Texas Events Highlight Public Safety LTE Research, Real-World Scenarios
Friday, November 13, 2015 | Comments
The third annual EDGE Winter Institute and second annual corresponding FirstNet Applications Workshop brought together about 300 people from academia, the user community and industry to test public safety Long Term Evolution (LTE) during a first responder training exercise and to learn more about the research and real-world scenarios surrounding the technology. The workshop and part of the exercise were held at Disaster City, a public-safety training and testing grounds in College Station, Texas.

The EDGE Winter Institute exercise simulated Hurricane Benton, a theoretical category 3 hurricane that made landfall from Galveston to Houston. In addition to flooding, the storm damaged and stranded a vessel in the Gulf.

The U.S. Coast Guard; Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC); Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); Texas National Guard; Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS); Texas Task Force 1; Texas A&M University (TAMU) veterinary response team; Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; and local law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel participated. General Dynamics Mission Systems and its partners set up a deployable 700 MHz band 14 LTE site at the event with a 50-foot tower housing three band 14 eNodeBs. The site had 48 hours of operations with a generator. Deployment time was about an hour with two people.

The network had 7 milliseconds of latency, with 6 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds and 16 Mbps upload. “You won’t see that on commercial networks,” said Dr. Walt Magnussen, director of TAMU’s Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center (ITEC).

The technology trials offered several firsts, including basic static prioritization of traffic, which will help future research on application signaling between the applications and LTE policy charging and rules function (PCRF).

A Parallel Wireless vehicular repeater was on the Coast Guard boat that rescued the stranded vessel. It was the first time that a gateway between a FEMA network and civilian first responder network was used. The Mutualink interoperability platform helped connect the networks through a FEMA kit with back-to-back Mutualink servers.

The Coast Guard was involved for the first time in the Winter Institute and used a submersible robot from Teledyne to perform a hull inspection of the boat in distress before Coast Guard officials boarded the boat. The challenge was to line up the two vessels in fairly high seas because the robot was tethered to the Coast Guard boat.

Other communications-specific vendors that participated in the event included Consolidated Telecom Services, Dell, Inmarsat, Module X Solutions, nFocus Solutions, Space Data, Sonim Technologies, Oracle, Juniper Networks, GeoComm, RedSky, Fujitsu and Experient.

EDGE Winter Institute’s goal is to explore the viability of connecting Department of Defense (DoD), National Guard, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and commercial networks with a dedicated public-safety network and command-and-control systems, said Phil Zion, director of broadband systems for General Dynamics Mission Systems, EDGE sponsor.

“Being an experiment, there was a lot that we learned from the process but really it uncovered areas where we have yet to do work,” Magnussen said. “Each one of these exercises needs to be documented and is a stepping stone for the next activity.”

Magnussen referred to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) research areas established by the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program. PSCR released a report on location-based services in May and plans to develop roadmaps in other technology focus areas, including analytics and user interface and experience.

Future exercises will address further testing of GPS deployables, Ka-band satellites, prioritization, and testing and measurement.

The FirstNet Applications Workshop, which ran concurrently with the EDGE exercise, included presentations by officials from FirstNet, TAMU, the state of Colorado, DHS, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Security Agency (NSA), Texas National Guard, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), Coast Guard and TxDPS. Eight states were represented at the workshop, and one of those states scheduled an exercise for the March/April timeframe. 

“The two events, EDGE Winter Institute and FirstNet Applications Workshop, rely on each other,” Magnussen said. "The Winter Institute is a training and outreach exercise, and the workshop is designed to provide other states with the tools to re-create this invaluable exercise themselves."

Sandra Wendelken is editor of MissionCritical Communications and RadioResource International magazines. Contact her at swendelken@RRMediaGroup.com.

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