Southern Linc Contracts with Alabama Public-Safety Agencies for Mission-Critical LTE Services
Tuesday, August 15, 2017 | Comments

Southern Co. subsidiary Southern Linc entered into a partnership with the Huntsville-Madison County (Alabama) 9-1-1 Dispatch Center (MadCo 9-1-1) for mission-critical Long Term Evolution (LTE) service.

The Huntsville agreement enables the city of Huntsville and MadCo 9-1-1, Alabama’s largest combined dispatch center, to use Southern Linc’s mission-critical LTE network for wireless data transmission. The service is expected to be available in Huntsville and Madison County in the second quarter of 2018.

Southern Linc will add LTE equipment to select Madison County towers to connect city and county first responders to Southern Linc’s new mission-critical LTE network. Southern Linc is constructing its new 4G LTE Advanced network to meet the mission-critical data needs of its largest customer, Southern Company’s four electric utilities, including Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power and Mississippi Power.

MadCo 9-1-1 CEO and Director of Radio Infrastructure Ernie Blair has been working with Southern Linc to bring mission-critical wireless data services to his service area via a public/private network partnership for the past two years. “We are excited about deploying wireless data service with Southern Linc because it will bring us a service level that’s just not available from other carriers,” he said. “Southern Linc’s new mission-critical LTE network is built for reliability and priority, and our agencies will reap the benefit of priority and pre-emption of services when critical events occur. That’s something we need and are not getting today.”

The MadCo 9-1-1 network will have two redundant cores, one in Birmingham and one in Atlanta connected with multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) technology. Nineteen sites will cover Madison County, which contributed $1.1 million to the project and will share towers and related equipment with Southern Linc. The city of Huntsville public-safety officials currently use a commercial LTE network and will move to the Southern Linc LTE network in 2018 and pay service fees.

The groups expect 500 initial Huntsville users on the MadCo 9-1-1 network with another 500 users from other local agencies. Southern Linc has certified the GE MDS Orbit series of wireless routers for the network. Sonim Technologies is building two phones for the network, and Motorola Solutions is providing push-to-talk (PTT) technology. Ericsson is providing the radio access network (RAN) and evolved packet cores, and Cisco is providing the MPLS equipment.

Southern Linc’s 800 MHz LTE network, called CriticalLinc, will offer network encryption over the air. In addition, the company is strengthening emergency backup power capabilities with hydrogen fuel cell technology at key locations and is adding main power and complete data center redundancy to further increase the reliability of the new network. Southern Linc plans to begin migrating existing utility customers to the new network in 2018.

"Our goal is to provide highly reliable, secure wireless communications for utilities, public safety and business customers," said Southern Linc President and CEO Tami Barron. "Because our most important customers are utilities and first responders, we designed our new LTE network to accommodate the need for priority and pre-emption over normal network traffic when emergencies occur. That means Huntsville and Madison County first responders will get the data they need when they really need it--especially when network usage spikes.”

MadCo 9-1-1 users can roam on to the Critical Linc network built for the four utilities if they travel outside their jurisdictions. Southern Linc also is working on deployables to have available for emergencies once the network launches next year, said Michael Smith, Alabama government sales director for Southern Linc.

Blair said the agreement will allow his officials to have mission-critical data services before the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) rolls out in Alabama. The state has not yet announced whether it will opt in or out of the Alabama FirstNet state plan. Alabama released a request for proposals (RFP) for a statewde alternative RAN last year. Southern Linc said the FCC should allow alternative RAN plans that include a core network from states that are interested in opting out of FirstNet.

“Southern Linc is a trusted service provider that has supported the city of Huntsville for more than 10 years,” said Bill Steiner, IT services director for the city of Huntsville. “This new data service agreement is specifically designed to help our first responders better serve our community.”

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On 9/21/17, Burch Falkner said:
I've got a dumb question. What is it that this system does that is not already available with more advanced technology and lower cost with better economy of scale than any regional system could ever provide?

And are you telling me that a system serving 500 users is more reliable and hardened than a system designed to serve hundreds of thousands of users in the same area?

When do you think I arrived on this planet?

On 8/17/17, Ricky Little said:
Southern Linc was a lifesaver during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. They brought in massive amounts of equipment and supplies to meet the needs of utility workers and first responders, and in some cases, doubled the capacity of towers to accommodate the surge of critical agencies responding in south Alabama. We need more public-private partnerships like this to enhance our public safety and first responder networks. Great job Southern Linc and Madison County, Alabama. When we needed it most, Southern Linc met the challenge and I will never forget it.

On 8/16/17, Jeff said:
Bob, you need to get your facts straight on which carrier you are referring to in your comments below. Southern Linc never went down during any of the hurricanes in western Florida during the past 20 years. In fact, they had to come to the rescue of several entities that were not current Linc customers because their current carrier did not work. By the way, you do realize the largest utility in northwest Florida is a sister company.

On 8/15/17, Bob said:
Talk to the utilities in the Florida panhandle where Southern Linc suspended all service to non-Southern Co. subscribers after a hurricane in western Florida. There was a mad scramble to find and place into service conventional two-way radios to restore some communications capability for several utility companies after that action. Those utilities will likely not forget that event quickly.

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