Ensuring maximum reliability of connections enjoys top priority in a mission-critical communications network. If a mission-critical application fails, companies and people’s lives can be put at risk. KEYMILE explains five of the most important demands placed on mission-critical communications networks.

Mission-critical communications networks are highly reliable and secure infrastructures which provide mission-critical applications to control and monitor energy and distribution grids, gas and oil pipelines, railways, public-safety facilities and aviation management. To meet these highly challenging demands, KEYMILE believes that the mission-critical communications networks and the access and data-transmission systems need to offer five core attributes.

1. Failsafe performance in TDM and packet-based applications

For many years, operators of mission-critical communications networks have relied on the failsafe performance of their infrastructures which are based on TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) and achieve availability of 99.9999% with them. This figure, consisting of six nines, means that during a year the devices and data transmission are only allowed to fail for around 30 seconds per year. This high level of availability applies regardless of whether SDH (Synchronous Digital Hierarchy) or a packet-based transmission technology is used. For example, when a fast shutdown of high-voltage lines occurs and people’s lives might be in danger, switching to an alternative transmission path within less than 50ms(and therefore virtually in real time) is vital.

2. Hard-wearing and secured access and data-transmission systems

The high level of availability and life cycles of up to 20 years place enormous demands on the data transmission systems used. All their core components don’t just require redundant designs, the access platforms themselves must be well protected from external access and not available to unauthorised parties. In order to achieve a high level of stability and robustness, the systems should have as few mechanical parts as possible and be capable of fanless operation. It should also be possible to operate them in locked control cabinets without their own air conditioning. Availability for many years to come of spare parts, as well as low energy consumption are other crucial factors.

3. Operable in challenging conditions

Access and data transmission systems for mission-critical networks are often operated in remote places which are hard to access and in difficult surroundings. Therefore, the transmission systems must work perfectly in harsh ambient conditions. They need to have outdoor capabilities to function very reliably and safely. In other words, they have to be able to cope with a lack of space and tough ambient conditions, such as polluted air, high levels of humidity and outdoor temperatures of -50°C to 50°C.

4. Simultaneous operation of TDM and packet-based services

Many network operators don’t use more up to date, packet-based technologies until appropriate solutions have gained good track records in less critical applications. For some time now, a key aspect in this respect is selective migration or at least simultaneous operation of traditional TDM and packet-based services. Operators are constantly working on developing their mission-critical networks and in doing so should take into account compatibility with existing networks and integration of new application scenarios and terminal equipment.

5. Encryption is the cornerstone for secure data transmission

To increase the confidentiality and integrity of communications even further, the operators of mission-critical networks will in future increasingly choose encryption technologies. Encryption prevents unauthorised people looking at data and ensures that data is protected from theft or manipulation. In addition to traditional mathematical encryption, quantum cryptography in particular is becoming more and more important. Massive progress has been made in this area over the past few years. Today, quantum cryptography is already working reliably in selected applications and is a good method of protecting mission-critical networks.

"In mission-critical networks, constant communication and therefore the availability of companies’ mission-critical systems are the keys to gaining control in emergencies," comments Axel Föry, CEO of KEYMILE. "Failsafe operation, implemented in the form of components designed to be redundant, therefore has a high priority. With the rise of the Internet of Things and the ever closer links between critical infrastructures, protecting the systems is coming under closer and closer scrutiny. In order to protect mission-critical communication effectively, encrypting data transmission is vital. Quantum cryptography is a highly promising approach".