Mobile Broadband in Public Safety — From Trend to Reality
By Philippe Agard
Monday, June 08, 2020 | Comments
With increasing pressure on governments and authorities to respond faster, more effectively and with real-time insights into emergencies, disasters and crises, there’s never been a more urgent need for a step change in public-safety communications. Bringing new connectivity, capacity and capability, mobile broadband holds the key.

Most public-safety communications networks are based on narrowband land mobile wireless technologies such as Project 25 (P25) or TETRA. These technologies have proven invaluable in providing highly resilient and dependable voice communications to respond to emergencies.

However, to deliver the 21st century experience shaped by a world of smartphones, ubiquitous fast internet access, video, social media and the internet of things (IoT), the public-safety community has been working hard to define a new generation of broadband and data-centric mission-critical communications networks.

This is starting to materialize and a new generation of public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) systems is being deployed to take advantage of the new data-rich capabilities that mobile broadband has to offer. Following are new use cases that are underpinning that worldwide technology evolution.

PPDR agencies are facing a new reality where bandwidth-hungry mission-critical intelligence, real-time data analytics and multimedia proficiency are now the essential crisis response toolset. To function quickly and effectively, it’s crucial that agencies can access data, social media and mobile videos in real time. In particular, high-resolution video streams, sent straight from incidents are becoming increasingly critical for real-time situational awareness and intelligence-driven decisions.

The ability to share, aggregate and analyze mission-critical voice and video calls for a new kind of communications infrastructure, one that allows PPDR agencies to deliver joined-up services and tackle events with greater clarity, control and effectiveness than ever before.

It’s no surprise then that just under a dozen national governments across the globe have awarded mobile broadband public-safety network projects. With many countries, states and city authorities also running mobile broadband trials and proofs of concepts, much work is underway to assess and leverage the potential for running PPDR systems on LTE and/or 5G.

FirstNet
A prime example is the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) in the U.S., which recently announced it had reached 1.3 million subscribers across 12,000 agencies. A nationwide public-safety LTE (PS-LTE) network in the 700 MHz band, it’s the first case of a large broadband PPDR data network that supplements the state and local P25 narrowband mission-critical voice networks.

With the goal of bringing “21st century tools to public-safety agencies and first responders,” FirstNet is enabling a range of new capabilities over LTE. For example, Brazos County Sheriff’s Office is leveraging LTE’s high-bandwidth, low-latency connections to share video, still images and situational analysis more quickly and easily, which in turn makes for better decision-making in the field.

The Brazos County approach to using video encapsulates the core advantages of mobile broadband. High-resolution videos assist law enforcement, and combined with IoT capability, they also open the door to aerial analysis of scenes of disasters or other events. The use of drones for example, creates a plethora of new opportunities for dealing with large-scale incidents, especially when connected through LTE. Natural disasters where speed of response is of the essence but access to information is restricted because of adverse terrain or weather conditions are prime examples.

Sendai City in Japan, which experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011, recently conducted the world’s first test of a private wireless-connected drone solution based on an LTE network for tsunami preparedness and response. In trials, Sendai City agencies deployed LTE-enabled drones equipped with high-definition (HD) and thermal cameras, as well as loudspeakers all piloted from a central command-and-control center, to provide advance warning of tsunamis and locate people in need of evacuation.

This demonstrates how drones can provide actionable real-time information about the impact of an earthquake. Drones can locate evacuees and deliver instructions to guide them toward the nearest refuge, thus greatly assisting emergency management services during evacuation processes. The limits can provide updates to first responders and the public, even if the traditional public communications systems fail.

Operation Convergent Response
To demonstrate mobile broadband’s capability across a range of scenarios, Verizon — in partnership with Nokia — hosts the annual Operation Convergent Response event. Last year, it occurred in Perry, Georgia.

During three days, simulations illustrated the potential of LTE and, for the first time, 5G networks helped activate and coordinate response to real-life disaster scenarios such as wildfires, terror attacks, and city and airport emergencies. As it progressed, enormous amounts of video footage were transported over 5G, enabling responders to communicate quickly and reliably. Communications at the device level was expedited back into the network, where an integrated operations center provided an overall view of all that was happening. In addition, bandwidth-hungry predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning applications were deployed while emergency effort demonstrations were happening.

The ability to perform such tight-knit operations at this scale represents a significant breakthrough for public service communications. Connecting capacity and capability across teams, operations, agencies and locations is simply not possible using traditional narrowband networks. Yet, it is vital for the way we now expect to tackle and respond to incidents.

