Mission critical

How GCC telecom operators can enable public safety communications

Executive summary

In recent years, there have been public safety and security incidents around the world, involving fatalities and damage to property and infrastructure, which could have been mitigated by a faster first response. Governments are often not fully equipped to respond to such incidents. They often rely on commercial networks, which are prone to crashing during such events. Or they use siloed legacy professional mobile radio (PMR) networks that are outdated, are not interoperable, and do not offer the necessary broadband capabilities for successful operational interventions.

Governments and enterprises need broadband communication networks, known as mission critical communications, for their public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) forces and for their critical national infrastructures (CNI). Such networks allow instant group communications with a high degree of reliability, availability, and security. Broadband is important because emergency and security systems increasingly provide real-time information that involves transmitting significant amounts of data in a reliable and uninterrupted manner.

Telecom operators in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are well positioned to provide such networks and related services. They are already at the center of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) commercial deployments and have developed all the necessary capabilities to operate this technology effectively. Telecom operators have three options to pursue jointly or individually to become mission critical LTE providers: an upgraded commercial network, a greenfield mission critical network, and a hybrid brownfield network. Their range of service offerings to monetize their mission critical LTE infrastructure investments is in three main categories: communications, video, and telemetry (the automatic recording and wireless transmission of data from remote sources). To succeed, telecom operators need to act in three areas: network deployment strategy, go-to-market approach, and operations capabilities.

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The emergency problem

Despite all the technical and financial capabilities of governments and enterprises around the world, there have been a number of security threats and industrial incidents in recent years. Moreover, the responses to them have been inadequate. Although implementing high-quality security and safety procedures to prevent the occurrence of such events is crucial, eliminating them entirely is impossible. When these incidents do occur, all personnel mandated with the safety and security of people and assets must be equipped with the right tools to conduct their activities with high operational efficiency, particularly, fail-safe communications networks. This is precisely the area in which governments and enterprises often fall short. Telecom operators can step in to provide the necessary capabilities.

Two types of organizations, in particular, require communications capabilities that enable effective interventions when incidents occur. These are public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) units and critical national infrastructure (CNI) operators.

PPDR units: These comprise first responders that are responsible for the health, safety, security, and welfare of citizens, such as police forces, firefighters, and ambulance staff. First responders need mission critical communications in the following scenarios:

  • Police officer group coordination and license plate recognition for identifying suspect vehicles
  • Firefighter group coordination, fire location monitoring, real-time provision of detailed location information and direction, and monitoring the physical well-being of firefighters
  • Remote coordination by ambulances with hospitals for monitoring the condition of patients
  • Coordination with headquarters, compiling information (such as a detailed location map) for a raid, and the monitoring of vehicle location

CNI operators: These comprise personnel overseeing infrastructure that is critical to the effective functioning of society, such as nuclear or electric power plants, reservoirs and water supply, oil and gas rigs and pipelines, mines and quarries, and key public transportation assets, such as airports and train networks. Examples of when CNI operators need mission critical communications include:

  • Fleet monitoring for railway and metro operations
  • Remote control and diagnosis of oil platforms or rigs, pipelines, power plants, and mines
  • Group coordination in airports including ground operations, fueling, fire and rescue, cleaning and catering, customs and immigration

A number of recent incidents have shown how important it is for PPDR units and CNI operators to intervene quickly and effectively, either to thwart such incidents or to react to limit the damage. If they are unable to do so, the consequences can be devastating. To be able to intervene swiftly and coordinate their responses and activities with other units, PPDR units and CNI operators need reliable and efficient mobile communications that are labeled “mission critical.”

Mission critical networks differ substantially from commercial networks. The latter, principally constructed for the mass market, are not designed to handle peak traffic and support real-time group communications, nor are they built with fully redundant architecture. They are therefore exposed to congestion and availability issues.

Four recent examples demonstrate the importance of mission critical communications.

  • On March 22, 2016, three coordinated suicide bombings were carried out in Brussels, Belgium, in a limited radius and within hours of each other. So many people used their phones simultaneously to call family and friends that the network of the incumbent operator Proximus was paralyzed for eight hours. However, emergency services were able to rely on the Belgian public safety network to communicate and coordinate their activities successfully.
  • On New Year’s Eve 2015, a fire broke out in the Address Downtown hotel in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Owing to the swift intervention of first responders who were using a unified communications network to coordinate their activities, residents were evacuated quickly with minimal casualties.
  • On April 16, 2014, the MV Sewol ferry, transporting more than 470 passengers and crew, sank off the coast of South Korea. First responders found it difficult to coordinate their activities because of the multiple legacy communications systems operated by the different intervention units. The final death toll reached 304. A month later, the South Korean government decided to unify and upgrade the first responders’ communications system, while also integrating high-speed data into their capabilities.
  • In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan hit the southern U.S. In addition to massive property and infrastructure damage, power cuts affected more than 1.8 million people in multiple states. However, Southern Linc, a mission critical network operator, remained largely intact with only 8 percent of its cell sites affected by the storm, enabling the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other public safety bodies to coordinate their interventions effectively.

As the preceding examples suggest, PPDR units and CNI operators have a critical need for voice communications and an increasing need for broadband data usage. Moreover, it is clear that just one network should be used by all organizations (PPDRs and CNIs alike) to ensure that interventions are effectively coordinated.

Mission critical networks differ substantially from commercial networks.

Success factors

To succeed in mission critical services, telecom operators should consider specific actions in three areas: network deployment strategy, go-to-market approach, and operations capabilities.

Network deployment strategy
Telecom operators should rely on a combination of the different deployment models available, each adapted to a specific type of area, thereby rolling out a mission critical network while simultaneously optimizing the underlying investments. This implies the maximum reutilization of all existing high-cost assets, such as towers, and parts of backhaul and backbone that are redundant. In addition, telecom operators can aim to strike a PPP with the government, thereby enabling the necessary spectrum for mission critical LTE, and the buy-in of PPDRs who constitute the majority of potential users.

Go-to-market approach
Telecom operators should put communications services at the top of the priority list, followed by video streaming services. Video streaming is the service that consumes the most data, so it could be offered on a limited basis at first, perhaps only to clients who need it as a mandatory bundle with other services. This offering can later be expanded as network capacity is increased to cater for demand.

Within their go-to-market strategy, telecom operators should develop a premium pricing model. Mission critical offerings should be differentiated from comparable yet commercial business-to-business offerings currently provided by commercial networks with less stringent SLAs, and can lead to high ARPUs. This should be accompanied by an effective communication campaign aiming to shift the perception of government entities and enterprises in relation to telecom operators. These customers should ideally see operators less as commercial communications providers and more as mission critical communications providers and national security partners. Telecom operators will need to convince others about their capability to provide both types of communications via networks with different SLAs and levels of hardening.

Operations capabilities Telecom operators should consider separating certain activities into two distinct parts, one for commercial and one for mission critical services. For instance, network operations teams will not have the same SLAs. Creating dedicated teams for each type of network can therefore serve to optimize technical interventions. The same applies for customer support, where a dedicated team should be made available at all times of day for mission critical customers. This is not necessarily needed for commercial customers.

Telecom operators should rely on a combination of the different deployment models available.


Telecom operators are well-positioned to succeed in the mission critical market, and provide the vital telecommunications support that governments and enterprises need at times of crisis. Although it seems certain that the mission critical market will expand at a rapid rate, many operators still have to make important strategic decisions about the precise services they can offer, and the actions to be taken to exploit this opportunity. With careful judgment and the right choices, the potential gain for telecom operators could be significant.

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Jad Hajj

Jad Hajj

Partner, Strategy& Middle East

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