With all that’s happening on a daily basis in the public-safety communications arena, it’s hard to find a moment to catch a breath and reflect on the changes around us. However, a quick glance at the sector landscape reveals that 2010 promises to be a cornerstone year in the industry.

For years, we’ve heard about the promises of software-defined multiband radios, next-generation satellite technology, next-generation 911 and 700 MHz wireless broadband, but each of these potential advances always seemed to be several years away. Many, if not all, of these concepts have been met with skepticism by public-safety officials citing technical doubts or economic/political realities.

Today, the technical doubts are almost nonexistent. Several vendors have software-defined multiband radios available on the market, and next-generation satellite services will become a reality this year. Standards for next-generation 911 system largely should be finalized this year, with some next-gen emergency-calling centers scheduled to begin receiving “live” calls as early as this summer

Meanwhile, the public-safety sector that was extremely wary of broadband IP technologies has embraced the notion wholeheartedly. No longer is there a question “if” public safety will ever use broadband for mission-critical applications, the question is “when.” With this in mind, myriad national public-safety organizations have united behind efforts to convince federal lawmakers to reallocate D Block spectrum for public safety, so first responders have the airwaves necessary to fulfill their wireless broadband communications needs.

None of this should be construed as an imminent end to mission-critical LMR voice systems, which provide reliability, one-to-many communications and off-network communications currently not available with commercial technologies that undoubtedly will drive the broadband evolution.

However, there is no technical reason why such attributes would be prohibited from making their way into broadband networks; the military is investing tons of research-and-development resources to make sure it can happen. With this in mind, the current generation of public-safety communications directors and CIOs are the first to have to wrestle with the idea that an eventual transition from LMR may have to be part of a long-term communications roadmap.

This roadmap for each public-safety agency likely will be unique, driven largely by the economic and political circumstances surrounding their specific situation. But my hunch is that years from now all of these roadmaps will be influenced significantly by the decisions and developments made during 2010.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.