Interoperable applications for a national wireless network: A case study of mobile video applications

Does a requirement for public safety video interoperability exist? According to first responders, the answer is 'yes.'

     After devoting years of work to best define use of the 700-MHz spectrum for public safety, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided that a nationwide public safety dedicated wireless broadband network will be licensed to a commercial operator. In partnership with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, the oversight manager for the public spectrum, the network will be auctioned and operated in partnership by commercial and public safety organizations. The exact terms and conditions of this novel relationship will be detailed in an operating agreement between the parties.

     A congratulatory standing ovation to all those involved in this significant achievement is warranted. The deployment of this private-public broadband network will result in a huge leap in capability and funding management in the public safety communications interoperability paradigm. This new network drives its evolution from both a requirement for a next generation broadband wireless data network to provide desktop extension, multi-media (video, messaging, e-mail, Internet, LAN access) to the field and a direct effort to deploy a fully interoperable wireless network, correcting the current state of the land mobile radio environment for public safety. Besides the Wireless Accelerated Response Network (WARN) and the Regional Wireless Broadband Network (RWBN) networks deployed by the District of Columbia and the National Capital Region, the national network will be the first nationwide public safety dedicated wireless broadband network, as well as the first nationwide interoperable wireless infrastructure, accessible to local and state first responders.

     We would like to believe that such an interoperable wireless broadband network will enable interoperable broadband applications to traverse the network. However, it is not clear which of the currently deployed public safety wireless broadband applications are truly interoperable.

     As an example, one application that requires a bandwidth only a wireless broadband network can support is in-vehicle mobile video. However the network robustness and capability to support such a demanding application is not sufficient to facilitate public safety mobile video sharing in the field.

     The TV show COPS has familiarized the American public with the importance and content of such video solutions by demonstrating how useful recorded material could be in court, if allowable evidence. Typically these solutions include features like the authentication of the officer in charge, various commands and controls of the system such as the pan-tilt-zoom of the camera, the local recording of the video and audio and other critical "metadata," including the time, location, and speed of the vehicle (GPS-based), and various fields describing the recorded event. After capturing the event, the video can then be uploaded and achieved to an access-controlled central server. It can later be retrieved and analyzed as necessary using metadata filters.

     Streaming real-time video to control centers, or other mobile units, is also a critical tool to support remote suspect or vehicle identifications, and virtual back-up during chases or traffic stops. Another use is sharing situation awareness with officers en-route to the scene; this unquestionably requires access to a wireless broadband network.

Proprietary solutions

     In recent years, improvements in digital technology have greatly enhanced mobile video solutions as they eliminate archaic, voluminous video tapes, facilitate the automation of uploading recorded files, automate the detection of events through sophisticated real-time image processing and enable real time streaming of video feeds through the use of state-of-the-art video codecs. Why should those solutions not be interoperable?

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