Spotlight On: Verizon

July 10, 2020
As one of the largest providers of public safety communications, Verizon pushes its technological limits to ensure their network works when law enforcement needs it.

For over 20 years, Verizon has been supporting public safety with a well-known and trusted communications network. I spoke to Nick Nilan, Director of Public Sector Product Development at Verizon for some insight into their offerings and help me understand the capabilities and available solutions.

As one of the largest providers of public safety communications, Verizon’s network capabilities has grown substantially in the past couple of decades. According to Nilan, they’ve invested over $145 billion (this has been corrected, the figure was incorrectly published at $145 million in Law Enforcement Product News July/August 2020) in the past 20 years to cover 327 million people. Ten years ago, their 4G LTE speeds were quoted at five to 12 (Mb) megabits per second with a two to five Mb per second on an uplink. “Now, customers are getting dozens or moreup to 100 Mb per second on downlink across the country,” he says.

Since you cannot improve without pushing your limits, not one to rest on their accomplishments they’ve even done some real-world testing to get just under a gigabit per second over the Verizon 4G LTE network. This, of course, isn’t typical and required the right equipment and circumstancesbut it does show you that the capability is there.

First responder, first in line

Verizon’s 327 million people connected number includes consumers and public safety alike. While grouped here, they are separated in the Verizon system to allow them to provide public safety the services they need. This allows law enforcement officers to receive priority and preemption without any extra work.

Nilan explains: “Priority services is essentially exactly what sounds likeit moves you to the front of the network if the network is overwhelmed or jammed with traffic. Priority services will move the first responder to the front of the line to get the next available resource on the network so they can make their call go through or their data connection get access.”

Verizon also made preemption automatic as well. To illustrate, preemption works as if the entire network is completely full. Where a civilian consumer may receive a busy signal or won’t be able to connect to the network, a provision on the first responder’s account would automatically and temporarily “push” the resources for that consumer’s call and give it to the officer. Verizon coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security and enabled this functionality on voice calls as well as data services. “Regardless of the communication pathway for that first responder,” adds Nilan, “they will get the communication across that they need to get out.”

Ultimately, public safety technologies, put simply, just need to work. Whether it being voice over LTE with the radio, a call from the smartphone, ALPR queries to the database, or data sent into the computer in the patrol car, public safety communications requires an amount of resiliency to withstand any unforeseen circumstances. “They need the data to work, they need to get access to the data when they need it. That’s what we intend to provide and that’s what we provide with 4G,” says Nilan.

That starts with priority and preemption to handle a busy network, but should it have a larger technological issue, there are solutions set in place. Verizon has designed resiliency into its network from the tower back. They make sure that each tower has a battery backup to provide eight hours of service. Beyond that, capable towers also have a generator to run up to an additional week (depending on geographic location and the type of fuel).

Verizon has a fleet of deployablescalled GOATS (generators on a truck/trailer) at their disposal where they can bring a generator to a tower. The company has contracts with fuel companies to refuel these generators as needed. “We are considered critical infrastructure in the federal government’s emergency and contingency plans,” adds Nilan.

To further network resiliency, for the last five or so years, Verizon has been upgrading their towers to fiber. This allows the network to account for additional bandwidth capacity, to support more users, to support more traffic, and to detect any failures and faults along the line than possible on copper. As a back-up to the back-up, secondary connections to satellites or microwave connections to the next tower are at most tower sites.

In the event of natural disasters or public safety needs additional network support, Verizon’s fleet of mobile towers called cells on wheels (COWS) or cells on light trucks (COLTS) are spread across the country. These can be prepositioned when you can plan and are positioned geographically to respond when you cannot.

Network connectivity is very much an invisible effort. Until there’s a problem. If comparing providers, it’s important to consider resiliency plans and backup capabilities. Nilan explains, “Many people in public safety, especially in the state level…look at what are our resiliency plans for our network. [They] expect those resilience plans, inspect those resiliency plans. We’re seeing more and more states and even local public safety officials requiring those type of that type of resiliency in the network in their RFP for public safety services.

“That’s when public safety needs it the most. When everything else is going wrong, they need the network to work.”


Aside from upgrading to fiber and improving their priority and preemption services, Verizon is also working on providing better control or visibility into the network. One recent example includes the partnership with Mutualink. This allows the first responder to integrate video systems, LMR systems, and radio platforms.

Providing an engineering view of the network, the Verizon Advanced Mapping Solutions allows customers to view the network in real-time a visual representation of how the network is performing and which (if any) towers are down and why. Further, a Network Event Notification function would notify users of any planned maintenance. Users can sign up for these services.

Recently, Verizon has launched its Public Safety Applications Portal. As described in its May 20 announcement: “The Application Portal allows users to search applications based on their specific personas, device types, use cases and industry standards. The quick search capabilities include options such as situational awareness, dispatch, biometrics, evidence, justice etc., which can be further refined based on user types like emergency management, fire, law enforcement, medical, military and others.”

Improvements and new ideas are ever constant. They’re looking forward towards 5G and developing solutions for future applications for public safety. Verizon has gathered three cohorts of a number of companies to develop new ideas on the Verizon network. Solutions included augmented reality, virtual reality, technological improvements, support, massive sensor deployments for CBRNE detection, drone integration, as well as artificial intelligence capabilities. They’re working on their fourth cohort this summer where they’ll work with five companies to look at the end to end journey of Verizon’s emergency medical services.

From the insurance of back-up solutions, improvements on the resiliency, providing an inside look at the network to better manage communications, to pushing the limits on what’s technologically possible with new applicationswhat it comes down to is ensuring public safety can use the network when they need to whether that’s today or tomorrow.

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