A diet that would be good for public safety
I tend to fall asleep on the couch a lot. This means that I often awaken in the wee hours of the morning to some infomercial that’s playing on my television. Often, the pitch is for the latest miracle diet that is going to help me to shed all of my unwanted pounds in no time, without any real effort from me. But as much as I could use such a miracle, I tend to pay such pitches little heed. One reason is that I am wary of things that seem too good to be true. (However, I would reconsider this position in a heartbeat should someone develop a diet that is beer- and pretzel-based.)
That said, I laughed out loud when Steve Shanck, the recently appointed president of Harris Corp.’s public safety and professional communications business unit, uttered the d-word last week during an interview with me and UC Senior Writer Donny Jackson.
We were talking about Motorola, the behemoth that long has dominated the public-safety communications landscape. “I want to put the 900-pound gorilla on a diet,” said Shanck, who spent two decades with Motorola before being plucked by Harris from EADS, where he had been executive vice president of that company’s Secure Networks North America division.
That’s something I’d like to see, too. It’s not because I have disdain for Motorola. Quite the contrary — I have a lot of respect for Motorola and believe it still is cranking out a lot of good technology, particularly on the data side of late. But the public-safety sector would benefit from Motorola having to compete with a worthy adversary and Harris — given the research-and-development capabilities of its military division and its acquisition last year of Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems (nee M/A-COM) — is probably in the best position at the moment to provide that competition.
I write “at the moment” because EADS indicated it plans to be a major contender in the public safety space by entering into a partnership with Alcatel-Lucent to produce an emergency communications platform that is based jointly on the Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and Project 25 standards. It’s a pairing that got Harris’s attention. When asked about the partnership, Shanck said, “It will be interesting to watch that relationship. It’s likely that we will do something similar, because speed to market is critical. We might not be able to go it alone.” Should Harris decide to take the plunge, it likely would seek applications and/or infrastructure providers that would be complimentary to its business, Shanck said.
In the meantime, Shanck believes Harris has plenty of game to give Motorola fits. For starters, the technology it inherited from the Tyco acquisition is both IT- and network-centric, which will become increasingly important to the public-safety sector in the future, he said.
“It used to be that local governments would be stuck with whatever they bought for the next 20 years. But now a lot of them are beginning to look at radio as wireless IT, and they’re starting to apply some of the same concepts,” Shanck said. “For example, the concept of ROI is becoming bigger. They don’t want to be boxed in by technology. Our approach to networking is all about that — it’s not hardware-bound.” Meanwhile, Harris’s competitors are “still in forklift mode,” he said.
As far as the future is concerned, Shanck is as excited about the prospects for public-safety mobile broadband data as everybody else and sees a time when voice will be just another application that rides on such networks.
But he cautioned that land-mobile-radio technology “will be around for quite a while” and said Harris is committed to supporting that platform.
“There will be some movement to broadband, but it will be in densely populated areas,” he said. “So, there will be broad areas nationwide that will continue to need traditional push-to-talk communications. It’s going to be like a consumer waiting for the next ‘fastest’ computer. These agencies can’t wait — they have a job to do today.”
Shanck also believes the future will bring a homogenization of public-infrastructure networks. When that happens, police, fire, 911, public works and public transportation all will leverage the same communications infrastructure. Municipal governments will begin to look at communications holistically and will, as a result, knock down silos. It likely will take years for that to play out — change generally comes slowly to the public sector — but I believe Shanck is correct in his vision. And when it does happen, Harris — with its IT/network-oriented approach — will be in good position to take advantage.
As Johnny Unitas, the Hall-of-Fame quarterback for the Baltimore Colts used to say, “Talk is cheap.” But I think Shanck gets it and I believe that Harris has the R&D muscle and the approach to technology development needed to back him up. It will be fun to watch.
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