The problem with broadband public safety services is legislation, not technology

The problem with broadband public safety services is legislation, not technology

Local legislation could impede first responders from having priority on commercial networks because of national laws to protect net neutrality.

A new white paper from The Critical Communications Association (TCCA) says countries are increasingly looking at the option of using existing commercial mobile networks for broadband public safety services. However, a crucial consideration is to make sure public safety users could gain critical access to the network during a major unplanned event.

The use of commercial networks by public safety has several benefits, including a fast market turnaround, access to spectrum’s allocation of radio frequencies, and reducing costs through network sharing. The white paper ‘Public safety prioritisation on commercial networks’ recommends implementing different prioritisation mechanisms across commercial networks to make sure first responders are given highest priority to the shared Radio Access Network (RAN).

There are already many prioritisation mechanisms that have been standardised by 3GPP to provide mission critical services. These include Access Class Barring (used in many countries as a “defence” mechanism against overload that could lead to a total outage), Pre-emption, Admission control through Allocation and Retention Priority, and Quality of Service Class Identifiers. In addition, implementing national roaming between commercial networks is also a consideration as a cost-effective way of gaining enhanced network resilience.

The US and the UK are rolling out public safety services over commercial networks and have successfully tested prioritisation and pre-emption features. In terms of the technology, prioritisation of first responders connected to a shared commercial RAN is no longer a challenge. However, there are legal issues that need to be addressed country by country to allow pre-emption and national roaming. 

For instance, many countries prohibit national roaming because it could harm competition between the different mobile operators. Some countries like Belgium and Finland have already taken legal action to enable national roaming between all their mobile operators, limited to critical communications users. Norway has national roaming capability for qualified users with a role or function of vital interest to the society. In Austria, Access Class Barring is forbidden as commercial users cannot be discriminated from public safety users. 

The white paper includes inputs from governments and critical communication network operators, and looks forward to prioritisation in 5G, including network slicing and Non-terrestrial networks (NTN). These themes will be explored at TCCA’s flagship event, Critical Communications World (CCW), which takes place in Kuala Lumpur on the 18-20 June 2019.

TCCA represents all standard mobile critical communications technologies and complementary applications. To find out more, please visit

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