Healthcare and Emergency Response
Mobile broadband also enables new applications that extend emergency response in healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic raised an entirely new slew of healthcare delivery challenges as field hospitals were established in days and personal protective equipment (PPE) entered the population’s everyday language.

Private LTE can be quickly and easily deployed to provide critical high-speed connectivity to temporary field hospitals, avoiding the need to cable into a sterile environment. By enabling high-speed internet, data collection, remote consulting and monitoring, plug-and-play systems can be up and running in days.

In the Hubei province of China local cable service providers (CSPs), while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, partnered with infrastructure vendors to build and augment 5G networks serving Huoshenshan and Leishenshan temporary hospitals.

And, it’s not just hospitals that benefited. Similar to Brazos County’s law enforcement, mobile broadband means that paramedics and first responders can now take an impressive array of capabilities on the road in connected ambulances. In Dubai, government-owned professional communications corporation NEDAA showcased the “connected ambulance.” Featuring a 360-degree camera, body cam, biovital signs monitoring and radiology systems, the next-generation ambulance also includes a virtual reality (VR)-based remote doctor capability with voice and video connection between the hospital and the connected ambulance.

Enabling in-transit medical consultation, high-resolution visual communications with hospital specialists means that diagnosis can be made before the patient arrives at the hospital. Instructions can be given, and monitoring carried out. This gains precious minutes and means that a patient’s condition on arrival is far better understood and progressed than previously possible.

Other groups of emergency responders have also been quick to harness the potential of LTE. Coastal coverage is opening up maritime applications, enabling coast guards and other shipping to use LTE connectivity up to 100 kilometers from shore. This is a strong foundation for improved coastal surveillance systems, improved situational awareness and better coordination of seaborne rescue teams.

Trials are underway to develop air-to-ground communications that deliver the world’s first mission-critical LTE system for public-safety aircraft. Benefiting from a new range of data-based communications, emergency operations will be enhanced by improved collaboration between aircraft and mobile PPDR units operating in the field.

A Maturing Standard
?Standardization of mission-critical features, as well as the existence of an open ecosystem, are required by public-safety stakeholders to convince governments and users about the readiness of mobile broadband for their specific needs.

Some public-safety agencies, as well as high profile vendors, are playing an active role having these features added by the 3GPP to the mobile broadband standard. The latest 5G release, Release 15, incorporated a rich feature set that covers mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT)/video and broadband and narrowband network interworking. This standardization work needs to be maintained with some new specific enhancements such as MCPTT 4.0 and mission-critical data (MCData) 3.0 packages as part of Release 16, which will be finalized this year.

TCCA is supporting standardization efforts. In its 2019 road map on mobile broadband for PPDR the organization said, “For governments and operators looking to eventually transition from TETRA or other narrowband networks to critical broadband services, TCCA recommends the process should be started as early as possible.”

But standardization is not only about adding new features, it’s also about defining new spectrum that can be used by public-safety authorities to roll out mission-critical networks. This is especially the case in the low bands, which are crucial to the public-safety community as they enable cost-efficient coverage of large territories.

Complementing a pre-existing, dynamic 450 MHz LTE market, 410 MHz spectrum (3GPP bands 87 and 88) was recently standardized. Well suited for mission-critical LTE WAN and offering highly cost-efficient coverage, this spectrum is also supported by an ecosystem of LTE device suppliers and infrastructure providers. This creates a viable option for government consideration, such as in the Czech Republic, where Nordic Telecom is deploying a network in these new bands.

As these investments, experiments and trials proliferate and accelerate, mobile broadband’s potential sets it out to become standard in public safety, although we should bear in mind that mobile broadband will co-exist alongside tried and trusted narrowband standards for some time to come.

The trends emerging for fast data-rich transmission across law enforcement, disaster response and healthcare make a compelling case for mobile broadband deployment and a more insightful approach to PPDR. And with the evolution of the public-safety ecosystem, it will continue to offer even more in terms of applications and scope.

The outcome? Agencies will be smarter, more predictive and better equipped to tackle today’s complex challenges, enabling them to fulfill their mission of safeguarding and protecting their communities.

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Philippe Agard is vice president of public-safety and defense markets at Nokia. Based in Paris, Agard has led public-safety and defense markets at Nokia since 2013. He chaired the Critical Communications Broadband Industry Group, part of TCCA, where he is also a board member.



 
 
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