Baton to soon pass between the different Virve versions: Virve 2 proceeds to testing and commissioning
The broadband Virve 2 services will soon upgrade the communications of the authorities and other security operators into the new millennium. The services are currently being tested, and the deployment is about to begin as a collaborative effort – now on a new schedule that supports customer migration.
Virve and Virve 2. The services for critical communications by and between the authorities provided by Erillisverkot sound the same, but they are technologically highly different from one another. However, the authorities’ migration from one Virve to another is not that far off: Virve 2 is firmly in the starting blocks, and its predecessor is already approaching the backstretch with the baton. Lying ahead is a testing and commissioning stretch, during which the baton will be gradually passed forward.
According to Ari Toivonen, director of the Virve 2programme, the staggered approach is due to the fact that the requirements for communications by and between the authorities are of a completely different order than, for example, in consumer subscriptions and ICT services.
“The Virve services will coexist for a while and will also work on an interoperable basis. This will allow organisations to migrate between services in a controlled manner and integrate the new service as part of their operations with confidence,” says Toivonen.
During 2022, so much has happened in the programme that it is time for a small situation update: what is going on and how should user organisations prepare for their system migration?
New schedule, more implementation power
Ari Toivonen is a seasoned expert in the ICT sector. Among other things, he has previously led a critical government communications development project at the UK Home Office. He has been involved in the Virve 2 project for four years, since 2021 as its director.
During the past year or so, Toivonen has been assisted by two new programme managers: Sven Forsell, who is responsible for the production performance and operational management of the project, and Tomi Lounema, who coordinates testing and customer migrations. In addition, about fifty ICT experts also work with the project at Erillisverkot.
“Sven and Tomi have brought with them not only valuable insight but also more implementation power. Sven has experience in running the wheels of major upgrade projects, while Tom has prior experience in the security of supply, with special strength in understanding the operations of our customer organisations,” Toivonen says.
The schedule of the project has also been specified in greater detail. According to the refined plan, the broadband Virve 2 will be tested and deployed during 2023–2028 in collaboration with the authorities and security operators that are critical for the security of supply.
“The previous time frames turned out to be too tight. At the end of the year, we conducted a survey in which we assessed the duration of the Virve 2 migration period together with the user organisations. We now have a new schedule in place that enables users to have a smoothly managed and supported migration,” says Sven Forsell.
From the GSM world to broadband access
The current Virve service, which is based on the Tetra technology, has enabled effective communication and cooperation by and between the authorities for 25 years. However, according to Toivonen, the authorities have for a long time needed to communicate by means other than shared voice and messaging services.
“The need for broadband access has constantly increased, and the customers have addressed it with the help of other operators. However, the Finnish authorities’ critical communications cannot solely depend on commercial operators. That’s why we needed a reliable broadband version of Virve,” he says.
So, what kind of leap is it between Virve and Virve 2, then? What will be new for the authorities?
“We can still remember the transition in our own phones from the GSM technology that enabled voice and messages to a broadband-enabled smart devices that run various applications. The same thing is now happening with the Virve phones and other communication devices for the authorities that police officers, rescuers and paramedics, for example, wear on their lapels,” Toivonen explains.
Virve 2 brings new services alongside its cornerstone and most important feature, the group call. Fast positioning capabilities and database searches, effectively shared images and, soon, enhanced group video call services will help to effectively draw a common situation picture between different authorities.
Prioritised messages along the bypass lane
“We will of course start from the basic functions, but Virve 2 will also enable a lot more – including future applications that are not even known yet. Drones are already widely used in the security sector, and Virve 2’s group video service, for example, can produce video from the camera carried by a drone. This saves resources and increases safety when mapping out a forest fire, for example, or in siege situations,” says Forsell.
Even though Virve 2 utilises the same 4G and 5G networks as commercial services, the traffic that travels along it is encrypted and prioritised.
“Virve 2 sort of drives in the same lanes as passenger cars, but its messages are like VIP vehicles with darkened windows and blue flashlights – the messages are encrypted and the network always moves the other traffic aside to make way for them,” Forsell explains.
Careful test operation enables a smooth transition
Although the testing and deployment of Virve 2 are making fast progress on the design board, Tomi Lounema, who is in charge of them, makes sure that things are done carefully.
“Our customers’ communications concern highly critical matters, such as directing rescuers to the scene of an accident or ensuring that the hospital is informed about a patient’s injuries well in time. The service must be well tested and reliable in each and every situation,” he says.
“ Exposing the service to various scenarios and as many disturbances as possible serves the customer,“ says Tomi Lounema, Virve 2 programme manager.
The goal is that the users will already be able to switch to the new service starting from 2024. According to Lounema, the products and testing are right on target.
“The first public call has already been made, coming through loud and clear! The first product, the Virve 2 Data subscription, is already available to customers. The Virve 2 Package, which will replace the current Virve and includes a group communication application, will also be available this spring – as will the first terminal devices. IoT subscriptions will also be available later this year,” says Lounema.
Lounema says that small-scale user testing was already carried out last year and that in 2023, the test use of the services will be expanded to as many customer organisations as possible.
“Each security authority has slightly different operating situations, which is why all test experiences are valuable to us. Exposing the service to different scenarios and as many disruptions as possible serves the customer, as it makes the product well-tested and reliable,” he adds.
Support for testing and deployment
During the spring of 2023, Erillisverkot will provide its customers with a design template and support for testing and deployment planning. Tomi Lounema encourages all security operators to test the products well in advance to ensure smooth migration to the new service by 2028.
“We are at our customers’ disposal on a 24/7 basis, from testing to deployment, procurement of terminal devices and potential problem situations, such as power outages. We are also preparing guidelines for users to facilitate the management of the migration and starting of the upgrade work in the user’s own organisation,” says Lounema.
Ari Toivonen and Sven Forsell also promise all the necessary support for the customers and thank them for their good cooperation in the project thus far.
“We know the Finnish security authorities well and know what the migration means for them. We have a good connection that has been established over a long period of time – it is good to work together for an even more well-functioning and secure society,” says Toivonen.