Developments in the LTE ecosystem being tested in the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) laboratories in Boulder, Colo., indicate that public-safety devices should be able to access systems utilizing multiple spectrum bands and that Android likely will emerge as the preferred operating system for first responders.

Years ago, many policymakers advocated that public-safety users should be able to roam onto commercial carrier networks when needed and available, but such notions were hampered by the fact that including multiple bands in a device technically was very difficult at the time—particularly if the spectrum bands were below 1 GHz. However, accessing multiple bands is not a problem today, according to Emil Olbrich, the head of research and development for PSCR.

“As little as three years ago, I was told by several different chipset vendors, ‘Listen, you’re not going to get more than two bands [in a device] below 1 GHz. You’ll be lucky to get three bands below 1 GHz in a device,’” Olbrich said during a session at the LTE North America conference in Dallas. “Now, we have devices in our lab that can do Band 12, Band 17, Band 13, Band 14, can do 800 MHz, 850 MHz, quad-band GSM and three bands of WCDMA—all in the same device.

“[They also] run Jellybean Android OS and have GMR satellite capability, all in the size of … [an] iPhone. We have that now. That’s not fantasy—that’s in our lab now under test.”

In fact, three chipmakers—Intel, Qualcomm and Broadcom—now have solutions that support access to 12 spectrum bands, including seven bands under 1 GHz, Olbrich said. There are some intermodulation challenges that need to be resolved before access to all of the bands can be implemented in a device, but PSCR is “working through” those issues, he said.

Meanwhile, Olbrich said he believes the Android operating system likely will be the platform used most by public safety.

“We saw that the world is looking more and more Android-like for public safety,” Olbrich said. “Apple is likely not going to be a player, just due to the size of the ecosystem. In terms of Windows Mobile, it will remain to be seen if they come on.”

One reservation about Android that has been cited by public-safety officials is that Android is not as secure as other operating systems. Olbrich acknowledged the issue but said that security for Android is being enhanced rapidly, which is why Android-based solutions have been adopted by federal agencies.

“Android is not the most secure operating system in the world, but there’s been some big moves, especially by Samsung and the bring-your-own-device movement, [and] companies like Redband that now have secure, NSA-certified, Android operating kernels,” he said. “We’re evaluating all of those right now, working with APCO, utilizing their app portal to do our testing and supplement that.”