Whether you’re talking landline or mobile-based networks, it’s fair to say the UK’s communications infrastructure is evolving.
For their part, members of the general public continue to clamour for ‘super fast Broadband’. The Government is actively supporting that desire, in turn setting specific targets for its roll-out right across the board.
Evolution of the aforementioned communications infrastructure is all bound up in the terminology of the ‘Next Generation Network’ (or NGN if you prefer acronyms). Such networks are already operated by the ‘Big Boys’ in communications, among them Sky and BT.
NGN: what lies beneath?
The general idea behind the NGN is a simple one: a lone network is designed and configured to transport all information and services (voice, data and myriad other media such as video content) by encapsulating it into ‘packets’. Packets similar in nature to those employed on the Internet.
With NGNs commonly built around IP, it’s not surprising that the terminology ‘all IP’ is also sometimes used to describe the transformational period that leads to the fully-fledged NGN.
So what does all of this have to do with the security and fire sectors? Well, it’s very much the case that many security, fire and indeed social alarms absolutely depend upon the telecommunications network for processing alarm signals. That being so, does this evolution pose potential difficulties for those who work with such alarms (not to mention the end users of same)?
An overriding fear is that any fundamental, unchallenged changes to the communications status quo could result in signal failures. That would be a wholly unacceptable scenario for all involved.
BSIA: leading the charge
To its great credit, the British Security Industry Association has been leading the charge in addressing this key issue.
For instance, the Trade Association has actively worked with Sky to test the latter’s Voice Broadband Network (SVBN) – itself an IP technology-based NGN. At the same identifying an issue affecting digital communicators, the test procedures highlighted the extent of the problem and Sky duly reconfigured its software by way of resolving the issue.
Good news all round, then, you’re thinking. Yes, but – and there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there? – this episode does highlight the potential for the wider problem of NGN providers changing their network designs without first consulting professionals operating in the security, fire and social alarm sectors.
Positively, Sky has continued to involve the BSIA in sample testing of communications equipment whenever the company’s all set to launch new software upgrades.
Moving forward, it will be imperative all communications solutions adopt the same attitude. That way, member companies of organisations like the BSIA, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) and the Telecare Services Association (TSA) will have the necessary lead time to adequately prepare their solutions for change and cut back on the potential for any signal failure.
The BSIA is continuing to raise awareness of NGN and call-routing issues through regional and technical meetings, seminars and other dedicated events. Crucially, a support service is available to member companies who have experienced (or are now experiencing) signalling failures.
Links have also been nurtured with the communications industry forum NGNuk, a debating focal point established to provide communication providers and OFCOM with a central point of contact for addressing issues linked with NGNs and Next Generation Access (NGA) across the UK.
The BSIA is still seeking an answer to the maximum network delay expectations – a fundamental issue addressed over the past few years.
Memorandum of Understanding
Just prior to Christmas, the BSIA, the FIA and the TSA agreed to work together on ensuring that members of all three trade bodies are represented and supported in discussions focused on telecommunication changes.
By dint of a Memorandum of Understanding, these organisations are looking at a joined-up approach for communicating with OFCOM and the telecoms providers to ensure consistency of message between all three organisations. The ‘one voice’ tactic also puts the full weight of the collective memberships behind those communications.
It’s a development that can only be a good thing for the alarms sectors in the security, fire and telecare/telemedicine spaces.