From the magazine: How Airbus is securing communications

Secure Communications is critical for emergency and security operations

Consumer apps such as WhatsApp are not adapted to mission-critical use as they are not sufficiently secure, Lahoud observed.
Consumer apps such as WhatsApp are not adapted to mission-critical use as they are not sufficiently secure, Lahoud observed.

For communication needs of security agencies, emergency services and utility companies, an off-the-shelf two-way radio just won’t cut it. 

Security and reliability of communications are critical considerations in such mission-critical situations. For example, applications such as WhatsApp are not adapted to mission-critical use as they are not sufficiently secure and do not supply the level of encryption and meet the criteria of public safety use as they have been developed for the commercial mass-market, observed Walid Lahoud, head of sales for MENA at Airbus Defence & Space.

Secure Land Communications (SLC), a subsidiary of Airbus, develops, installs and maintains professional mobile radio (PMR) networks with a range of radio devices and services.

“TETRA systems from Airbus use strict authentication of the radios used in the network as well as encrypted communication which frequently changes encryption keys to ensure security,” said Lahoud. Airbus SLC counts numerous public and semi-public and private organisations in transport, oil & gas and utilities in the region as customers.


TETRA and LTE – A hybrid network combines dedicated TETRA or Tetrapol critical communications with LTE-based broadband.

Airbus provides TETRA network and coverage for oil and gas fields, pipelines, refineries and storage areas to secure oil and gas flow and to manage emergency situations and drills for the Saudi giant ARAMCO. The Airbus network comprises a number of base stations, dispatchers, THR9 Ex ATEX TETRA radios and coverage of more than 2000 Kms of pipelines. ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) in the UAE is one of the world’s leading energy producers. ADNOC and its subsidiaries use Airbus TETRA radios, and TETRA services from the UAE nationwide network. In transport, the UAE TETRA network operated by Nedaa is used for the Dubai Metro operational and security tasks.

The Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), a Saudi Government Corporation responsible for the desalination of seawater, uses SLC TETRA network comprising of a number of base stations and dispatchers, in addition to TETRA radios.

Hybrid

A major trend in the industry is the use of hybrid systems that combine smartphones and critical communications. Airbus Tactilon Agnet is an application that brings secure group communication to standard smart devices.  

Tactilon Agnet’s current release offers more possibilities than the classical push-to-talk functions for voice calls, said Lahoud. “Previously, users with smartphones could initiate a group call. With Tactilon Agnet, a group member can now also immediately and securely send photos and videos at the push of a button. For example, during a rescue mission, first responders can send photos of people to the control rooms. As a result, emergency personnel can work quicker and successfully to, for instance, locate and rescue people,” he added.

Tactilon Agnet provides integrated applications including video and location mapping.

Future

There is consensus within the public safety community that hybrid networks and long-term gradual evolution towards 4G/5G are the preferred models for the future, said Lahoud. “Long-term parallel usage of narrowband (TETRA and P25) and broadband (4G/5G) will be based on a principle that TETRA systems will offer mission-critical voice services for at least the next decade. Large public safety customers have already started investments which are expanding the lifecycle of their existing narrowband systems until 20302035,” he explained.

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