Industry insight: Broadband data in public safety

With more than 80 years of close collaboration with public safety agencies, Motorola Solutions has seen a great deal of change in the way public safety officials communicate each day. Communication and the ability to access information quickly have inarguably improved life in ways past generations might never have imagined. Perhaps nowhere has technology — and its application — been more valuable than in public safety. But today the public safety industry faces some significant challenges: providing first responders with technology that enhances real-time communication and situational awareness so they can make split-second decisions. It’s also imperative that we equip officers with better technology than what criminals can access in commercial markets, enabling public safety to stay at least one step ahead to protect the communities they serve.

The case for LTE in public safety

Technology is evolving at a rapid fire pace throughout the public safety sector, and we are moving into an era of broadband-enabled collective intelligence. The power behind collective intelligence is that information is not simply disseminated, but sourced from and shared among all, using two-way broadband communications technology. Each individual can share a unique perspective on the incident, while collecting real-time information from fellow team members. This collaboration creates a unique situational awareness that allows each team member — from dispatch to command to first responders — to access and contribute vital information for the collective good.

A primary key to what makes these collective intelligence capabilities possible is a dedicated high-speed broadband network — such as LTE — that delivers innovative and secure data services to complement and integrate with mission-critical voice radio networks, including LMR, that are widely used in public safety today. The opportunity that stands before us is to bridge LMR networks into the new and enhanced mode of public safety LTE communication.

This integration will have a tremendous, positive impact on public safety agencies’ operations and functionality. The challenge in synthesizing the two networks is not only to make broadband systems interoperable, but also to make them collaborate with LMR mission-critical voice at all levels — from devices up through the physical infrastructure, features and network management. Obviously, the two networks operating together provide multiple communication paths for an individual, but there are also numerous other, less obvious ways that networks can work together. For example, the power of the two networks working together will dramatically reduce the time needed for over-the-air programming and over-the-air rekeying of LMR technology.

By strengthening interaction between narrowband public safety and LTE broadband networks, and through collaboration between two-way radios and data devices, public safety organizations will have the reliability of their mission-critical voice network and the benefit of next-generation multimedia services. This combined network is greater than the sum of its parts and will represent a critical step forward in public safety technology application.

Real-time, real life solutions

Today there is great promise in transforming public safety through broadband innovation that delivers new and unprecedented benefits to the public safety community. The new 700 MHz spectrum allocation gives public safety access to broadband that can be built, operated and managed for mission-critical purposes. With the availability of new spectrum and improvements to the way we access and share vital information, an evolved and more efficient technology has emerged for the next generation of broadband connectivity: standards-compliant LTE, a supersized broadband service that has the capacity to increase the effectiveness of first responders in their mission.

Whether the situation is a hazmat spill on a busy interstate highway during rush hour, an apartment fire that is affecting hundreds of residents, or a police chase through a pedestrian-heavy downtown corridor, first responders with access to LTE technology will be able to do their jobs more efficiently, effectively and safely. What’s new is the ability to collect mission-critical information from a wide range of media — from 911 calls, to street video surveillance cameras, to interactive maps, to information from a myriad of databases — then share it immediately over a powerful, secure, high-speed communications network.

Consider one real possibility: an officer pulls over a suspect as the dashboard camera scans the license plate. The system sends the plate number and vehicle description to a database that indicates that the driver has a long list of traffic offenses. Before exiting, the officer receives an automatic message from the computer-aided dispatch alerting of the driver’s criminal record. The officer calls for backup and her in-vehicle workstation tells her when to expect the backup and where it will be positioned. Shortly thereafter, the team arrives to apprehend the suspect and take him into custody — all while the situation is monitored in real time and recorded by the CAD center through video transmitted from the responding vehicles. That efficient flow of accurate, timely data or collaborative intelligence, gives the officer the information she needs to take the suspect off the street quickly.

