First responders in the Las Vegas area were able to get a glimpse of the capabilities enabled by a dedicated LTE network operating on the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to FirstNet during a recent trial conducted with Alcatel-Lucent and several of its vendor partners.

First-responder participants in the trial included the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, the Nevada Department of Transportation (DOT) and NV Energy, as well as some key local enterprises, such as a shopping mall, a casino and an alarm company. Alcatel-Lucent led the vendor effort by providing an LTE eNodeB, a hosted LTE core, an aggregation router, a network-management solution and other key network elements.

But one of the key aspects of Alcatel-Lucent’s approach is that the company provided a standards-based, open-architecture that allowed vendor partners to bring their products to the trial, according to Fred Scalera, director of public-safety strategies for Alcatel-Lucent.

“The difference between us and everyone else is that we bring in different partners,” Scalera said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “So, Cassidian [Communications] and CalAmp [Fusion] had different routers in different police cars, in different DOT vehicles, and in different NV Energy vehicles.”

Various regulatory and business issues have resulted in a lack of LTE devices that operate on Band 14 spectrum, but the trial was able to function successfully, because existing devices were able to access the LTE network via a Wi-Fi connection at the vehicle level, Scalera said. Given this limitation, the fact that there was no noticeable latency in the underlying performance of the applications—particularly the push-to-talk solution provided by Mutualink—was especially impressive, he said.

“And that’s without [the push-to-talk functionality] being direct to LTE,” Scalera said. “That’s going through multiple patches to make that work. It should only get better.”

Mutualink was glad to participate in the Las Vegas trial, which allowed the company to showcase its ability to help first-responder organizations leverage new LTE capabilities while still using their existing communications networks, according to Mike Wengrovitz, the company’s vice president of innovation.

“We showed that different types of networks can be connected together,” Wengrovitz said. “You can have collaboration occur between people on FirstNet with people that are connected to the Internet securely.

“We showed how agencies could take their existing radio system, their existing video system or their telephone system and continue to use it, but in an enhanced way with stationary and mobile clients that are on FirstNet.”

Mutualink installed a mobile version of its system into the trunk of a police vehicle, and also provided a fixed installation within the network that enabled a new level of interoperability, Wengrovitz said.

“For instance, the NV Energy radio system could be bridged in with the Las Vegas Metro PD radio system with this Band 14 LTE system as the IP connectivity,” he said.

This capability promises to be a key for public safety in the near term, because it provides a realistic migration option for first-responder organizations that are unsure of how much money they should invest in an existing LMR network and/or LTE capability. Given the uncertain deployment schedule for FirstNet, having a solution that can utilize all available networks resonated well during the trial, he said.

“People loved it,” Wengrovitz said. “I think what they really loved is that they have the option to connect to their existing network now, and later—when FirstNet turns on—they can take the wire and move it over from the existing network to the next network and continue to collaborate as they’ve always done. This smooth-migration approach between different connectivities … we got feedback from various agencies that that was appreciated.”