Southern Linc official discusses MCPTT migration, interoperability with new partner Catalyst

https://bit.ly/3Nr04o0

Here’s a terrific article by Urgent Communications’ Donny Jackson about the recently announced Southern Linc – Catalyst partnership

Southern Linc—the wireless-communications carrier that is subsidiary of the Southern Company electric utility—is nearing completion of its internal migration to LTE-only mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) and is preparing to implement the LMR-LTE interoperability solution of new partner Catalyst Communications throughout its network.

Ritesh Desai, product engineering manager for Southern Linc, said that Southern Company workers use the Ericsson-powered MCPTT service on Southern Linc almost all push-to-talk (PTT) communications and internally will cease using LMR technology entirely in the near future.

“Southern Company has one—and only one—geographic location that has LMR—and that is going to be gone fairly quickly,” Desai said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Once Catalyst comes around and we fully deploy it there, that piece of the pie will disappear from Southern Company, and we will have zero LMR and zero non-LTE communications means out there. So, Southern will be fully LTE-based at that point.”

When this occurs, it will mark a key milestone in a lengthy communications journey for Southern Linc, which serves the southeastern U.S. as a carrier and provide communications support to the Southern Company utility. Southern Linc was among the first entities to commit to building a mission-critical LTE network in 2013, pursued MCPTT with Motorola Solutions, and eventually opted for mission-critical technology from Ericsson.

Desai applauded the audio quality of MCPTT-to-MCPTT calls using the Ericsson technology.

“From a quality standpoint, it’s probably the best audio people have ever heard—even above and beyond the previous Motorola system,” Desai said. “It’s an upgrade, from a vocoder perspective, so the quality is on the top end of the spectrum.”

Southern Linc’s MCPTT supports all of the features and functionality that PTT users want, and the reliability has improved noticeably in recent months, according to Desai.

“We’ve had a couple of issues here and there over the past six months, and they’ve been addressed,” he said. “For the past four months—since February—it’s been quite stable, and it looks to be that way moving forward.”

LMR may not be part of the future internal communications at the Southern Company and Southern Linc, but narrowband technologies are expected to play a key role in the communications for many Southern Linc customers, including governments and public-safety agencies.

Southern Linc customers utilize a wide variety of LMR technologies, and it is important that each customer’s LMR users can communicate with its LTE users. After years of using donor-radio-based solutions, Southern Linc plans to deploy the more scalable and more reliable Catalyst LMR-LTE interoperability solution—an offering showcased during the PSCR 2022 Broadband Stakeholders Meeting earlier this month—throughout its network during the next two years, Desai said.

“We’re trying to upgrade that from donor-based solution to a wireline solution, which Catalyst is able to provide,” Desai said. “We understand that there’s IWF [3GPP’s Interworking Function] from a standards perspective, but the Catalyst solution is a ‘now’ thing that’s readily available, which is what we’re looking for.

“And they hit all of the buttons for what we needed. It’s a fairly small system, from a deployment standpoint—it’s not like it’s several servers or something like that. It’s a small-scale deployment, and there are multiple ways … to do it; there’s not just a one-size-fits-all type of thing. We’re able to buy components of that system to fit each of our individual customer’s needs.”

Catalyst’s current solution supports interoperability as a gateway—powered by Softil’s MCPTT stack—that leverages 3GPP standards from Release 12, not the IWF standard that was completed in March as part of Release 17.

Southern Linc is monitoring the development of IWF, but very few vendors have made the new technology available yet, Desai said.

“Scale is an issue, and it all boils down to cost,” Desai said. “If I needed to bridge a P25 system, and I had a choice between IWF and a system that requires CSSI or even an LMR donor, I would go with the IWF. It’s a pure wireline solution end-to-end in both cases, and it’s standard-based.

“Catalyst, I think, will get there. They’re just not there yet, I think.”

Desai said the existing Catalyst solution is being tested at Southern Linc customer locations, and the initial feedback has been encouraging. Initial operational deployments are expected to begin with a large Alabama customer seeking statewide coverage late this year and continue throughout the Southern Linc footprint during the next couple of years, assuming funding is available.

“I think that, over the next 24 months, a good chunk of our users that have a need to bridge calls between LMR and LTE will be using this [Catalyst] solution,” Desai said.

In addition to deploying Catalyst’s interoperability solution throughout its network, Southern Linc last week announced a partnership under which Southern Linc will promote and sell Catalyst’s LMR LTE Interworking solution in the southeast U.S.

Catalyst President Robin Grier expressed optimism about the partnership.

“It is my pleasure to announce that Catalyst technology will be available to Southern Linc customers through this Agreement.” Grier said in a prepared statement. “We are proud to be associated with Southern Linc and their excellent reputation for stellar customer service and problem-solving solutions for their customers.”

