Role of disruptive technology in APAC communities

Henrik Nørrelykke is Vice President, Land Mobile at Cobham SATCOM.

Only by combining LTE MCPTT systems with L-band satellite solutions and new network agnostic push-to-talk gateways can disruptive technologies effectively serve remote and vulnerable APAC communities.

From first responders to utilities and transport providers, all industries operating in remote areas of APAC rely heavily on radio communication to fulfil their daily jobs. For many of them, radio coverage issues are a regular occurrence, with white spots – where there’s little to no radio reception – constraining their ability to provide vital services. This can have serious consequences, from restricting access to energy supplies to disrupting the provision of clean water and sanitation, and even putting lives in danger by limiting access to emergency healthcare and law enforcement.

In remote areas, including rural communities in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, new radio communications technologies that enable clear, consistent and uninterrupted communication between all parties are keenly demanded by citizens and service providers.

The radio communications industry has recognised the need for change, and disruption in the market is rife. Right now, the main focus is on transitioning traditional LMR or DMR radios to long-term evolution (LTE) technology. First movers who have already adopted these new radio networks include the US, the UK, Australia and South Korea.

The US for example recently rolled out its FirstNet system, designed “to develop, build and operate a nationwide broadband network that equips first responders to save lives and protect US communities”. The system has been established with considerable investment in LTE mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT).

For APAC, FirstNet provides tangible lessons in terms of driving interoperability and encouraging the use of MCPTT systems (the system brings a number of benefits, including access to 4G, increased network capacity and speed to mobile device users). However, it falls short of its mission to deliver nationwide coverage unless additional provisions can be made to address white spots in remote areas with little or no LTE coverage.
This issue is universal. If APAC countries also choose to invest in LTE MCPTT systems, then their first responders, utilities and other organisations operating in far-flung locations will experience similar issues.

Fortunately, the coverage gaps in remote areas can now be plugged by combining LTE MCPTT systems with L-band satellite solutions. This approach provides comprehensive and seamless coverage in non-urban areas where LTE and trunk radio are unavailable. L-band satellite terminals provide continuous, uninterrupted connectivity regardless of geographical location. They also provide a high degree of resilience regardless of environmental impact, including natural disasters, as they do not rely on a terrestrial network. In addition, L-band satellite solutions operate seamlessly with LTE MCPTT, LMR and DMR, consistently enabling seamless and continuous radio connectivity, as well as a continuous interface between the user’s data device (computer, tablet or smartphone) and the central IT systems.

On-the-ground support can access this technology by extending VHF/UHF-based trunk radio systems with push-to-talk (PTT) solutions. A combination of radio, LTE and satellite provides users with beyond-line-of-sight voice and data communication that systematically routes communications between the most reliable terrestrial (2G/3G/LTE) and satellite (L-band) networks (multiple bearers). Such network-agnostic, user-friendly solutions provide a failsafe solution that enables users to make mission-critical and often life-saving voice calls, as well as send and receive important data in all conditions.

With great strides already being made to improve radio communication, APAC, with its vast number of white spots, is primed to make the leap into LTE MCPTT systems. Yet as the region considers upgrades to its radio communications networks, decision-makers should not lose sight of the limitations of LTE MCPTT systems.