Next week, about 30 companies and more than a 100 engineers will get together in the town of Kuopio in northern Finland, with one common goal – to ensure their companies’ products are interoperable.
Interoperability is in the DNA of Softil, going back almost 25 years to the days of Radvision. As an IP Communications pioneer (Radvision’s very first product, back in 1992, was a Videoconferencing gateway converting H.320 to video over IP) with a square focus on the open standards, interoperability was always in the forefront of activities. When it comes to open standards, your solution is only as good as the number of vendors you can successfully interoperate with. Those other vendors might well be your fiercest competitors – and nevertheless, when those competing solutions can successfully interwork, everyone ends up a winner.
It often seems that with the proprietary solution one company can control the world. That might hold some truth – usually, for a short while. Open standards enable totally different level of innovation by creating much higher common ground when compared to any proprietary solution. Interoperability is a cornerstone of the open standards, establishing a common set of features and functionality across all implementations, and enabling all companies to focus on innovation without worrying about the basics.
We often take technology for granted. During last 20 years, which is merely a blip in terms of human time, the way we communicate changed dramatically. 20 years ago you would have to search hard for the homes which didn’t have the landline phones – and today, it is exactly the opposite. We are spoiled with the ability to communicate on the go, using voice and video, speaking directly into the open air. Nobody really thinks that we need to thank open standards for all these everyday conveniences – and countless hours invested by engineers from all the competing companies in making the products interoperable. Looking back at 20+ years of Softil’s history we can easily account for more than a hundred of interoperability testing events, between IMTC InterOps and SuperOps, SIP Forum SIPit and SIMPLEit, IMS Forum Plugfests, various ETSI Plugtests, and other interoperability testing events (usually abbreviated as IOT events) – and this is simply the norm among the companies producing IP Communication products.
IP communications technology evolves in waves. In the 1990s, it was H.323, the original standard for Voice and Video over IP. H.323 was slowly replaced by SIP, which evolved to add IMS into the mix to enable voice and video communications in mobile networks. Advent of LTE saw next wave of evolution communication technologies with appearance of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Video over LTE (ViLTE).
The latest wave of 3GPP technologies is looking to advance the communications for professional users, and particularly those who need the fast, modern and reliable communications more than anyone else – we are talking about First Responders. 3GPP Release 13 introduced a set of technologies collectively known as Mission Critical Communications, with a goal of enabling powerful, reliable, prioritized, manageable and highly secure group communications. Release 13 was focused on so called Mission Critical Push-to-Talk, or MCPTT for short. Release 14 added mission critical video (MCVideo) and mission critical data (MCData), and releases 15 and 16 (almost complete) added many advanced mechanisms for user management, interconnect between mission critical systems, radio systems (LMR) interworking, and more.
First ETSI MCX Plugtest, actually called MCPTT plugtest, which adequately stresses the scope of the testing (MCPTT), took place a little more than two years ago, in June of 2017. The test document for that plugtest included less than 50 test cases, was limited primarily to the mission critical push-to-talk, and was mostly conducted over standard LAN. The test document to be used during the next week’s testing includes more than 150 test cases, and will cover mission critical PTT, video, data, configuration management, key management and security, and lots more. The testing next week will include the use of actual LTE access (eNodeB), real handsets with real SIM cards, over variety of IMS and EPC implementations. MCX solutions are getting ready for the prime time.
It is important to remember that interoperability is a journey, not a destination. Of course, it is a cliché, but it is still the truth. Interoperability is essential to establish and maintain, as the price for broken interoperability might be way too high, especially when it comes to the communication technology which is essential for saving lives. The testing exercise next week is an important step in getting that MCX solutions in the hands of the users – one test at a time.