Federal Report Says Mission-Critical Voice over Broadband at Least 10 Years Away (2/24/12)
Friday, February 24, 2012 | Comments

A new federal report said that a public-safety broadband network, which will likely enhance interoperability and increase data transfer rates, will not support mission-critical voice capabilities for 10 years or more.

“Because the technology standard for the proposed broadband network does not support mission-critical voice capabilities, first responders will continue to rely on their current LMR systems for the foreseeable future,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said. “Thus, a broadband network would supplement, rather than replace, current public-safety communication systems.”

There are several challenges to implementing a public-safety broadband network, including ensuring the network’s interoperability, reliability, and security; obtaining adequate funds to build and maintain it; and creating a governance structure. “Since the LMR systems will not be replaced by a public-safety broadband network, funding will be necessary to operate, maintain, and upgrade two separate communication systems,” said the report.

GAO recommended joint procurement as a cost-saving measure, because it allows agencies requiring similar products to combine their purchase power and lower their procurement costs. The report said that DHS is well suited to facilitate joint procurement of handheld LMR devices because of its experience in emergency communications and relationships with public-safety agencies. In commenting on a draft of this report, DHS agreed with the recommendation.

The expensive prices of handheld LMR devices are in part because market competition is limited and manufacturing costs are high. Further, GAO found that public-safety agencies can’t exert buying power in relationship to device manufacturers, which may result in the agencies overpaying for LMR devices. In particular, because public-safety agencies contract for LMR devices independently from one another, they are not in a strong position to negotiate lower prices and forego the quantity discounts that accompany larger orders.

GAO conducted a literature review, visited jurisdictions building broadband networks, and interviewed federal, industry and public-safety stakeholders, as well as academics and experts, for the study.

The full report is available here.

Your comments are welcome, click here.

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