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IWCE 2016 showcases signs of real convergence, not just hype

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The intersection between traditional critical communications and the commercial telecom arena that was on display at IWCE 2016 last week took the trend to a new level, with convergence being manifested in ways that seemed unimaginable even a few years ago.

LAS VEGAS—‘Convergence’ is not a new word to IWCE; in fact, the term has been used in technical sessions at during each of the shows I’ve attended during the past 13 years. But the intersection between traditional critical communications and the commercial telecom arena that was on display at IWCE 2016 last week took the trend to a new level, with convergence being manifested in ways that seemed unimaginable even a few years ago.

When I first attended IWCE more than a decade ago, there was more talk about convergence than substance. LED displays on LMR devices were available on a few devices, and GPS capability was beginning to gain traction in the industry. Internet Protocol (IP) had become increasingly popular within the telecom industry, but many public-safety officials did not trust the technology—“You don’t have time to hit Control-ALT-Delete [to reboot] during an emergency,” was an oft-heard industry mantra at the time.

Predictably, there has been significant technical convergence since then. IP-based solutions are prevalent throughout the critical-communications arena, and that migration promises to be even more pronounced with the deployment of FirstNet and next-generation 911 (NG911) system during the next several years.

Meanwhile, more and more LMR handsets are being built with LTE and/or Wi-Fi connectivity, software-based solutions seem to be everywhere, and the number of interoperability platforms that enable LMR-to-commercial network communications are readily available in a variety of technological flavors.

But this convergence is not just a one-way street, with the critical-communications arena just adopting commercial standards. For instance, no one in the commercial world seems to be able to talk about industry growth without mentioning the Internet of Things (IoT), but IoT is basically the next generation of SCADA and other machine-to-machine communications that have been part of the critical-communications industry for years.

The number of commercial push-to-talk (PTT) vendors at IWCE 2016 was quite remarkable, and each one demonstrated how their solutions could be used to let authorized commercial-network customers talk with people on private LMR networks. And 3GPP—the international body that oversees the LTE standard—has passed standards for off-network/direct-mode communications and for mission-critical PTT (MCPTT) functionality via that IP-based wireless technology.

As notable as these examples of technological convergence have been, most are understandable and may have been predicted. But what has been surprising is the manner in which the technological convergence of the commercial and private critical-communications industry appears to be changing the way that each does business.

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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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