Southern Linc COO Carmine Reppucci echoed this sentiment.

“Catalyst has best-in-class technology and has been serving the public safety community with innovative communications solutions for 25 years.” Reppucci said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to helping Southern Linc customers move forward with this innovative new technology.”

One potential challenge for some Southern Linc customers is the fee assessed by some LMR vendors—most notably, Motorola Solutions—to enable interoperability, Desai said.

“Ultimately, [paying this fee to the LMR vendor is] going to fall back to that [customer] organization—it’s not going to fall back to the Southern Lincs, AT&Ts and Verizons,” Desai said. “Somebody’s going to have to front that money, and it’s likely going to be from the organization that needs it, unfortunately.

“And as bad as it may sound … Aside from the fact that it lets you scale, it’s going to be cost-prohibitive to smaller deployments. That’s just the fact of the matter, if something doesn’t change in that [LMR fee]. Because of the licensing, ISSI is just so expensive. It’s a seven-figure number oftentimes.”

This and other factors need to be considered by users when making interoperability plans, Desai said. As with so many aspects of the wireless industry, scale can have a significant impact on the best interoperability solution for a given entity, he said.

“If you’re extra small—like a sheriff’s department with only 10 people with a [network] site or two—then go with your old legacy donor solution,” Desai said. “Anything above that, go with the Catalyst solution. And if you’re a carrier like us, and you want to bridge carrier to carrier, go with IWF.”

Catalyst & Southern Linc announce partnership to bring advanced communications capabilities to Southern Linc customers

The following text is from a Press Release dated June 15, 2022

Forest VA June 15, 2022 Catalyst Communications Technologies, Inc., a leading provider of IP based dispatch, interoperability and incident command solutions, and Southern Linc Communications Inc, a wireless communications network provider backed by the strength and reliability of Southern Company, have entered into an agreement under which Southern Linc will promote and sell Catalyst’s LMR LTE Interworking solutions to public safety organizations within the Southern Linc footprint.

Southern Linc has provided communications services to public safety, utility, and other critical communications agencies for over thirty years, providing a comprehensive and dependable wireless solution for their customers. Catalyst’s technology will enable standards compliant LMR LTE Interworking solutions so Southern Linc LTE customers can communicate with external private Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems. LMR or Land Mobile Radio is the mature technology traditionally used by public safety, utilities, and other to enable instant voice communications between groups of field personnel.

The Catalyst solutions comply with 3GPP standards for LTE and offers LMR users a wide variety of standards-based and proprietary interfaces for land mobile radio systems. Catalyst’s LMR LTE Interworking and Dispatch solutions were developed through contracts with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards Public Safety Communications Research division. MCPTT is a key component in mission-critical LTE networks and an important complement to existing Land Mobile Radio systems. 

“It is my pleasure to announce that Catalyst technology will be available to Southern Linc customers through this Agreement.” said Robin Grier, Catalyst President. “We are proud to be associated with Southern Linc and their excellent reputation for stellar customer service and problem-solving solutions for their customers.”

“Catalyst has best-in-class technology and has been serving the public safety community with innovative communications solutions for 25 years.” said Carmine Reppucci, Chief Operating Officer of Southern Linc. We look forward to helping Southern Linc customers move forward with this innovative new technology.”

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Catalyst President Robin Grier presents LMR LTE Interworking at the Public Safety Communications Research Stakeholders Meeting

The Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division of NIST – the National Institute of Standards and Technology – is the primary federal laboratory conducting research, development, testing, and evaluation for public safety communications technologies. It is housed within the Communications Technology Laboratory (CTL) at NIST. PSCR hosts an Annual Public Safety Broadband Stakeholder Meeting that brings together representatives from public safety, federal agencies, industry, and academia. Participants hear from PSCR engineers and researchers about testing updates, upcoming R&D efforts, and opportunities to get involved, as well as industry leaders and public safety partners on cutting-edge technology findings, features, and functionalities. The Annual Stakeholder Meeting enables PSCR to receive direct input, guidance, and feedback from their diverse stakeholder community. 

This summer, PSCR hosted its Annual Stakeholder Meeting in-person for the first time in three years from June 7-9 in San Diego, California. Catalyst Communications Technologies President Robin Grier demonstrated how the company’s interoperability solutions supports communications between LTE devices and legacy LMR subscriber units. Grier spoke with IWCE’s Urgent Communications Editor Donny Jackson during the PSCR 2022 Stakeholder Meeting being conducted this week in San Diego.

You can watch a video of Robin giving this demonstration at https://vimeo.com/718172811?NL=UC-03&Issue=UC-03_20220608_UC-03_212&sfvc4enews=42&cl=article_4

Check it out!