Then imagine LTE’s benefits for protecting our children. Fortunately, many schools today are equipped with some type of video surveillance. In a crisis event, LTE enables a first responder driving up to a school to see a live video stream showing what is transpiring inside the school — from inside his squad car. LTE also allows the officer to potentially identify a suspect, summon reinforcements, and react more quickly in restoring order and saving lives. In the meantime, those at the command and control center can work collaboratively with those on the scene to help minimize impact on the children and resolve the situation.

The benefits are also apparent at a fire scene. For example, a fire has started at a chemical plant. With LTE technology, the incident command center and individual firefighters can access immediate information on their wireless broadband devices. Each has real-time access to building details, such as floor plans, location of electric panels and hazardous materials on site. At the same time, they can access clear audio and video communications from various angles and perspectives throughout the building. Collective intelligence sharing would undoubtedly minimize the impact that the fire might have on first responders, nearby residents and the larger community.

The direct benefit for the public is a safer community protected by first responders with more information and perspective on any given situation. Armed with better and more timely information, public safety officers equipped with this kind of situational awareness can be updated in real-time and as a result, are able to make better, smarter decisions.

Why a private LTE network?

For a number of reasons, it is imperative that public safety LTE networks be dedicated to public safety. Although commercial carrier networks can and will play an important role in public safety, private networks allow public safety officials to define and build a network with the coverage, capacity and control that first responders need in mission-critical situations. This ability to prioritize and control communications is only practical for networks built and operated for public safety.

Moreover, public safety agencies have unique needs that cannot be completely satisfied by commercial voice and broadband networks. For example, when disasters like the recent tornados in Missouri and Alabama strike, carrier networks often are overwhelmed with significantly higher spikes in usage. When carrier networks become overloaded, that leaves them compromised because carriers engineer their networks to average capacity that may under-serve at peak times and/or try to balance out network utilization as much as possible. It’s a bit analogous to the airlines, whose goal is to keep expensive assets in the air as much as possible to generate revenue with little reserve capacity. Carriers also build capacity in accordance with commercial geographic consumption patterns; however, public safety incidents are not so predictable in where and when they occur.

On the flip side, public safety must engineer to extreme usage models to ensure capacity in times of greatest need. This is the best argument yet for local input and control of the design and build-out of private LTE networks.

There are also more predictable times when a private LTE network will be highly beneficial. For example, during a huge sporting event, the carrier covering the game with LTE might experience incredible loading, making it impossible for police to access the needed capacity. With private LTE, each local jurisdiction is given full control over its network so that big events — and the commercial usage spikes that may accompany them — will not affect the integrity of the public safety network.

A private LTE network for public safety also gives administrators the ability to prioritize users even within the public safety department. For example, a tactical unit commanding officer arriving at an incident scene could instantly receive the highest network access priority, while routine non-criticalaccess to the network would be reassigned to appropriate lower bandwidth or even preempted.

Keeping these examples in mind, the benefit of a private LTE network is deterministic, fast and reliable wireless data access that is prioritized for public safety’s specific needs and unaffected by a commercial carrier networks’ traffic. In many cases, it is important to also have access to public networks for comprehensive coverage and additional capacity, when necessary.

The broadband revolution

The public safety community is on the cusp of revolutionizing itself through technology and the United States is leading the world in this revolution. Moreover, the rest of the world is watching, learning and will ultimately follow our example.

Imagine the ability to transform first responders’ squad cars into full-scale communications centers or develop ruggedized vehicular modems that fit into the trunk of a squad car and can actually communicate with a wide variety of networks — from commercial LTE networks to Wi-Fi. Those devices hold huge promise in helping shape public safety communications in the years and decades to come.

Whether its purpose is for first responders or event security, the real-time solutions offered in video, telemetry, and analytical data can assist public safety professionals in new and beneficial ways.

From a public safety perspective, we are living in one of the most exciting and hopeful moments in our history. Private LTE networks offer the wireless communications foundation to support future applications and capabilities for public safety that we have yet to imagine, but that we know future innovations and advances in technology will deliver. The future of next-generation broadband/LTE has the potential to revolutionize public safety communications for generations to come.