Comms Connect has paid a welcome visit to Christchurch for the second year in a row, with the premier critical communications event setting up shop at Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre from 13–14 June.
Over 530 attendees visited the two-day conference and exhibition, including government agencies, industry end users, sector experts, dealers and vendors. This was a 20% increase on the 2022 event and the highest attendance for Comms Connect New Zealand ever, in a clear indication of how keen local industry professionals were to support and discuss the future of critical communications. For those who were unable to attend, here we are pleased to share just some of the conference highlights.
Preparing for natural disasters
With New Zealand having suffered more than its fair share of natural disasters in recent years, it was not surprising that the conference featured several presentations on the need for increased preparedness and resiliency. This was made especially apparent during Cyclone Gabrielle, with Don Robertson, CEO of New Zealand’s Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (AREC), noting that many citizens were not even aware that radios were still working during the comms outages, and instead just kept trying their mobile phones. He also detailed the long hours worked by AREC volunteers after being activated by Auckland Emergency Management — including their ad-hoc design of a SARTrack-based system to handle incoming messages, because there wasn’t one already in place. Richard Hutchinson, an Infrastructure Engineer with the New Zealand Police, added that the police lost their standard dispatch system and other abilities as a result of the various outages, which was compounded by lack of access to cell sites due to the disastrous conditions. Yet in spite of the heavy rainfall and strong winds, the police’s Mimomax voice linking network held firm during the three-day event, providing a useful case study of what to expect from future climate events.
Another unwelcome event from recent history was the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, which required most of the city to be completely rebuilt; an undertaking which is still ongoing today. Michael Healy, from Christchurch City Council, revealed how the Smart Christchurch Programme has been setting up a network of seismic sensors to monitor public and private assets around the city; in the event of a quake, these sensors will help to determine if an individual building has sustained any damage (either immediate or cumulative), which will allow for a more targeted approach to recovery efforts. Another initiative of the program is the Early Fire Detection and Environment Monitoring project, created partly in response to the 2017 Port Hills fires. The project is now trialling sensor arrays at Christchurch’s Bottle Lake Forest as well as Port Hills, where they will detect the earliest possible signs of fire and provide real-time warnings, enabling citizens to prepare and evacuate before it is too late.
Smart cities and standalone networks
But sensors aren’t just useful for monitoring natural disasters — they can also improve our day-to-day life. Matt Schultz, a Partner at Gravelroad Group, suggested that pre-existing public assets could be utilised to create smart cities, with objects like street poles hosting sensors and charging ports. He encouraged public–private partnerships whereby the different players share and rationalise their infrastructure, with public spaces used as hosting sites, in an effort to reach as many communities as possible (regional as well as urban); this will be crucial for closing the digital divide following COVID-19, he said, with the demand for connectivity now higher than ever before. Roy Wittert, Region Sales Director for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands at Cambium Networks, added that 60 GHz networks are a particularly useful tool for smart cities, offering multi-Gbps speeds at a fraction of the cost of fibre. He claimed that 60 GHz networks are a particularly accessible option as they can be installed on regular rooftops as opposed to traditional towers, and have proven applications including CCTV/video surveillance, Wi-Fi backhaul, and connectivity in the oil and gas industry — the latter being a particularly difficult candidate for fibre installation.
One thing that will be vital to the growth of smart cities — as well as other advanced use cases such as VR/AR, remote surgery and autonomous vehicles — is 5G. Speaking in a keynote and accompanying panel, Michael Molony, Head of Mobile Core Networks (Technology Strategy and Architecture Tribe) at Spark, said 5G is set to offer massive drops in latency compared to 4G, enabling more data to be transmitted over the airwaves in less time. The problem is that non-standalone 5G networks, which enable quick entry to market, rely on existing 4G infrastructure and so do not offer the enhanced security, reliability and scalability of standalone (SA) networks, which are ‘cloud native’, or software-based.
In an effort to move forward, Spark has been conducting 5G SA trials in recent months with partners including Red Hat, AWS and Mavenir. Their latest trial, delivered within a short three-month timeframe, demonstrated how 5G SA technology can deliver the low latency, high bandwidth and reliability that are required for high-performance use cases, such as real-time video analytics. It also showcased the benefits of network slicing, which means taking a ‘chunk’ out of a network and tailoring it to meet the specs of a private customer (in terms of latency, reliability, data allowance, etc). This customisation ability and other benefits mean that 5G SA is, according to Molony, “a solution looking for a problem”.
Of course, none of this new technology should be implemented without a robust cybersecurity policy in place. Vanessa Leite, Principal Strategy & Risk at CyberCX, noted that telcos are an attractive target for cybercriminals as a result of their critical role and the sensitive information they hold — and they can also be difficult to protect, due to their large-scale infrastructure with multiple network entry points, as well as legacy systems including outdated technology or software. Indeed, Martin Rampl, Managing Director of Frequentis Australasia, said that many legacy control rooms are not secured against cyber attacks as they provide limited adaptability to change, which is a problem as systems should really be updated every 3–6 months in order to be up-to-date with security.
Stressing that all organisations should have baseline security measures such as backup, asset inventories and security training, Leite said cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, and suggested collaboration between multiple parties (eg, research and IP sharing) as a way to tackle it. It is also something that affects communications at every level — from New Zealand’s upcoming Public Safety Network (which is set to feature encrypted LMR, said Next Generation Critical Communications Relationship Manager Paul Smith), to Radio Spectrum Management’s Register of Radio Frequencies (which was recently updated to improve its cybersecurity, said RSM Acting National Manager Nathan Schaffer), to Schultz’s smart cities concept (which will need regulations to manage data privacy, Schultz acknowledged). It will thus require organisations to have a multilayered strategy encompassing prevention, detection, response and recovery — all of which the critical comms community should be well versed in.
Comms Connect Melbourne coming up
The next edition of Comms Connect is not that far away, with the show returning to its ‘home ground’ at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on 18–19 October. Strong expressions of interest from Finland, the USA and Canada will add a broader international flavour to the event this year, with delegations from each country looking to attend the conference, present papers and/or exhibit.
The exhibition is already over 85% booked at the time of going to press, and an extended floorplan is being explored to allow for exhibitor demand. If you are interested in exhibiting, contact Liz Wilson at email@example.com or Tim Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org for a prospectus and the latest floorplan availability.
Event Director Geoff Hird is also in the process of building another world-class conference program, so if you have a case study or technology paper you’d like to present, please email a topic, brief abstract and speaker bio to email@example.com. Further requirements and suggested topic areas can be found at https://melbourne.comms-connect.com.au/call-for-papers/.
Telstra will once again headline the event sponsors, as Innovation Partner, while the Platinum Sponsors are Hypha, L3Harris, Simoco Wireless Solutions and Tait Communications. The ARCIA Gala Dinner & Awards evening will again take part in conjunction with Comms Connect, on the night of 18 October, and pre-conference workshops are planned for 17 October with the support of ARCIA and the ACCF/TCCA teams.
The latest exhibitor and sponsor lists, along with other up-to-date event details, can be found at https://melbourne.comms-connect.com.au.