Critical Matters

LTE for Public Safety: Are We Focusing Too Much on the Future?

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Even before August 22, 2012, when the members of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board were finally announced, magazines, websites, blogs, and other media channels that follow public safety in North America were focused on the activities surrounding the planning and deployment of the Band 14 Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). Now that the FirstNet board is official, those same media outlets, along with the rest of us, are spending a great deal of time speculating on:

  • The pros and cons of the different NPSBN implementation options being considered by FirstNet, including standalone, single network partner or multiple network partners
  • How much it will cost to build the network and where the funding, beyond the $7B already allocated, will come from
  • Which states will opt in/out of the NPSBN and the real impact of their decisions on grant funding, interoperability and other issues
  • A variety of other topics, including public safety broadband applications, roaming between the NPSBN and commercial networks, and how to ensure the availability of low-cost devices for first responders

While all of these are important issues worthy of discussion, when it comes to broadband for public safety are we focused too much on the future and not enough on what’s possible here and now?

As an industry, public safety needs to broaden the discussion beyond FirstNet and the NPSBN to include more conversations on how agencies can best use the commercial Long Term Evolution (LTE) services available today. To address the threats and challenges they currently face, public safety agencies need interoperable, multimedia communications to enhance situational awareness, but the narrowband data systems currently in use cannot deliver the increased bandwidth required to support the new media. That is why agencies need LTE broadband capabilities now.

Rather than focusing on what is to come with the NPSBN, let us spend more time talking about how public safety can get maximum benefit from the commercial LTE services currently available. As Andrew Seybold, one of the most respected and influential analysts in the wireless industry today, said in his September e-newsletter, “Agencies can have their first experiences with the benefits of LTE by contracting with commercial network operators.”

While commercial LTE networks will not provide the priority/preemption, quality of service, and high level of reliability necessary for mission-critical communications, they can provide high-speed communications necessary to deliver a number of immediate benefits, including:

  • Access to applications previously unavailable in the field, such as CAD
  • A way to share hi-def building schematics and other images with first responders at the scene
  • Provide incident commanders with streaming video from the field

Nor should agencies be concerned that the LTE solution deployed on Band 13 and 17 commercial networks will not be able to work on the Band 14 NPSBN when it is available. Solutions like broadband vehicle routers and others can provide the flexibility and adaptability needed to bridge current and emerging technologies – offering an ideal solution for today’s immediate LTE needs and a smart choice for tomorrow’s public safety broadband communications.

The variety and richness of information that broadband LTE can provide has never been seen before in the public safety industry. That is precisely why public safety agencies should not wait to begin realizing the benefits LTE can provide to first responders and the people they protect. LTE services available today on commercial networks make it possible for public safety agencies to take advantage of these innovative applications and new media without the significant investment of a private Band 14 network.

To learn more about LTE and flexible solutions that support both Band 13 and 17 commercial as well as Band 14 public safety networks, go to http://www.cassidiancommunications.com/land-mobile-radio/lte-for-public-safety.php.

As Product Portfolio Manager for Cassidian Communications, an EADS North America company, Michael (Mike) Doerk is responsible for guiding the strategic marketing activities for its comprehensive portfolio of NG9-1-1 call center applications, P25 digital land mobile radio systems, and notification solutions to the North American Public Safety community. Mike can be reached via email at michael.doerk@CassidianCommunications.com.