Testing Times for Mission Critical Comms


It wasn’t surprising the main topic at the annual event for Public Safety Communications was the importance of having reliable communications for the emergency services. For those of us in telecoms this will be a real test of the network as, for the first time, those critical services will be sharing it with the public.

As you know Airwave had its own dedicated service but moving to Emergency Services Network (ESN) will mean using the mobile phone network and all that goes with it. Firstly, there is the variability question. I know friends who get no signal in one room in their house but a perfect signal in another.

Secondly there is the question of congestion. I don’t know about you but whenever I have been to a concert or sporting event half the audience are live streaming it back to their friends. Of course, the emergency services will have priority but nevertheless think of the bandwidth that is being used up.

Thirdly there is reliability. The last thing the emergency services want is to lose the signal en-route to a call out but the chances are it will happen.

These were the sort of issues being hotly debated at the show and as exhibitors it gave our team at Roscom a first-hand opportunity to hear from the police, fire and ambulance services their concerns about the future. We also spoke to service providers about how they want to solve the problems.

Of course, we don’t yet know when the changeover from Airwave to ESN will take place. It was due to be next year but that is unlikely now. The project is already way behind. So, we do have time and this is where those of us in telecoms can come in.

Mission critical comms affects us all. Our families, our friends, the person next to us at the concert. It is important we pull together to make this work.

Roscom’s specialist engineers carried out the testing for Airwave back in 2003 covering thousands of square miles on foot, car, boat and aircraft testing air to ground, ship to shore and subterranean. As a British company built on an aerospace engineering background we understand how critical it is to achieve 100 per cent accuracy in our testing and that’s really is where we need to start.

The testing needs to be thorough and crisis tested against the places where crowds gather like football stadia, concert venues and transport hubs. We believe relying on data from the public use of commercial networks is not precise enough…..and we are not the only ones.

This isn’t a matter of being critical for the sake of it. It’s about finding the gaps to help the networks fill them in. At the very least we need to make sure ESN is as good as Airwave. At the very best it needs to be even better and the only way to find out is to test it.

Mandy Blackburn, Operations Director at Roscom.