Digital Regulation Platform

Recovery phase: communication evolution


Public Protection and Disaster Relief

Telecommunication/ICT used in responses to disasters depends heavily on wireless technologies. It is therefore related closely to Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR), which has been defined to combine both, Public Protection (PP) radiocommunication used when dealing with maintenance of law and order, protection of life and property, and emergency situations; and Disaster Relief (DR) radiocommunication used when dealing with a serious disruption in the functioning of society, posing a significant, widespread threat to human life, health, property, or the environment (ITU 2017).

In the past, PPDR has been implemented using special-purpose networks and terminals, often using European terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) and other trunked radio systems. However, the requirements and expectations for PPDR have grown well beyond the narrowband communication that these systems are designed to support. Some standards for these systems can be upgraded to support broadband and satisfy some users. The users are specialized; different users want different capabilities from broadband and different characteristics in their terminals. Nonetheless, as commercial mobile networks and terminals for the general public continue to spread in reach and fall in price, increasingly the question is asked whether they should be hardened in some ways and replace special-purpose ones.

The requirements that are not found in most commercial mobile networks include full redundancy, with duplication of all elements; communication between ground (or sea) and air, and coverage of all areas with inhabitants or borders, both inside and outside buildings; calls between terminals in direct mode (without base stations) for use at one location; push-to-talk calls in trunked mode for use between different locations; calls with group members; end-to-end encryption, even of voice; adaptation to extreme variation in capacity requirements; and prioritization of traffic (Forge, Horwitz, and Blackman 2014).

Some of these requirements relate to the infrastructure, which needs to be robust enough for PPDR whether the networks are general-purpose or special-purpose. Satisfying them would benefit the general public, as well as PPDR organizations, and could cost no more than implementing universal access.

The other requirements, several of which are normally classed together as “mission-critical push-to-talk functions,” relate to functionality. The Critical Communications Association (TCCA), originally a trade association for TETRA, has put forward 2022 as the year by which the first 4G and 5G standard release offering both voice and data for PPDR would be implemented by vendors and operators. The first implementation of the functionality for voice became publicly available in 2020 (Jackson 2020). Even in 2017 the authorities in more than thirty countries were said to be moving towards providing it (GSMA 2017).


Forge, S., R. Horwitz, and C. Blackman. 2014. Is Commercial Cellular Suitable for Mission Critical Broadband? Report by SCF Associates Ltd for the European Commission.

GSMA. 2017. Network 2020: Mission Critical Communications.

ITU (International Telecommunication Union). 2017, Radiocommunication Objectives and Requirements for Public Protection and Disaster Relief. Report ITU-R M.2377-1.

Jackson, D., 2020. “AT&T Announces MCPTT-Based FirstNet PTT, Certifications for HPUE Products from Assured Wireless.” Urgent Communications, March 31, 2020.

Last updated on: 09.10.2020