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A truly secure network

VIRVE is the world’s first countrywide public radio network to be based on the TETRA standard, and designed to provide local and national authorities and agencies with a safe and reliable management and communications system. Based on an idea that first emerged in the 1980s, the VIRVE network has been operational since 2002.
EADS Secure Networks Oy
State Security Networks Ltd.

Designed to guarantee public sector-related communications needs under a maximally wide range of conditions through a common network, the VIRVE solution has been estimated as between 20% and 30% cheaper to implement than a series of separate, dedicated networks. VIRVE has also made it possible to introduce new forms of cooperation between different services and agencies, and has added a new dimension to national security.

Despite being a common system, VIRVE provides its users, such as the police, fire brigades and rescue personnel, and the ambulance service, with all the services of dedicated networks. Particular emphasis has been given to guaranteeing data protection and ensuring high-speed data and speech throughput.

Using one and the same network enables the relevant authorities and agencies to respond more flexibility and in a more coordinated way when dealing with major accidents, for example. This is a major plus when one recalls the problems caused around the world by the use of separate networks when responding to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis.

A new digital era

The digital VIRVE network has replaced a series of analogue applications. In addition to all its other advantages, this also makes it easy for VIRVE users to access other networks, such as mobile phone and fixed line networks, if needed.

Users only need their VIRVE phone and can dispense with a GSM handset altogether, thanks to this interoperability.

Based on TETRA technology from EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company), the VIRVE network is owned and operated by Suomen Erillisverkot Oy, a state-owned company set up to operate all the security networks used by government agencies.

A VIRVE-based emergency number

A good example of the new opportunities made possible by VIRVE technology is Finland’s national emergency number service. This replaces the earlier system, which was based around hundreds of local rescue units, while the police had their own emergency number.

Beginning in January 2006, Finland will have only one emergency number, 112, which callers can ring when they need an ambulance, police assistance, the fire services, maritime rescue assistance, social services, or other similar services.

The Emergency Response Centre (ERC) already handles some four million emergency calls annually, of which around two million are forwarded to various agencies and authorities for processing. Some 47% of calls are ambulance-related, 46% police-related, and 7% rescue-related.

The VIRVE system provides the backbone for ERC’s operations and simplifies life for the personnel who man the Centre’s phones and handle between 8,000 and 10,000 calls a year each.

VIRVE has brought a new level of cooperation between different emergency services and added a new dimension to national security

Reliable

The VIRVE network places very high demands on the TETRA technology underpinning it, in terms of reliability and security – and the technology has more than lived up to these expectation, delivering 99.988% or virtually 100% usability performance.

The use of TETRA technology also means that the VIRVE network is inherently safer and more secure than the previous systems that it has replaced. VIRVE was the first system anywhere to adopt Air Interface Encryption (AIE), for example, which protects the content of messages as they flow between terminals and base stations.

Another key security feature is the use of authentication to identify terminals and ensure that only authenticated terminals can access and use the VIRVE network, thereby preventing communications being illegally listened in on. VIRVE terminals, for their part, always check the network before making a connection.

Locate your resource

The VIRVE network also communicates location data, which some of the system’s users employ to keep track of their mobile units.

Using the GPS location data generated by VIRVE terminals, the ERC, for example, can locate the ambulance closest to the scene of an accident and dispatch it to the location in question. Location information also helps provide a better overall picture of resources and the ‘state of play’ in various situations.

Guaranteeing safety and assistance

VIRVE has also proved its worth in helping guarantee the safety of people attending major events, such as the Neste Rally, an important date on the World Rally Championship calendar, and the IAAF World Championships held in Helsinki in 2005. Access to the network benefits not only the local authorities, but also the people organising these events.

Projects are now under way to extend the use of VIRVE to cover a wide range of social and health care needs, environmental health needs, and more generally to local government.

A national social services emergency centre, capable of providing assistance for children in need, young people in trouble, and old age pensioners with problems, is being developed, and is scheduled to enter service by 2007. The secure data connections offered by VIRVE are ideal for transmitting the confidential information, such as health and hospital records, operations of this type involve.

VIRVE is an ideal management tool for social services personnel, who can use its services to coordinate accommodation, food, and counselling, for example, when responding to accidents or similar acute need.

TETRA technology benefits

  • Rapid data and speech connections, with connections established in less than a third of a second
  • Secure and reliable
  • One and the same system can be used by a wide range of agencies and services, all of whom can still enjoy all the services of older dedicated systems
  • Calls and users can be prioritised across the network
  • As an independent network, TETRAbased systems such as VIRVE continue operating when conventional phone networks are down
  • Interference-free calls.
> Tiina Saaristo
(Published in High Technology Finland )