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Extreme Networking

Ice Climbing and Flying Towers – All in a Day’s Work Building Norway’s Public Safety Communications Network

Nødnett is Norway’s new nationwide TETRA radio communications system for public safety and rescue users. The installation of the system, which will be completed this December, has been a monumental task, connecting 330 emergency call centres and 40,000 Police, Fire and Health users who make more than 1,500,000 calls per month.

From coastal fjords to the mountains, and from urban centres to the remote Polar North, the task of providing nationwide secure and resilient communications across Norway’s complex and challenging landscape has fallen to prime contractor Motorola Solutions.

To complete the network the company has managed the installation of 20,000 kilometres of microwave transmission lines – enough to run from London to Cape Town and back again. Testing the coverage has required driving 817,000 kilometres, equivalent to circumnavigating the globe 20 times and this includes inside the Laerdal tunnel, the longest road tunnel in the world, and the Eiksund and Bumlafjord tunnels, the two deepest subsea road tunnels. In fact, the network coverage extends through 758 kilometres of tunnels, about eight hours of solid driving and a distance that would carry you from Dover to Edinburgh without ever seeing the light of day.

And that is another great challenge. Because of Norway's high latitude, there are large seasonal variations in daylight. From late November to late January, the sun never rises above the horizon in the north. In these conditions it is not unusual for temperatures to plunge to a chilling -40°C. With the most northern radio base station located in the Arctic Circle at North Cape, and the control room at Svalbard, at 79.1 degrees north, deep in the Arctic Ocean, installation teams are called on to climb 50 metres up entombed radio towers to remove by hand the often stunningly beautiful, but problematic ice.

The extreme conditions and often remote locations, that can incorporate Norway’s national parks and forests, requires the network of 2170 TETRA base stations to be both self sufficient and at times adhere to strict environmental regulations. As well as extended battery backup, Nødnett has seen the development of a hybrid Alternative Power Solutions (APS) system for the protected areas. The hybrid system collects energy from solar panels, diesel generator and fuel cells, all approved for use in national parks. Disguised as traditional Norwegian barns, these APS systems, like many of the radio towers, equipment and teams were flown into location by helicopter. If combined together, the battery power in the completed network would send an electric car three times around the globe without a recharge!

This reliable, nationwide, end-to-end encrypted TETRA network now replaces hundreds of aging regional public safety systems. Despite operating in some of the most remote parts of Europe, Police, Fire, Paramedic and Health agencies have access to clear; secure and immediate data and voice calls so that they can communicate together and save lives.