Urgent Matters

Get ready to adapt, because a flood of critical-communications changes are coming

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It may be tough to pinpoint exactly when everything will happen, but all signs point to significant changes on the horizon throughout the critical-communications industry. It's time to get ready for an exciting-but-bumpy ride.

During the last meeting of the Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA), Chairman Steve Souder listened to reports from the various TFOPA working groups and made the following astute observation about the future of emergency calling in the United States.

“If you look out 5 to 10 years, I have said that the only thing about 911—as we have grown to know it—that will be the same is the number ‘911,’” Souder said. “Literally everything else will be different, and it’s important that our decision makers come to that understanding, as well.”

Indeed, the 911 landscape promises to change markedly during the next several years, with IP-based next-generation 911 (NG911) systems replacing legacy systems, unleashing the potential for multimedia input from the public about an incident, as well as creating cybersecurity issues that have not been a primary concern in the past.

Now, there certainly will continue to be telecommunicators, but it is likely that their skill sets may change. Those answering emergency voice calls could see little difference in their jobs, but texting already is supported by many public-safety answering points (PSAPs). Meanwhile, the notion that specialists may be assigned to handle the challenges associated with photos, videos and cybersecurity is a very real possibility.

When will this happen? I applaud those pushing for the goal of deploying NG911 in all PSAPs by 2020, but that’s a very optimistic timeline when there are so many questions that need to be answered—most notably, how to pay for the technological upgrades nationwide.

While my NG911 crystal ball is very foggy at this point regarding the deployment timetable, I am confident that it will happen. And NG911 is just the tip of the iceberg of significant changes that appear to be coming on the critical-communications horizon, including:

FirstNet: Tuesday is the deadline for proposals from offeror teams seeking the right to build and maintain a nationwide public-safety broadband network. Meanwhile, similar public-safety LTE initiatives are at various stages of deployment throughout the world, meaning public-safety finally will have a chance to benefit from a global ecosystem.

Utilities: It wasn’t too long ago that utilities had no clear broadband spectrum and few options that didn’t involve commercial carriers and/or unlicensed networks. Today, utilities still have no dedicated broadband spectrum, but there are a lot of possibilities on the horizon, such as being part of the FirstNet system, partnering with pdvWireless in a proposed reshuffling at 900 MHz, getting access to 4.9 GHz spectrum or sharing airwaves with federal-government incumbents.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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