IWCE 2022: Standing up a remote dispatch system ‘doesn’t happen overnight’


IWCE 2022: Standing up a remote dispatch system ‘doesn’t happen overnight’

Catalyst is at IWCE this week, and on Tuesday, Catalyst Vice President Jack Kelly moderated a panel on Work From Home Alternatives for Dispatchers – what the pandemic taught us. IWCE show contributor Andy Castillo was present for the action and filed this report.

  • Written by Andy Castillo
  • 22nd March 2022

The work-from-home evolution sparked by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic two years ago wasn’t just limited to the commercial sector; many telecommunicators also found themselves suddenly logging in from the couch. 

“The pandemic has caused more of a need for remote and backup dispatch operations,” said Jack Kelly, vice president of Catalyst Communications Technologies, a company that facilitates radio over internet protocol communications. He was speaking at a talk titled “Work from home alternatives for dispatchers—What the pandemic taught us” at this year’s 2022 International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE), held this week in Las Vegas, Nevada. The expo started Monday and will continue through Thursday.

For government organizations looking to expand their emergency communications center’s (ECC) capacity to be able to operate remotely, Kelly stressed an important takeaway: It takes time, patience and a lot of effort. 

“What we learned from that is the organizations that had prepared for some sort of alternative dispatch facility were in really good shape when the pandemic showed up, and those that were not were scrambling to put something into place,” he continued. 

Speaking on a panel with Kelly alongside Matthew Boggs, a representative of Cradlepoint, a tech company that produces secure cloud-based networking equipment, Eddie Reyes of the Virginia-based Prince William County Department of Public Safety Communications reflected the same sentiment. Reyes expanded his organization’s remote capability during the pandemic.

“If you don’t have this capability built into your toolbox yet, you should start planning,” Reyes said, noting “It doesn’t happen overnight. … You have to be operable before you can become interoperable.”

Speaking from his experience helping ECCs create secure connections from remote locations, Boggs said he’s tweaked a motto as a guide: “Semper gummy, always flexible. Nothing will be static,” he noted. “You need to be able to secure it, you need to be agile and functional, you need to be able to do more with less, and you need to be able to do it on the fly, because lives are in jeopardy.”  

That’s a big ask, but it’s not impossible, according to Reyes. Tech innovations including Cradlepoint, which can segment a network to create secure pathways for telecommunicators to operate within, have made commonplace today what wasn’t thought possible a decade ago. 

In more than three decades of public service, both as a police officer and a telecommunicator, Reyes said he’s seen “more innovation in the last three years than I saw in my first 30 years.” 

Modern portable solutions “pretty much duplicate” the capabilities a dispatcher has at a hardened public safety answering point (PSAP).  

“Most of the problems that were associated with what I call ‘version one’ … have pretty much gone away,” Kelly said. By way of example, he described a mobile dispatch system his company designed for the organizers of Burning Man, an annual and well-attended art event held in the Nevada desert.  

Burning Man is held on public land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and because of that, permanent infrastructure can’t be erected. Instead, “We built a portable trailer for them, and they drive it out to the desert and set up a portable dispatch system,” Reyes said. 

While portable dispatch units had been gradually becoming more popular over the last decade—to fill the gap during ECC renovations, for example, or during large-scale events—the pandemic served as a catalyst for organizations across the United States to create remote opportunities for employees. 

In this effort, Reyes said a primary reason decision makers cite as a reason not to implement a remote system is cybersecurity. But a cyber-attack is by far “a less likely occurrence than not having enough employees.  

“The human challenge is far more difficult—the ECC can’t operate at all without someone manning the phone,” Reyes said. “Right now, as I’m speaking to you, I have 10 vacancies in my center.” The human challenge “keeps me awake at night” far more often than any technical risks. 

That being said, it’s not an easy path to remote capability. Inevitably, any effort to implement a remote telecommunication system will be met with failures and encounter speedbumps along the way. Further, remote dispatch, which operates via the cloud, isn’t as capable or clear as it is in-person. If a radio system is outdated or functioning poorly to begin with, it will only perform worse within a hybrid or remote work situation. 

“Whatever equipment you have, it’ll deteriorate in quality. So, if you have a bad system to start, it’s not going to be sufficient,” he continued. 

Add to that the complexity of the types of scenarios that might require telecommunicators to work remotely—for example, a wildfire baring down on an ECC. It’s best to prepare for the worst. 

“Anything that can happen usually does happen in those types of deployments. You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a good spare tire that has plenty of air,” Reyes said. “It can be very complex, and I would say it’s not friendly to do it. But also, it’s not impossible.” 

