Tel Aviv, 19 December 2023 — Softil, the world’s leading mission-critical communications (MCX) enabler, today issues its annual outlook for the disruptive MCX industry covering the 2024 period and highlights ten probable advances in group communications that the coming year will bring.
“The past decade has brought seismic change in the way that first responders communicate,” says Pierre Hagendorf, Softil’s CEO. “The year 2024 will see the life-changing technology continue to broaden its outreach in public safety agencies and extend its functionality and usage in MCX and FRMCS deployments.”
5G Private Networks
When it comes to MCX deployments, the most typical scenario is deployment in service provider networks such as AT&T FirstNet, KT SafeNet, or Southern Linc’s Critical Linc, etc … At the same time, as MCX technology is already mature, it is a perfect candidate for the deployment outside a major service provider’s reach – especially when it comes to, for example, utilities or oil, gas and mining. The utility companies often operate their own, private communication networks, and considering the level of maturity of MCX, group communications technology is perfectly suitable for private network deployments – which align very well with the increased proliferation of 5G private networks. We should expect to see more and more deployments of MCX within private 5G networks in 2024.
5G-Sidelink, V2X and Device to Device
For many verticals, it is imperative that devices be able to discover each other and then communicate with each other anywhere in the world. More often than not, and most importantly, device-to-device communications should work when no network is available. Device to Device (D2D) communications without using the network (whether the network is available or not), often called Direct Mode, is a critical success element in a variety of applications, but of all the use cases, the ones that clearly stand out are – communication between cars and infrastructure (V2X) and communication between first responders or any public safety users for that matter. Implementation of such D2D solutions for broadband devices were attempted before, but only now, with the advancements in 5G, real solutions are starting to appear in the form of the 5G-Sidelink standard. The year 2023 has already seen serious advancements in this space with Qualcomm, the major mobile chipset supplier, bringing 5G-Sidelink implementations for the MCX interoperability testing event (ETSI MCX Plugtest #8); Softil was delighted to be a part of the D2D interoperability demonstration in front of observers at the Plugtest. 5G-Sidelink with its ground breaking technology can provide at least 1.2km line-of-sight communication capabilities (can go higher) on standard cellular handheld devices, solving the important challenge of enabling forces on the ground to communicate with each other no matter what. All in all, this is an important step in the right direction, and we expect more advances in this space in 2024.
Internet of [lifesaving] Things
One of the key goals of 5G technology is efficient Machine to Machine (M2M) communications. As 5G is advancing along the Plateau of Productivity (if you are not familiar with the term, see Gartner Technology Adaption Curve), it enables better and more efficient communication for the myriad of devices comprising Internet of Things (IoT) universe. Many verticals are set to benefit from the advancements in the IoT space, including public safety and first responders. For example, think about the great number of sensors that can be placed on a first responder’s uniform – body vitals, temperature, barometric pressure, shot detection and so on – your imagination is the only limit here – and all of this data available in real time in the decision center, all thanks to ubiquitous 5G connectivity. We expect to see more and more solutions in IoLST (Internet of Life Saving Things) next year, and every year after that.
Machine Learning (ML) for MCX
It is well known that ubiquitous broadband enables an opportunity for a data flood. With billions of devices connected to the broadband network, the amount of data available for processing is simply immesurable. Specifically in Mission Critical Communications (MCX), the amount of data that is available and needs to be processed in real time is huge – sensors, audio streams, video streams from multiple sources (body-worn cameras, street cameras, traffic cameras), location data, images and lots more. Considering this “data ocean,” Machine Learning (ML) comes to the rescue – computers can take on processing and analyzing the data and make recommendations to a dispatcher – learning in the process and improving its algorithms to be able to help better next time. We predict significant advances in ML applications for MCX use cases in 2024 and beyond.
MCX in the Cloud
In simple terms, MCX is just a standards-based group communications technology. While public safety was the primary beneficiary of new open-standards based broadband group communications technologies, it was also clear that many other user types, from utilities to transportation to mining to even retail, can also take advantage of the same standard. At this point in time, MCX communication solutions have already reached an advanced stage, where core technology is stable and can now extend its reach to the 5G Cloud, offering the same group communications benefits to enterprise users. As 5G Cloud deployments grow, we expect to see more MCX cloud deployments in the years to come.
FRMCS (Future Railway Mobile Communications System) is a critical technology for high-speed railways and an essential part of the European Green Deal. Today’s high-speed train communications are based on the GSM-R, an old 2G technology that is rapidly sun setting, thus FRMCS, a 5G based technology, needs to become fully operational during the next decade. FRMCS, actively being developed by the UIC with the assistance of 3GPP, ETSI, UNIFE and many other organizations, will enter the second phase of trials next year and we expect that further development of FRMCS technology and FRMCS products and services will accelerate in 2024 and beyond.
Being an open global standard supported by mobile operators around the world, MCX offers an opportunity for application developers to enrich broadband group communications solutions for public safety, utilities, transportation and other verticals benefiting from group communication capabilities. For example, mission critical push to talk (MCPTT) functionality can be easily added to situational awareness solutions for public safety, reaching a group of first responders with the push of a button. Or mission critical video (MCVideo) sent directly to first responders from a video analytics application when certain criteria is met. The possibilities are endless, and we expect to see more MCX applications helping public safety, utilities, and transportation users to be more effective in their daily work in 2024.
CAD + MCX
CAD (Computer-Aided Dispatch) is an integral part of first responder operations. Today, CAD is still all about “secret sauce” – all CAD vendors operate on their own proprietary data sets, and literally every delivery requires specific integration. MCX offers common operational paradigms of CAD, such as resources, their locations, group chats and more. As MCX solutions are increasingly deployed, there is a greater need for CAD to be integrated with MCX systems for both interoperability and operational efficiency. We expect the first CAD/MCX integrations to come to life in 2024, and steadily increase from there on.
MCX and NG911 Integration
The emergency communications available to the general public, commonly known as 911 in the USA and Canada, 112 in Europe, 999 in UK, are increasing upgraded to the broadband SIP-based architecture, officially known as NENA i3 in the US, but commonly referred to as NG911/NG112 (NG stands for Next Generation). MCX technologies were developed especially for and deployed on broadband networks and it makes perfect sense that both MCX and NG911 technologies can be tightly integrated. When needed, audio, live video, text messages, images and more can be delivered directly from a citizen’s mobile phone to first responders equipped with MCX devices. As both MCX and NG911 technologies become more widespread, we expect to see an increased number of deployed MCX/NG911 integrations in 2024 and beyond.
More MCPTT traffic, more MCPTT minutes
This might be the easiest prediction … we expect to see more MCPTT calls on service providers networks and that will lead to better uptake among public safety users, more devices and applications supporting MCPTT, more use cases, more verticals, more traffic, and more MCPTT minutes. While revolutionary in nature, MCX technology akin all other “revolutionary technologies” that came before and will come after, the path is simply an evolution, thus we simply expect “more.”