08 Jan 2021

7 Critical Communications Technology Trends 2021 | Tactical, Public Safety and Industry

SAVOX Communications CTO Sami Paihonen shares his trend predictions for the tactical, public safety and industry in 2021
In the fields of defense, public safety and industry digitalization has been the key topic when discussing technological advancements in product and system development and acquirement. This topic is not dying down. On the contrary, in 2021 digitalizationin these fields will only be expedited due to 5G network development, IoT and Artificial Intelligence. Organisations are looking forward to how technology will improve levels of situational awareness during critical missions. 

In 2021 critical communications industry will strive towards enhanced situational awareness by following these predicted technology trends: 

1. Mission Critical IoT Gains Ground in 2021

Future for both battlefield and public safety field operations is digital, which unleashes new capabilities and capacities. Near future requirements for e.g., networking, cyber-security, data bandwidth, anti-jamming and upgradability will require solutions where Mission Critical IoT will play critical role.  

We will for example see blockchain used to ensure ultra-secure front-line networking or IOT-based device and sensor networks utilized in demanding environments and critical contexts. 

2. Joint Situational Awareness Across Tactical and Public Safety fields 

When first responders, firefighters, police and armed forces enter an urgent critical field operation, there hasn’t been a common situational awareness picture, until now.  In 2021, Joint Information Products and Systems will arrive introducing new critical capability: Incident Intelligence 
Joint systems enable better front-line operational view for the whole chain of command and provide increased operational efficiency - keeping also front-line operators safe. 


3. Situational Awareness Meets Design Thinking, Becoming Situational Design 

Design Thinking will finally arrive to Critical Communications, but not in a same way as in consumer business. Critical operations are a series of situations, where end user’s and related team’s user requirements change dynamically.  This requires new type of design thinking, which is Situational Design.

Situational Design is
designing better solutions through different phases of operations, and utilizing design tools to create best possible user experience (UX).  Here, user experience is much more than form factor, visual design or service design; it is a holistic way to see through toughest environments what matters in each phase to end users and teams the most. 

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Audio Technology Leads the Way in Enhancing Front-line Awareness 

Audio will maintain its position as the most important medium in front-line team communications as new, exciting audio innovations are coming to hearing products and solutions. Spatial audio, familiar from surround systems and lately Apple AirPods Pro, will be a huge improvement in toughest environments - knowing the direction of a sound or threat will be huge factor. 

The evolution of audio won’t stop there; new technologies will give end users the ability to hear things better than before (super-hearing) and even beyond human’s hearing scale. These spectrum's can be used for various useful applications to for example detect threats or expand awareness beyond visual scale. Audio will be the spearhead for eXtended Reality (XR).

5. 5G & Data - From Critical Communications to Critical Information System

Term “slicing” will become omnipresent - our attention is sliced; our time schedule is sliced and 5G network slicing will enable a new era of critical information topology. Delivering data using best possible 5G performance still depends on various factors, where e.g., OpenRAN plays key role, but ultimately, 5G will fulfil its role as fast data highway. 

The question thus becomes what to do with all this data? Audio, video, biometrics, location - all is data, and the overflow of data in frontline operations becomes a negative factor. This will mean that in the era of Edge Computing, there will be Micro Edge Computing architecture, which will utilise dynamic data processing most useful device. And it may not be usual accessory, laptop, smartphone or terminal - there will be new category of Smart Control Devices born.

6. Video 2.0 & AI - Video as a Sensor Boosted by AI

Video will be increasing its power either as an information tool or weapon. Video can record events to be shared and learned about later, it can bring better situational awareness picture and enrich command chain quality. However, when AI is attached to Video, it becomes a versatile tool where it is not only seeing but to understanding the video information better - and to see the hidden data. 

AI-boosted Video can help to e.g. decide whether terrain is ok for vehicle to continue (while attached to vehicle computers), find objects and threats from video feed which human eye may not find and create ‘in situ’ view on building when entering. AI will stay as a important boost feature for various technologies and in Video, the first benefit come in 2021.  

7. PPE 2.0 - Personal Protective Equipment Breaks Free Via New Technology

Personal Protective Equipment (or PPE for short) is entering an era where we can re-think what and especially how personal safety needs to be approached. Hearing protectors, masks, eye protectors, visors, helmets etc. can all benefit from new materials, digital enhancementssensors and other technologies.  

The real key will be how to think personal safety as a system instead of an individual product. This way the performance of personal protection equipment will increase, and safety becomes more holistic topic - from clothing to protectors, hard hats to enhanced visors.  

PPE is ripe for new exciting innovations and here consumer business will act as a catalyst. For example, the latest bicycle or motorcycle helmets are incredibly well designed and thought outside the box. The PPE industry will inevitably start seeing similar new and exciting solutions. 

In Summary

What these trends have in common is the purpose of increasing the level of situational awareness whether it’s through enhanced flow of information or better individual physical protection. In 2021 product development that began in previous years will be set into high gear. 

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Sami Paihonen

Savox Communicaions CTO, and Advisor and BoD Member in several other companies.