Two college football games at Ohio State University last fall provided law-enforcement users and a group of vendors an opportunity to assess the benefits—and some of the challenges—associated with a 700 MHz Band 14 LTE network dedicated to public safety in a difficult communications environment.

With more than 100,000 fans in the stands, commercial carrier networks often become so congested near the Ohio State football stadium that they “won’t even ping” when users try to get a signal to communicate during a game, according to Kelly Castle, program manager at FirstNet Ohio.

But that was not a problem for certain law-enforcement officials utilizing a temporary LTE system operating on Band 14—the spectrum slated to be used by FirstNet for its proposed nationwide public-safety broadband network—during two games last fall. Leveraging spectrum secured by the state of Ohio on a temporary basis, Redline Communications deployed the LTE network quickly throughout the Ohio State stadium and surrounding areas, she said.

“It was awesome,” Castle said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Redline Communications came in and put up the network inside the stadium and outside the stadium—in fact, we ended up getting a lot more coverage than we anticipated.

“[With a network] that is almost a deployable—low-profile, with a self-contained core—we wanted to see what kind of results we would get with something like that, simply because it is almost like a deployable. We did that on purpose. Performance wise, we didn’t notice any difference.”

Louis Lambert, vice president for Redline Communications, described the Ohio State trial of the four-site network as a “resounding success.”

“We were very pleased for the opportunity to take prime responsibility in delivering the full private LTE 700 MHz Band 14 network solution for this event,” Lambert said in a prepared statement. “The Band 14 network provided consistent, fast broadband speeds with strong coverage to public-safety professionals both inside and outside the football stadium, even when commercial networks began to bog down due to the very high density of fans.”

Law-enforcement users of the network—11 during the Nov. 29 game against Northwestern and 75 during the Nov. 5 game against Nebraska—were given rugged smartphones from Sonim Technologies that were loaded with an integrated software package of the ESChat push-to-talk application and Intrepid Networks’ Sting situational-awareness application.

“We wanted to keep it simple—push to talk, a situational-awareness app, and they could shoot photos back and forth,” Castle said. “We wanted to keep it simple on purpose, so those were the only apps that we loaded onto it.”

In addition, users of the LTE push-to-talk capability were linked via gateway to myriad land-mobile-radio (LMR) network to enable interoperability—an arrangement that “worked fine” throughout both games, Castle said.

Castle had expressed concern with the voice quality associated with a previous LTE pilot deployment in Ohio, but that was not the case with the network operated during the Ohio State football games.

“It was definitely better,” Castle said. “You can imagine the noise level in that stadium—it’s a little nutty. We had different people—myself included—take a device and go down on the field while the band was playing and the whole nine yards, and it was still pretty good [voice quality].

“We surveyed our end users, and we didn’t have the same issues with that [push-to-talk application] on the feedback.”