Public-Safety Wireless Communications: A Vision and Call to Action
Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | Comments
I stopped at the MissionCritical Communications magazine booth at the APCO conference and spent some time talking with its staff about the future of public-safety wireless as I see it. Following is what I believe the future holds for the public-safety community in the way of communications.

I have no timeline in mind for what I envision because there are so many pieces that will have to come together. These include the technical pieces, which are the easiest, and then pieces that require congressional and/or FCC action to become viable. It is said you can do anything if you have the funding. However, today’s public-safety community is struggling as cities, counties, states and federal agencies find other ways to spend their money — our money.

The issue of funding for next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) systems on a nationwide basis will be resolved when the current bill is passed. Other issues will be resolved or at least mitigated to some degree when the federal government realizes chasing rural broadband is not only about fiber; it is about fiber and various wireless solutions. Further, to close the digital divide, we cannot continue with multiple agencies and multiple methods for funding bits and pieces of what is needed. What we do need is a coordinated, concentrated effort in conjunction with public safety because public safety needs coverage in rural America as much as the people living and working in rural areas.

Back to my vision for public-safety communications. I see multiple communications systems working together to provide seamless communications from the professionals reporting incidents to those dispatched to respond to the incidents. This network of integrated networks is all IP based, so voice, data and video flows freely from one pipe to another, and capacity and voice follow the optimal path to reach first responders.

In this system, NG 9-1-1 is the input for information needed to send appropriate resources to where they are needed. In the field, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is the data, video and voice interoperability pipe, and LMR co-exists with FirstNet into the distant future. LMR will have converted transport and control of its sites to an all-IP based network of networks, and public-safety agencies are using TV datacasting.

TV datacasting currently operates over public broadcast TV stations that cover 97 percent of the U.S. population, and they can be used locally, regionally and nationally as needed. When a single chip is added to today’s smartphones and tablets, TV datacasting will be available in the field and at the emergency operations center. Floor plans, live action, unmanned aerial system (UAS) and helicopter footage, and more will be broadcast without impacting terrestrial networks.

If all these various types of communications are put together in a synergistic, IP-based system and field personnel carry devices that help them navigate to the specific network they need when they need it, public-safety communications will remain what it is today — a tool for public safety. Law enforcement, fire personnel, EMS and other first and even secondary responders can perform their tasks without having to think about which communications method is being used. The networks in concert will deliver the content to the appropriate people at the right time.

If you share this vision, then the next questions are, “How do we get there, in what timeframe, at what cost, and how do we get started?” There are models that have worked in the past, and of course, we must be open to new models going forward. The important thing is for the public-safety community to once again come together as it did before FirstNet, present a plan that includes ongoing operational funds, win the support of Congress and the FCC, and then execute that plan in an orderly and efficient manner.

Ongoing operational costs are not normally covered by typical federal grants, but FirstNet is an exception having been set up to be both self-sustaining and self-funding through proceeds from the network builder and operator. I believe the same model would work here.

This is my vision and my dream for a public-safety network: It is a fully integrated, self-defining (as to content) network that serves the public-safety community as an easy-to-use tool to provide needed information and ensure that anyone who runs into trouble will receive assistance quickly, regardless of the situation or where they happen to be. Would you like to join me on this journey?

The vision will require public safety to once again come together as a group as it did with the Public Safety Alliance. We can draw on folks from the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) and perhaps the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International. But, primarily we need input from organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA) — very important because most sheriffs receive more votes than successful congressional candidates — the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and other organizations dedicated to public safety. Then to fill out our group, we need to add vendors willing to assist without promoting proprietary solutions, FirstNet Authority, and FirstNet, built with AT&T. All these entities must participate in our planning and action group.

If we come together as we did for FirstNet, we will see this vision and more become a reality.

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Andrew M. Seybold is CEO and principal analyst of Andrew Seybold Inc., a wireless industry consulting firm. Seybold, who has been involved in the industry for more than 45 years, is former vice chair of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International Broadband Committee. He publishes the Public Safety Advocate in conjunction with allthingsfirstnet.com. He can be reached at aseybold@andrewseybold.com.



 
 
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Comments
On 8/26/19, JOE SCHMELZER said:
Good stuff Andy. I know everyone continues to say LMR will last into the distant future but I struggle to see how it remains relevant in any way other than momentum history. I think it fades faster than expected. As soon as MCPTT is solid over LTE, it's hard to find any one-sided benefits of LMR.

On 8/23/19, robert damrau said:
Constructing nationally aligned interoperability and reseliency, digital domain infrastructure for immediate responder information exchange

On 8/21/19, John Contestabile said:
Andy, you are on point as usual. Gone are the days when public safety only had their LMR ... the future will be a system of systems in which the content — video, geographic information systems (GIS), voice sensors — will flow through the pipe that has sufficient capacity, and it will be transparent to the end user. To realize this vision, we need a framework of how it might all come together. Individual transport networks, applications and operating systems have solved pieces of this problem, but what is needed is a vision of how they all will work together. Certainly we need the input of the organizations you mention. There are elements of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) working on this issue as we speak, as well as the usual associations. It is my goal to make a significant dent in this issue before I retire.


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