Some 500 people each week die in accidents on European roads, and in an effort to lower this number, the European Union (EU) has introduced eCall, a new vehicle safety system that leverages the mobile networks in each member country. What lessons does it hold for the rapidly developing, wider IoT market? John English, senior marketing manager, Service Providers, Netscout looks at the new, pan-European eCall emergency service.

First developed in Germany in 2001, the technology was chosen by the EU to form the basis of new road safety legislation, originally put forward in 2013 and subsequently adopted and mandated across Europe on April 1st 2018. The EU Directive requires every new car sold in the European market after that date to be equipped with eCall technology, which enables instant communication with emergency services should an accident occur.

In the event of an accident, passengers can make an emergency call or, if they are unable to do so, the call will be made automatically when in-vehicle sensors are activated by the collision. Either way, the eCall in-vehicle system will establish a direct 112 or 999 connection with the relevant public safety answering point (PSAP) and, even if no passenger is able to speak, the PSAP will receive a minimum set of data, including a timestamp, whether the call was triggered automatically or manually, and the exact location of the accident, along with current and previous positions of the vehicle.

A true lifeline application, it’s been estimated that this breakthrough technology will cut down emergency response times by around 40% in urban areas, and by 50% in rural areas, saving up to 1,500 lives a year and significantly reducing the seriousness of injuries sustained.

Identify and prioritise

eCall is a prime example of how wireless connected devices are being integrated into our daily lives. In time, it will become a valuable addition to the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT), where many initiatives already underpin a growing number of mission-critical applications such as disaster monitoring and situational awareness. In these critical use cases especially, maintaining connectivity and service assurance are paramount.

For the time being, however, while IoT networks are still relatively nascent across most of Europe, eCall must rely on existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks for the coverage it needs. For it to be successful, every mobile operator must address the technical challenge of ensuring every alert the system generates can reach the PSAP as quickly and accurately as possible. Operators must be able to distinguish between the different traffic types and classes of service that run on their networks, prioritising critical traffic from lifeline systems such as eCall over non-critical traffic.

While voice bearers will be assigned to eCall traffic running over 4G VoLTE services to ensure they receive the appropriate service level, for example, operators must still take a proactive approach to monitoring and analysing any traffic data generated by an eCall device, prioritising it accordingly.

John English

Furthermore, a classification system for use with lifeline traffic should be developed in conjunction with regulators and network equipment vendors, and be used to support a form of application-aware routing to ensure that emergency traffic is always automatically prioritised over non-emergency traffic.

As with the UK Government’s delayed Emergency Services Network, set to run over 4G rather than the current slow and expensive TETRA network, classifying a specific type of data in this way will be a significant step towards maintaining a full, ever-connected presence for eCall’s capabilities.

Visibility and service assurance

The success of services such as eCall relies on data being sent to and from a network server, instantaneously and in real-time, regardless of location. Up to this point mobile networks have been designed to cope with occasional data peaks, typically based on traffic generated by consumer devices, such as smart phones The eCall lifeline devices are intended to lie dormant, only becoming active in the event of an accident; hence their behaviour and traffic patterns will be different.

As the IoT continues to gain momentum, and connected devices become more widely adopted, the pressure on networks could lead to unsustainable levels of congestion and downtime for mission-critical applications like eCall.

With such a reliance on consistent high availability, it’s vital that operators have complete visibility into the performance of their networks. Meaningful and actionable insight, derived from the analysis of smart contextual data from across the network, will enable potential issues to be identified and resolved before they become problems, providing operators with the service assurance they need. In addition, this data enables authorities to analyse the effectiveness of the system and thus optimise the service.

By differentiating and prioritising emergency data traffic for the eCall system, while simultaneously employing greater visibility and actionable insight to support its demands on the network, operators will be contributing to its success, and to the well-being of those who require its life-saving capabilities.

The author of this blog is John English, senior marketing manager, Service Providers, Netscout

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