Leveraging Data to Complement LMR Communications
By Aaron Maben
Tuesday, February 01, 2022 | Comments
Mission-critical communications are just that — critical — and without them, the mission does not get accomplished. Whether it’s fighting a three-alarm fire, performing triage for a mass casualty event, or making a traffic stop on a known stolen vehicle, without mission-critical communications, the first responder runs the risk of mission failure.

The foundation of mission-critical communications has, and always will be, voice. However, that doesn’t mean digital technologies and applications can’t further enhance our public-safety organizations and allow first responders to do their job more effectively.

With the rise in connected technology in public safety, the demand for consistent and secure connectivity continues to grow to include critical data such as video streams, location awareness, access to far-off databases in the cloud and the real-time health status of a first responder. As such, public-safety organizations require flexible networking solutions that connect first responders to the data they require to act at a moment’s notice.

LMR for voice and its associated narrowband data capability has been the choice for supporting mission-critical communications. As demand for data increases, new data-first enhancements to communications further extend the effectiveness of this process overall. For example, cellular networks, whether public or private, and emerging 5G bring more speed and capacity to support more immersive applications. Additionally, enhanced edge security is now more important than ever to protect agencies and even entire communities.

LMR is the foundation of mission-critical communications, but public safety still needs four walls and a ceiling. LMR networks remain an essential component to mission-critical communications as they provide long-range voice coverage for cities, counties and states, and support narrowband data transmissions, such as location data. As data requirements increase, so will the need for public and private broadband cellular solutions, which support the increase in data and data-driven applications.

Why have mission-critical communications seen an increasing demand for data? The answer is the growing number of connected devices and applications used by public-safety officers to deliver better outcomes. Consider police officers. Their vehicles are equipped with multiple cameras, sensors and license plate scanners, while the officers themselves have body-worn cameras. These devices stream video, telemetry data and information to the cloud, which is crucial for real-time analytics, increased situational awareness and decentralized crisis response in the field.

In these situations, the broadband cellular data network needs to be fast, flexible and reliable. For example, first responders need the capability to transmit data from their moving vehicles to destinations that matter, whether it’s hospitals or dispatch centers. To consistently and quickly transmit this data, there needs to be a reliable, high-bandwidth, network in place to support the growing amount and types of data being transferred.

Cellular Networks as a Complement
Many public-safety agencies realize the promise of cellular networks in keeping critical data communications flowing smoothly. While LMR networks provide reliable, low bandwidth data transmission, the increased capacity and ubiquitous coverage of cellular networks, like LTE and 5G, are a fantastic complement to LMR in support of emerging bandwidth-intensive applications and connected technologies. Cellular networks allow public-safety organizations to connect the complex, data-intensive applications from vehicles, stations, dispatch centers and devices to cloud-based applications and centralized services.

By utilizing cellular networks in conjunction with LMR, public-safety organizations have more consistent connectivity across their devices by taking advantage of the redundancy built into the networks by design. This is essential to mission-critical communications, especially since technologies such as mobile data terminals (MDTs), location-based applications, sensors and connected gear have become a daily part of a public-safety officer’s job. Public-safety organizations can rely heavily on these cellular connections for mobile devices and in-service vehicles. For example, the two networks working together ensure that both voice and data communications are available and optimized.

For first responders in Parma, Ohio, having LMR connectivity using the XL series converged radios from L3Harris delivered reliable, consistent LMR connectivity was already part of their communications system. However, they needed reliable broadband connectivity to provide medical technicians the ability to conduct video conferences between ambulances and emergency rooms.

When T.J. Martin, public information officer/radio communications coordinator of the fire department for Parma, approached the city’s system integrator, Cleveland Communications, about this issue, they came up a great solution. They had the vision that LMR could work alongside cellular broadband technology to support their traditional first responder voice and additional data-intensive application needs. Working with both L3Harris and Cradlepoint, the team installed mobile cellular routers in addition to their LMR radios.

“After installing cellular routers in the city’s vehicles, we were able to equip both first responders and hospital personnel with tablets to video conference in route to the hospital,” said Martin. “Since we invested in routers that provided access to FirstNet, ER doctors and technicians in Parma are now able to prepare equipment for critically injured patients before they even arrive at the hospital, pushing the boundaries on innovative and industry-leading healthcare.”

As data needs continues to grow, other industries are evaluating innovative ways to deploy and leverage cellular technologies. Private cellular networks (PCNs), consisting of both LTE and 5G, have emerged as a popular solution for a number of industries, supporting sprawling spaces ranging from campuses, shipping ports and refineries to smart cities. PCNs combine the control and fixed costs of a private network with the flexibility, security and macro-network benefits of cellular broadband, with a built-in pathway to private 5G. For critical communications, the benefits hold true, with this approach providing better network performance, bandwidth and security.

Additionally, with 5G becoming more pervasive, a new era of connectivity will present itself for the public-safety sector, marking a unique moment of flexibility and fiber-fast performance, enabling forward-thinking innovation that will only push the industry even further.

A Pathway to 5G
With public and private cellular networks, public-safety organizations can supplement LMR to provide consistent, flexible and fast connectivity. For public-safety organizations considering an investment in public (or private) cellular networks, they should determine the connectivity needs of their region, strategize which network will best fit those needs, and consider federal initiatives to assist with implementing one or a combination of the available critical communication networks. For instance, public-safety organizations can leverage FirstNet to assist with this project.

With all these investments in place, public-safety organizations can develop a strategy to ensure the best mission-critical connectivity for each scenario, no matter the application or use case.

As the number of connected technologies at the fingertips of first responders grows, so must the scope of how users rely on mission-critical communications. While public-safety agencies will continue to leverage LMR for their voice communications, the rapid increase in data needs requires new thinking, one rooted in the idea of cellular networks. Fortunately, there is a clear path ahead, with enhanced public and private networks and the evolution to 5G, these solutions offer an extension of coverage, increased data capacity, better security and improved versatility for public-safety agencies overall.

“The city of Parma is really just one example of how enhanced connectivity can change the way we think about emergency response and overall public safety; we are only just scratching the surface,” said James Potter, director of product solutions from L3Harris. “As critical communications continue to evolve and advance, and both public and private networks become more widespread, there will only be more tools in the toolbox to identify and invest in new, innovative ways to serve our communities. The future for this sector is bright.”

Aaron Maben is the corporate solutions engineer for security at Cradlepoint. At Cradlepoint, Aaron helps clients reduce the complexity of their distributed networks, decrease workload of over-extended IT teams and increase operational efficiency while delivering return on investment (ROI) via cloud-managed, software-defined endpoints.

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