U.S.-based think tank the Aspen Institute this week released a report that advocates the federal government to lead an effort to transition public-safety communications to an IP-based “network of networks” architecture.

Entitled “Clearing the Air: Convergence and the Safety Enterprise,” the report was generated from discussions conducted with more than 20 technological experts and one public-safety official. The report notes flaws in the current public-safety communications model, most notably that local agencies should not be developing and maintaining their own communications systems.

This model has created several problems, according to Philip Weiser, who authored the report. For example, local agencies may overlook advances in modern technologies or their communications systems may not be compatible with neighboring agencies. In addition, almost all of them lack scale, so they are more expensive than necessary.

“Local officials should not be running either radio or IT networks,” Weiser said in an interview with MRT. “They are today making all decisions independently of a larger context of how they’re going to transport information from place to place and how they’re going to access information.

“That’s a problematic situation, because they’re operating as an island unto themselves. They don’t get scale-economy benefits, and they don’t have a system that’s seamless with others.”

Instead, the report recommends that the federal government establish an IP-based vision and provide funding incentives only to entities that follow the established guidelines. Under this model, local agencies would not receive federal funding directly, and states would spearhead the building of public-safety-grade, IP-based broadband networks, Weiser said.

“It will be a long and not necessarily easy transition,” he said. “But it will be much more successful and much shorter than an effort to stick on the old model and pour more money into it, so that we give islands of authority the ability to upgrade their existing paths.”

While advocating public safety shift to an IP-based, broadband network architecture, the lengthy timetable associated with such a transition and the need to convince public-safety officials that the system is reliable and secure will take some time. Therefore, Weiser said that existing LMR systems will be crucial for years to come.

“The way we envision this is that—for the foreseeable future—you would keep the existing networks and radios that police use, and you would build around them a larger architecture that would give you these other functionalities and other network access,” Weiser said. “We don’t present this as an either-or choice … By adopting this vision, we think we can get the best of both [the LMR and IT] worlds.”