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Public safety needs new technology tools

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The good news is that the first elements of a comprehensive integrated network solution designed to meet the future needs of first responders already are beginning to emerge.

By Thomas J. Miller

The familiar statement “there’s an app for that” is driving consumer data demand to double each year. Most of those apps are designed to capture our attention—to engage us. But attention is precious in public safety, so public-safety apps, devices and networks must be as transparent as possible to public-safety users, providing only relevant data that aids in the task at hand.

We’ve been perfecting mission-critical voice over land mobile radio (LMR) radio networks for decades to meet public safety’s need for communications at the most demanding times. Now, public-safety officials need new purpose-built data and video intelligence applications, as well as new voice capabilities.

So, how should we introduce new technology to public safety, leveraging the millions of dollars that have been invested in regional and statewide interoperable Project 25 (P25) LMR systems, while deploying new capabilities enabled by public-safety LTE?

At the foundation level, we can migrate the IP-based cores of these regional systems into multi-network, mission-critical operating environments that include public-safety LTE as a new transport network on top of existing P25 networks, dispatch console systems, and data systems. This environment should help unify data from disparate sources into one operating view, use dynamic intelligence to help process what is important, and get the right data to the right user at the right time.

As a mission-critical network, the highest-priority users always must be connected to the most reliable voice and data networks, while lower-priority users can roam seamlessly between private and public networks.

What about voice? Public-safety users and vendors have developed and operated highly trusted, interoperable, IP-based, P25 standards-based, mission-critical voice LMR systems. In fact, 41 of the 50 states and several Canadian provinces have made significant investments in funding the development and operation of state- or province-wide interoperable radio networks. The new LTE networks are intended to deliver mission-critical data and video; however, mission-critical voice features and redundancy are not yet included in the LTE standard. LTE ultimately will provide new voice capabilities, while public safety will continue to depend on private LMR sytems for mission-critical voice for years to come.

Integrating LTE and LMR networks will support: (a) broadband push-to-talk service on lower-cost smart devices that will provide a cost-efficient way for supervisors and support personnel to connect to P25 talk groups; (b) telephony leveraging VoLTE on the public-safety LTE network to save money in carrier-airtime charges; and (c) telephony with end-to-end encryption that lets sensitive conversations  be conducted via a private or a public network. Alongside mission-critical LMR voice, these LTE offerings present four powerful voice capabilities.

A mission-critical, multi-network environment will improve first responders’ safety and ability to make better decisions. It also should spawn efficiencies through consolidated management of radio/device fleets, talk groups, security and common application interfaces, such as location and presence.

In this environment, public-safety users can collaborate in real time, obtain critical intelligence for better situational awareness and access  four voice capabilities, as well as view and share video from any fixed or mobile source. At the same time, they will be linked to command-and-control operations via mobile computer-aided dispatch.

This enhanced technology is fast becoming a requirement of public-safety officials. The good news is that the first elements of a comprehensive integrated network solution designed to meet the future needs of first responders already are beginning to emerge. 

Thomas J. Miller is the director of Government and Public Safety Markets for Motorola Solutions.

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