The International Wireless Communications Expo, or IWCE, has a long history of outstanding keynote speakers, and this year’s conference and trade show, which will be held March 16–20 in Las Vegas, is no exception. I spoke with this year’s keynote speaker — Steve Zipperstein, vice president of legal affairs and general counsel for Verizon Wireless — to get his thoughts on the relationship between commercial operators and the public-safety-communications sector.

I understand that you have a unique background that makes you ideally suited to be this year’s keynote speaker.
I served for 10 years in the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, which covers an area populated by 18 million people. It’s almost all of Southern California, except for the border area stretching from San Diego through the Imperial Valley. I also worked for a year and a half in Washington, D.C., for the criminal division of the Justice Department and eventually worked for [then–Attorney General] Janet Reno. So I have a lot of experience dealing with the same issues that our country faces today in the public-safety area.

How have those experiences shaped your perspectives regarding how wireless networks, particularly those of a commercial carrier, relate to public-safety communications and the challenges you just hinted at?
We encountered numerous situations where it was vitally important for the land-mobile-radio systems used by local, state and federal law enforcement officers to work in a flawless way and in an interoperable way. One example is the effort to secure the border between California and Mexico. It was always a challenge, partly because radio communications in the hilly terrain on the California side of the border were very difficult. I saw first-hand how critical it is for our first responders to have the benefit of a world-class radio network.

Mission-critical voice traditionally has been the focus in public safety, but now some believe mission-critical data has become as important — and some believe more important. What are your thoughts concerning the development of a robust broadband data infrastructure for first responders?
It’s vitally important in a post-9/11 world that we provide first responders with the communications tools — including state-of-the-art voice and state-of-the-art advanced data services — so that they can not only just talk to each other during critical incidents but provide other key information to each other, such as streaming video, e-mail and text messages and diagrams of buildings where terrorists might be holding hostages. In some respects, I’m talking about the things Jack Bauer [of the TV drama 24] has available to him on his PDA. With 4G technology, these kinds of futuristic applications can become reality for our front-line first responders. We’ve been partners with public safety for a long time — GPS location is just one example — and with the advent of 4G, the commercial wireless sector is in a position to expand that relationship.

See the March 2009 edition for an expanded version of this article.