Miami-Dade County keeps LMR focus amid LTE excitement
Like many public-safety communications officials today, Felix Perez is a busy man. As the director of Miami-Dade County’s radio communications information division, he’s in charge of maintaining the existing 800 MHz LMR system, overseeing the rollout of a new P25 system and testing on a new 700 MHz LTE pilot project.
Efforts like the Miami-Dade County LTE pilot likely will prove valuable in the planning of the upcoming nationwide network, because there are so few 4G networks dedicated to public safety in operation today. In particular, it was good to hear Perez say that his team hasn’t seen “any performance issues” associated with the fact that the LTE core is located in Massachusetts, not Florida.
However, it should be noted that this is a limited pilot, with only a single LTE site and about 15 devices being tested at the moment. But Perez spoke with enthusiasm about the early successful tests with full-motion video, database queries and other public-safety applications. He also noted the potential value that a private LTE network could bring to the rest of the government enterprise, if allowed.
My conversation with Perez today may have been a microcosm what the public-safety communications community is encountering on a regular basis in the wake of last month’s enactment of a law that reallocates the 700 MHz D Block to first responders and provides $7 billion in federal funding for a nationwide broadband network.
Outsiders like me — and I bet many elected officials fall into this category, as well — anxiously want information about the next big thing and when breakthrough applications will arrive. Communication officials like Perez also are excited about the future, but they also have to address the existing needs of the first responders they serve, which means making sure their LMR voice systems work properly.
“We’re in the process of implementing one of the largest P25 LMR networks in the nation,” Perez said, noting that the new P25 system will meet Miami-Dade County’s 800 MHz rebanding requirements. “We’re just rolling out the first site. We will have the first of two 20-channel systems up and running by December 2012. We’re looking forward to the second one, which will go up in December 2014.”
Now, one of the biggest debates in public-safety communications is when will LTE provide mission-critical voice, which theoretically would allow populous areas like Miami-Dade County to wean off its LMR networks. While it’s entertaining to speculate on the timetable, there is little question that LMR and LTE will need to coexist for some time, perhaps even decades.
Perez said Miami-Dade County is trying to take steps that will allow it to migrate smoothly, regardless of the timing and technological changes that may come in the future.
“This is part of the long-term vision we’ve had in terms of communications for first responders,” he said. “We currently have in place an IP core network based on the VIDA technology from Harris that is going to be the infrastructure that will communication and integration between LMR voice, broadband LTE … and any other IP-based system that we’re able to interconnect, so you’ve got voice, data, video and anything else that comes along integrated and delivered to a first responder, so they can do their job out there.”
Indeed, amid all of the alphabet-soup-laden technology discussions, providing first responders with the tools they need to perform their duties efficiently is what public-safety communications is all about. Hopefully, forward-minded communication officials like Perez can continue to make sense of the technological complexities, resist the distractions from elected officials/media and maintain their focus on this ever-important endgame of ensuring that communications work when they are most necessary.
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