New Softil e-Book promotes Catalyst Interworking Solutions with Softil technology

A new E-Book from Catalyst partner Softil describes the challenges of implementing Mission Critical Push to Talk, as Catalyst has done for its IntelliLink Interworking family of products. As Softil describes in this document, “Catalyst carefully evaluated all of its options and decided that Softil’s BEEHD would be the best tool for the job, as “build your own” takes a lot of effort away from the core business of the company; an open source solution doesn’t offer the capabilities required to build LMR to LTE gateway, and it would still require significant resources dedicated to supporting and advancing open source implementation instead of
focusing on the core business.

The E-Book is available for download at the Softil website, here’s the link: https://www.softil.com/mcx-case-studies/mcx-case-studies-lmr-lte-gw/

High Achievers at Catalyst – Carter Franklin is an Eagle Scout!

Eagle Scout is the highest achievement or rank attainable in the Scouts BSA program of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Since its inception in 1911, only four percent of Scouts have earned this rank after a lengthy review process. The Eagle Scout rank has been earned by over 2.5 million youth.

Requirements include earning at least 21 merit badges. The Eagle Scout must demonstrate Scout Spirit, an ideal attitude based upon the Scout Oath and Law, service, and leadership. This includes an extensive service project that the Scout plans, organizes, leads, and manages. Eagle Scouts are presented with a medal and a badge that visibly recognizes the accomplishments of the Scout.

We’re proud to announce that Catalyst Engineering intern Carter Franklin has achieved the status of Eagle Scout. We couldn’t be more thrilled to acknowledge this achievement. Way to go Carter!

Catalyst is busy in in October with Regional L3Harris, APCO Shows

Reaching as many public safety professionals and mission critical communicators with our message of standards compliant LMR LTE Interworking was a key theme in October as Catalyst supported three regional events.

First up was Doral, Florida with the L3Harris Mission Critical Alliance team who invited us to join them in a customer event, showing the Miami-Dade system (LMR system with the most PTTs in the nation) and other regional customers, both public safety and professional communications. Catalyst was there showing ICE(tm) our transportable incident command and digital repeater solution. This unit will support the new L3Harris XL-200M P25 multiband radio, and Catalyst is the first company to demonstrate advanced control of this new mobile radio.

Next up was picturesque New England village Stowe Vermont and the Atlantic Chapter of APCO Conference. Here’s what the demonstration “booth” looked like, as we were demonstrating live, over LTE and LMR, Interworking between a portable LMR subscriber unit and a Sonim smartphone with a Mission Critical Push to Talk App.

And right after that was Roanoke Virginia and the Virginia APCO Conference. Once again we demonstrated LMR LTE Interworking, and we were joined by Catalyst Dealer Star City.

We like being busy!!

Catalyst Technology delivers public safety benefits with new L3Harris XL-200M P25 Mobile Radio  

 Advanced control and integration of L3Harris’ multiband, multifunction P25 radio on display at IWCE 2021

Catalyst Communications Technologies, a leader in Dispatch, Interoperability, Interworking and Incident Command solutions to the mission critical marketplace, announced today that it has implemented the control protocol for the new L3Harris Technologies XL-200M P25 mobile radio. Catalyst is the first company aside from L3Harris to develop advanced control of this radio, continuing a wide ranging technology and marketing partnership between the companies.

The L3Harris XL-200M is unique in the marketplace due to its wide variety of network and communications capabilities. The XL-200M is a multiband radio supporting VHF, UHF, 700/800 and 900 MHz bands, and includes built-in Wi-Fi®, Bluetooth® and GPS. The radio features an intuitive interface and high-visibility color display, allowing users to stay more focused on the job, and its optional LTE capabilities provides an on-the-go communications hub, providing hotspot capabilities that allow you to stay connected to an LMR or LTE network.

With advanced control of this radio from Catalyst, dispatchers using Catalyst’s Propulsion dispatch console can change channels and talk groups, display, declare and clear emergency indications, display unit ID’s and aliases, and execute other control functions. The advanced interface provides a wealth of real-time operational data that is available for display to dispatchers as well as programming information that facilitates system administration and maintenance. The XL-200M is the latest addition to Catalyst’s Dispatch Radio Control over IP solutions, including new configurations of ICE™ – Incident Commander Element – which provides transportable incident command and digital vehicular repeater solutions to the mission critical marketplace.

In making the announcement, Robin Grier, president of Catalyst Communications Technologies, said “Our long partnership with L3Harris continues to provide public safety with benefits and new capabilities that help first responders accomplish their mission, and our recent collaboration with L3Harris on the XL-200M is more evidence of this alliance. We continue to work closely with L3Harris to provide their customers, and ours, with communications solutions that solve real world challenges.”

Echoing Mr. Grier, L3Harris spokesperson James Potter, Director, Mission Critical Alliance, said “Catalyst joining the Mission Critical Alliance and integrating with the XL-200M is yet another example of how members can focus on what they do best and collaborate across the Alliance to enhance their offerings and drive innovation.”