The Role of Public-Safety Standards in a Broadband Era
Tuesday, December 03, 2013 | Comments

Coordination among standards development organizations (SDOs) needs to occur to ensure clarity, transparency and consistency in the development of public-safety communications standards, according to attendees at the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) annual conference in Washington, D.C. the week of Oct. 7.

The conference theme was “The Future of the Network,” and TIA held a series of workshops built around this theme prior to the conference. The future of public-safety communications was considered through panel sessions and individual presentations covering the history of U.S. public-safety wireless communications, the role of the TIA TR8 Committee in the evolution of the Project 25 (P25) standard and the future direction of the standard relative to new broadband technologies.

Key outcomes from the workshop recognized that P25 is a mature global LMR standard and that investment by end users in networks and equipment is continuing. P25 has a large amount of corporate knowledge built from more than 20 years that must be maintained and remain accessible to and used by the public-safety community. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on marketing P25 as a global standard in emerging markets.

Mission-critical LMR voice will continue to perform a key role in public-safety communications for the foreseeable future, and the development of mission-critical Long Term Evolution (LTE) standards for broadband technologies is essential, as is interoperability with existing LMR networks. It was also recognized that SDOs must coordinate open, research and evidence-based global communications standards that provide interoperability to the benefit of the global public-safety community.

 

Traditional Networks and Standards

The characteristics of traditional public-safety communications presented to the workshop were summarized as follows:

• Narrowband (and getting narrower as the need for spectral efficiency grows)

• Primarily voice with limited data capability and capacity

• Typically owned and controlled by governments (federal, state and local)

• Interoperability achieved through mutual agreement between network owners

The workshop attendees heard that the ability to develop any standard comes from a three-step approach requiring the identification of a user community, the establishment of governance arrangements that document the needs for the standard, and an organization with the necessary engineering skills to develop, document, publish and maintain the standard.

The P25 standard has been driven by the three steps, led by the P25 Steering Committee, which produced on behalf of the public-safety community a P25 statement of requirements (SoR) dealing primarily with the need for interoperability and spectral efficiency. The TIA as the SDO and its TR8.0 Committee provided the engineering capability and capacity to produce and maintain the standard.

Through the governance arrangements, the P25 standard is essentially a mature global standard meeting the requirements of the public-safety community for mission-critical communications in a business environment, requiring continual adjustment to policy, regulatory, technology and commercial settings. The standard has given the public-safety community the flexibility and agility to manage within this changing environment by providing:

• The technical ability to move from analog to digital communications

• Interoperability among agencies and vendors’ products and services

• Instant, reliable, dependable, secure high-performance communications

• Multiple applications and interfaces

The P25 Steering Committee and the TIA TR8.0 Committee continue to work collaboratively to further strengthen the P25 standard while maintaining a focus on interoperability, security, interface enhancements and additional features to meet user needs coupled with the ability to interface to new and emerging technologies.

 

Broadband

The commercial response to the rapidly evolving consumer LTE demand in the form of networks, products and services will ultimately benefit the public-safety community when it is able to articulate and document its needs and standards requirements and appoints SDOs with the engineering skills to produce the standards. Mission-critical voice is provided over dedicated public-safety LMR networks while data (the mission-critical nature of which is yet to be defined) is provided over commercial networks. Public-safety communications reached a level of sophistication where new technologies will provide the community with the opportunity to use digital, secure and interoperable wide-area networks, bringing traditional and new-generation communications to a crossroads where the public has a greater communications capability and capacity than the public-safety community.

The cycle that produced the P25 standard commenced again on the development of mission-critical standards for broadband technologies. The opportunity exists to benefit substantially from lessons learned. Initial indications have been positive where the public-safety community worked together to convince Congress to provide additional dedicated spectrum for public-safety communications and to establish the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) with a mandate to establish a single nationwide broadband public-safety communications network.

Further positive indications are that the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) as the global SDO for mobile communications standards formally recognized the need for mission-critical LTE broadband standards with LTE Release 12 to include new features for public-safety communications for the first time. The United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) also made specific rulings on the definition of LTE. However this recognition was only achieved by global collaboration to identify, document and promote its needs for mission-critical broadband communications standards through a process that needs to continue to grow and mature.

Through consultation with Safecom, 38 public-safety needs have been identified for FirstNet with more to come, so that the fee for service offering from FirstNet should be compelling and competitive to the public-safety community. Importantly there are no plans to replace mission-critical LMR even though a nonmission-critical voice capability will be offered by FirstNet. The concept of public-safety-grade communications will drive the realization that commercial networks will have to be hardened to meet public-safety-grade requirements.

FirstNet Board Member and P25 Steering Committee Member Kevin McGinnis provided the workshop with an overview of the benefits that FirstNet will bring to the EMS community. The benefits will be based on the ability to access mission-critical broadband communications capability and capacity to provide enhanced situational awareness and complete operating picture. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) is reviewing EMS applications for their compatibility with LTE technologies.

The workshop then heard that the business model for FirstNet is still evolving and will need to incorporate the ability to leverage infrastructure used by utilities and small carrier infrastructure in rural communities. However, there is no timetable for when the deployment of FirstNet will commence outside the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Projects (BTOPs) networks.

FirstNet is expected to deliver public-safety features similar to those in mission-critical LMR. A great deal of work has already been done, which is ready for publication together with end-use case studies, although the TIA TR8.0 Committee will probably not be responsible for developing the mission-critical LTE push-to-talk (PTT) standard. This raises the need for coordination between the SDOs involved in the development of communications standards for broadband because LTE is an ecosystem — once you join, you are required to comply.

FirstNet will decide which SDO will do the standards development work required based on recommendations made by the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC). However the TIA TR8.0 will continue to be involved in the modification of the Inter RF Subsystem Interface (ISSI) required for mission-critical LTE. This illustrates the need for FirstNet to drive both innovation and interoperability to meet a broad base of end user requirements, such as the interface to mission-critical P25 via the ISSI. That in turn would strengthen the marketing of the P25 standard as a global mission-critical communications standard, which will have a place in the new generation ecosystem evolving for the public-safety community into the future.

 


 

Geoff Spring is the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Australasia director for international business development and strategy. He is also a member of the Global Alliance of APCO Partners and the P25 Steering Committee. He is senior advisor to the University of Melbourne on Public Safety. Spring is an editorial advisor to RadioResource International magazine.

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