The technology working behind the scenes to support emergency services networks
Now more than ever, telecoms infrastructures play a vital role in supporting the health of our communities. Behind the scenes, networking technologies are working to keep the lines of communications open between emergency services and those in need.
A recent example from the Lombardy region of Italy highlights a typical scenario:
At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in Europe, the emergency response organisations in Lombardy, Italy, were one of the first to find themselves overwhelmed with an unprecedented amount of calls. Starting from the first few weeks of February, the average of five seconds call waiting time rose, to more than ten minutes per call.
Luckily, just a few months before the outbreak, a new system architecture had been installed behind the scenes, to allow call operators to route the most critical calls over the network to dedicated hotlines. This system upgrade was quickly adapted to ease the pressure on call handlers and ambulance teams. A large number of temporary, support PSAP’s (Public Safety Answering Points) were set up, with the hardware deployed in a matter of days.
New call handlers undertook triage work over the phone, where they assessed the severity of the caller’s condition, and then routed the calls onward. In turn, this approach freed up ambulance teams to dedicate themselves to helping the most critical of cases.
Looking to the future of emergency service network infrastructuresThis experience is one of many in recent times we can think about when creating more resilient and accessible emergency service networks in the future.
Providing the call handler with as much information on hand as possible allows for calls to be split up depending on the nature of the emergency, into time-critical emergencies and more mild cases. This approach eased pressure on the system as a whole in Lombardy’s case.
At the moment, legacy protocols in infrastructure do not allow for this type of information handling to be automated, which would greatly help the speed and efficiency of the process. Most emergency services are routed through TDM networking protocols. 999, 112, or 911 services rely on calls being routed through public switched telephone networks, and mobile networks.
The gradual move towards IP based communications, in line with NENA & EENA standards, gives citizens the ability to contact emergency services using any communications device that is connected to the internet, which will result in an optimised, more efficient emergency response.
This not only casts the safety net of emergency services wider, but the information attached to calls routed over IP can be used to provide an enhanced service, as text, video, even location or medical data become available for the call operator. For example, location data can help with the government's approach of contact-tracing, using voice recognition can aid those with disabilities to make emergency calls, diagnosis of symptoms can be achieved with voice analysis algorithms - the creative possibilities are ready and waiting.
However, as we know, this upgrade does not work with a ‘rip-and-replace’ solution. Emergency services must remain online, 24/7, able to route calls to emergency responders quickly, from even the most far flung of telephones, through the oldest of network protocols.
Towards Next generation GatewaysThe solution to unlocking innovation, then, is the hardware that connects the old and the new; solves the problem of interworking legacy infrastructure with developments in IP based solutions, and does all this with zero network downtime.
Networking and Signalling Gateways are the piece of kit that specifically fulfils this need to transition to next generation networks.
To be on the cutting edge and help networks deliver the best possible service, they have to have a number of key features at their core:
Breadth of Protocol Support:
- A gateway should offer you the full breadth of legacy protocol support, whilst enabling migration to a new IP infrastructure
- The networking landscape is continuously evolving, with new stresses, demands, and industry standards. Your gateway should actively work with you during and after deployment
- All the tools you need to configure, administrate and manage your network should be ready to hand and easy to use. The best way to do this is through an intuitive graphical interface
- Within critical infrastructure, there should be no single points of failure. It is of paramount importance that no call is is lost. Therefore the ability to automatic restore calls on loss of audio, and reroute calls around network failures should be available
- Resilience can also be achieved through gateway clustering, enabling you to login, access, control and configure all nodes in a multi cluster system from a single access point
- It should be possible to have drop in replacements of nodes, without large amounts of configuration or any network down-time
It’s breadth of protocol support is the result of Aculab’s decades of problem-solving experience as an industry leader. In some instances, Aculab has even developed bespoke protocol support alongside GIII deployment.
When redesigning the successor to the already highly successful, widely deployed Aculab GroomerII gateway, we used our in-depth knowledge of the requirements for signalling and media gateways in industries such as the emergency services networks and others, and focused on the key capabilities above. GIII contains features such as:
- An intuitive and powerful browser-based GUI with tools for:
- Visibility of the whole network, with integrated, industry standard, logging and diagnostic tools - PCAP, NTP, SYSLOG, and SNMP
- A single point of configuration for NTP, SYSLOG, and SNMP
- A ‘point and click’ SS7 configuration, as well as an SS7 trace decoding facility
- The ability to configure dual redundant SS7 signalling to mitigate against both network and hardware failures
- The ability to load balance outbound SIP traffic
- Login, access, control and configuration of all GIII nodes in a multi cluster system
- GIII is optimised for high trunk density and traffic volumes, able to support up to 32 ports (960 concurrent channels) when doing TDM to SIP, in a single 2U chassis
- As standard, GIII comes equipped with dual redundant power supply, RAID storage, and a fully NEBS compliant chassis to optimise resilience.
GIII is poised to fulfil the demand for high-end, functional, and future-proof next generation networking solutions.