug 12, 2014

Hybrid Mobile Network Use in Public Safety Vehicles

The recent hot potato in the public safety discussion has been mobile broadband data. The question of how to bring the broadband to public safety vehicles has multiple opposing viewpoints and conflicts of opinion.

The first answer to implementing broadband into vehicles is to build dedicated networks for authorities. The second solution is to use a commercial provider with special deals to offer the data capacity required. The third option includes several hybrid solutions, either combining dedicated and commercial networks or using multiple commercial ones.

Tests conducted in various locations across the US and Europe prove that hybrid commercial network use is a viable solution that can be later improved by adaptation of dedicated networks. This observation has already led to implementation of a fully commercial network based solutions in Scandinavia. The fully commercial solution does not limit the usage of dedicated networks like FirstNet, but due to lack of frequencies this has been the only way in many countries so far.

The key element of this solution is a managed multichannel router system. This system enables easier, secure sharing of confidential information. It is now possible to call up a suspect’s criminal record, any outstanding/previous fines or even vehicle information. With this approach, all the needed office tasks can be performed on the spot, while required documents can be created and printed immediately.

Users claim that co-operation has been elevated to an entirely new level. Information is more transparent thanks to task handling, shared blogs and the collection of statistics. The reliability of data transmission and sharing of critical information has and continues to improve significantly. Misunderstandings are reduced because different patrols can now locate each other from a shared map resource. This has led to gains in the command and control chain, with field management proving more efficient thanks to better allocation of resources.

Authorities have been extremely satisfied with presented system. Routers have changed and continue to change field operations and management due to provided capabilities for new applications. Also the addition of a dedicated LTE network to the solution is possible whenever a new networks is implemented giving also a future proof solution. It has been already shown that this technology saves time, resources, money and lives.

Juhani Lehtonen
VP Sales and Marketing
Goodmill Systems Ltd.

Apr 14, 2014

The Reasons Why Link Aggregation Does Not Work for Public Safety Mobile Broadband

The use of commercial networks in public safety has been a hot topic recently. Many countries have introduced concepts to offer public safety connectivity with variable results. One hot topic in how to use commercial networks is to utilize multiple networks at the same time. The reason for this is a natural reasoning since one commercial network occasionally has capacity problems: let’s combine many to always provide a good broadband solution. However, this reasoning lacks the understanding of the basic functionality of how mobile networks function. This misunderstanding has led to bad results in tests and occasionally to abandon the concept of using commercial networks for this critical user group.

What is it we’re talking about, really?

First it is important to understand the terms. We need to differentiate load sharing from link aggregation or “bundling” as often referred to. 

Load sharing sends different data streams to different WAN links and “balances” the load between the links. It either sends always different types of traffic to different links or works with and “water flow” principle when one link is full using the second one. The problem with this is that the data sharing is application based and individual application cannot be distributed over multiple links. Usually only one application, live video streaming requires the capacity that would need multiple links. This problem cannot thus be resolved with lead sharing.

Aggregation or bundling builds one “big pipe” of data over multiple links. This enables all individual applications to treat all combined links as one. The challenge comes from when one link is cut off; the whole aggregated frame needs to be built again. One big hinder in this solution is the extremely dynamic nature of mobile data networks. Aggregation can with current technology only give always only X times the worst link capacity, X being the amount of links!

Let’s look at these challenges more closely.

Challenges with load sharing or load balancing

The first challenge is to consider what is the criterion to share the load? Are we just having two times normal links with separate and dedicated data for each link? Or are we using some kind of “water fall” approach with filling one link first and then directing the overflow to the other links? With dynamic mobile networks in moving vehicles the network throughput capacities change constantly. To suit the correct amount of traffic into each link and then changing traffic between links when capacities change create problems.

With load balancing approach it is impossible for any router to share the traffic over multiple links unless you have multiple VPN tunnels. IP address - based load sharing would then only be possible with multiple VPN’s and the solution would be limited to “best effort” type use.

Most importantly: if an application demands more that the primary link, it cannot be shared. This means that live video streaming would not work. For live video streaming the aggregation would be the logical solution.

Challenges with link aggregation or bundling

Link aggregation enables capacity sharing over all links.  The joint delays are always at least at the level of the worst link used.  All link interruptions need a new build for the whole frame and this would need to happen all the time, even hundreds of times a day. This creates even more delays since the rebuild of the frame needs time. It is common to have some kind of a connectivity break in any network every few minutes over any of the used links. 

The rebuild of the aggregated stream is always depending on the latency of the worst link and it is thus very difficult to use interactive communication like VoIP or video conferencing due to continuous and frequent delays. The ITU standard defines the minimum one directional latency for voice to be at the most 150 ms. This can very seldom be reached with network interruptions in aggregated solutions. Additionally aggregation always needs a dedicated back-end system that can be very expensive due to large number of needed logical ports.

What is then the best solution?

Let’s consider the possibility of having a system where the link quality is always tested and the best available link would always be used. This would mean following capacities.

Fast switch from network to another in this case provides always better capacity than link aggregation. The similar would apply to load sharing, since the allocation of capacity due to very dynamic environment disables the allocation to its full extent. 

This means that one demanding application, like live video streaming cannot be used over load sharing over multiple links and the framing of the aggregated data stream creates delays and cannot utilize the best capacities of the available networks. There is evidence that supports this statement. With a test in Scandinavia a solution with 5 aggregated 3G links was able to give only 700 Kbit/s capacity despite the existence of 3G networks. If any of the links was occasionally using Edge capacities, this would mean 5 X 128 Kbit/s approximately. Simultaneously there is several HSPA+ or even LTE networks available with multiple Mbit/s over any single link! A suitable option would thus be something like presented in the picture below. 

This scenario requires a capability to monitor the link quality and cautious proactive switching between networks. The first tests of this approach have been leading to implementations with high-end applications like VoIP and live video.


Modern networks are developing and growing fast and the capacity over one link is often tens of megabits per second generally. This is enough for all current modern applications including live video streaming, VoIP and combinations of these. Using multiple networks with always selecting the best one gives very short delay times. With quick switch over from network to another one can reach the best overall link quality, availability and resilience. Load sharing and aggregation seldom meet the requirements for public safety mobile broadband data. Proactive selection of best mobile link is thus currently the Best in Class solution for applications that demand uninterrupted broadband connectivity.

Juhani Lehtonen