BALTIMORE--Expected to be a broadband network that can deliver bandwidth-intensive data and video applications, the nationwide public-private network proposed for the 700 MHz band also could serve as a voice network in the long-term future, speakers said last week at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference.

Responding to an attendee’s question whether preliminary plans to upgrade his public-safety entity’s land mobile network in light of the nationwide broadband network being proposed for the 700 MHz band, Harlin McEwen—president of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) that hopes to be the public-safety licensee in the public-private network arrangement—encouraged further LMR development.

“I believe you should not abandon land-mobile strategies and systems,” McEwen said last week during a panel discussion about the 700 MHz proposal. “It will be a long time, if ever, before we can abandon those.”
In particular, McEwen said he believes the peer-to-peer capabilities of LMR radios always will have tactical value to first responders, particularly when networks fail or are unavailable. But McEwen acknowledged that a public-safety-grade broadband network would have voice-application potential.

“It’s certainly the vision of many of us that 10 or 15 years from now—depending on how technology develops, changes and advances—there certainly will be an opportunity for us to do away with some of our land-mobile systems that we know today, but that’s going to be a long way down the road,” he said.

PSST Vice President Robert Gurss expressed a similar sentiment.

“I don’t think it should necessarily change your thinking, but you will have an additional choice,” Gurss said.

Indeed, while many in public-safety communications have been wary of IP-based voice technologies, they certainly can meet mission-critical standards—something M/A-COM has been doing for more than a decade, said John Facella, M/A-COM’s director of public safety markets.

As with any network, the key is designing it properly to fit the application need. Built on a private IP network with appropriate dedicated bandwidth—as opposed to the inconsistent bandwidth availability of the public Internet, for instance—IP-based networks can meet any reliability standards. In fact, IP technology was developed by the military to be inherently survivable and resilient, which are the chief characteristics of a mission-critical voice system.

With this in mind, if the 700 MHz nationwide broadband network is built to public-safety standards, as envisioned, it does not have to be limited to data and video applications, Facella said.

“[The public-private 700 MHz network] is going to fundamentally change public safety,” he said. “That’s going to be for data, but there’s no reason we can’t run VoIP over it.”