Verizon calls on industry to provide ‘true interoperability’ to first-responder community
Telecommunications giant Verizon announced that it is working to create a broad industry coalition that would address the longstanding public-safety communications issue of “true interoperability” between first-responder entities, according to a Verizon executive.
Andres Irlando—a Verizon senior vice president and president of the carrier’s Public Sector and Verizon Connect unit—said the company “has been working very aggressively” on interoperability, which has been cited by first-responder customers and the Verizon First Responder Advisory Council as a priority for public safety.
“We believe that first responders should have the ability to communicate and collaborate real time across networks, devices, platforms and applications. Interoperability is an issue that the public-safety community has been grappling with for decades,” Irlando said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “While there has been good progress, particularly since 9/11, what is clear to us … is that one of—if not the most—important issues facing the public-safety community remains true interoperability.
“Our position is that the time has come for the industry to solve this, once and for all. We know that, where we have interoperability, it saves lives. Not just for first responders, which would be a reason alone [for making interoperability a reality] but also for victims that are involved in both natural disasters and man-made crises.”
Communications interoperability has long been an elusive goal for the public-safety community, but Verizon believes the industry is in a technological position to achieve it, Irlando said.
“Our position is that this is not a new issue. It’s been around for a long time. Now is the time to solve it,” Irlando said. “The technology exists to solve it, so this is a ‘will’ issue; this is not a ‘capability’ issue. And that, primarily, the players that are in a position to solve it are industry players—other carriers, device makers, platform developers and application developers.”
Verizon is not announcing a name for the proposed industry coalition to address interoperability, but the company already has had positive discussions with more than potential coalition members, according to Irlando.
“We’ve had dozens of conversations [with prospective coalition members] at this point, and the idea has been very well received,” he said. “We haven’t make any announcements publicly about it, because there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, but you should expect in early spring some announcements about others who have joined us in this effort to bring about true interoperability.
“We’re doing all of the behind-the-scenes work as we speak, and we’re having pretty extensive conversations with prospective partners in this. When we have a critical mass, we’ll make an announcement about both the name of the coalition, as well as the members.”
When asked when the interoperability coalition would be given a name and when industry partners other than Verizon would be revealed, Irlando said that “we’re on track to make some announcements in early spring.”
Irlando noted that the interoperability coalition would be a standalone entity, not an organization within Verizon or influenced by the Verizon First Responder Advisory Council.
Irlando acknowledged that interoperability is not a straightforward problem to solve, so he declined to speculate when public safety would have interoperable communications in the field as a result of the coalition initiative.
“You’re going to have to stay tuned for that,” Irlando said. “I’d love to give you a more definitive answer, but we’re trying to solve a 30-year problem through partnership and coalition, and I don’t want to get ahead of my skis, in terms of what the broader group will be willing to sign up for.
“We’re eager to solve this issue on behalf of our first-responder customers and the communities that they serve, working with other members of industry.”
It will take all aspects of the communications industry working together to provide “true interoperability” to first responders, Irlando said.
“Obviously, the issue of interoperability isn’t limited just to the carriers,” Irlando said. “So, when you get into mission-critical communications, that also involves the OEMs, the LMR manufacturers, the LTE device manufacturers. There are also apps and the sharing of data between various applications and ensuring that you have things like open APIs or seamless end-to-end encryption to ensure the availability and security of that data across different platforms.”
Manufacturers of land-mobile-radio (LMR) solutions—the systems used today for most public-safety mission-critical voice communications—also will be invited to participate, according to Irlando.
“We are going to—and are—engaging all of the players in the stack,” he said. “We’ll have to see who joins us in this effort. We’ve gotten a lot of positive response already.
“The public-safety community is pretty vocal that the technology exists to do this and that we need to be doing it. Our hope is that others see that now is the time to it and it’s the right thing to do, so we need to get after it together. But individual players will have to decide if they are going to join this effort.”
Key technical categories that this new interoperability coalition are expected to address are:
- Telephony-voice priority and preemption;
- Data prioritization and preemption;
- Mutual-aid roaming between carriers;
- Application interoperability;
- LTE-to-LMR interoperability; and
- Interoperability between 3GPP-standard mission-critical-push-to-X solutions—mission-critical push to talk (MCPTT), mission-critical data (MCData) and mission-critical video (MCVideo)—offered by carriers.
Irlando noted the importance of the mutual-aid and applications categories.
“The third capability that we think is a ‘must-have’ is mutual-aid roaming between carriers,” Irlando said. “When networks go down in a crisis or in a disaster, the ability to jump quickly onto networks that are up is integral to interoperability.
“Fourth, we think about application ecosystems and ensuring that we’re not creating walled gardens—that none of us in this space are walling off other first responders who happen to be on other networks, that all applications work across networks and are available.”
Verizon has pushed for interoperability between its public-safety offerings and those of FirstNet—the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN)—in proceedings before the FCC and in public statements in recent years. Verizon elected not to bid as a primary contractor on the 25-year deal FirstNet, which was awarded to AT&T in March 2017.
AT&T officials have cited technical and policy challenges associated with trying to interoperate with public-safety offerings from other carriers, noting that AT&T would not be able to ensure that other carriers meet the FirstNet performance and security standards. Meanwhile, many have claimed that the 2012 law that created FirstNet envisioned all public-safety agencies being on one system to resolve interoperability issues.
Irlando said he believes that Verizon and the rest of the industry is in a technological position to provide interoperability in all of these categories—something that was not the case even a year ago.
“Until recently, we weren’t in a position to be interoperable on all six of those,” Irlando said. “We have been working very diligently over the last several years to invest in these capabilities.
“Today, we have all of those capabilities, and many of the carriers have a number of those capabilities, as well. We’re not aware of anyone who has all of those capabilities in the way that we do, but there are enough shared capabilities at this point to begin to enter into interoperability arrangements going forward.”
Wireless carriers have achieved significant interoperability for commercial customers, which have long enjoyed the ability to communicate with each other, no matter what carrier they use. However, that has not been the case in the push-to-talk-over-cellular (PoC) space, where users do not enjoy interoperable communications via carrier-integrated offerings, despite the fact that most of the carriers use the same Kodiak push-to-talk platform that is owned by Motorola Solutions.
This push-to-talk issue is an example of a problem that is not a technical one but one that is complicated by key players’ business interests and whether they have the “will” to resolve it, Irlando said.
“This is not an easy issue to just solve with a single attack or a single component,” Irlando said. “We’ve got to, first, get everyone to agree that we’re going to solve this as an industry; and second, get all of the key players involved at each of those levels—the carrier level, the device level, the application and the platform levels.
“We’ve got to go at it from all of these different angles to ensure that, ultimately … a first responder arriving to any natural disaster or any crisis has real-time situational awareness, data sharing and voice sharing with anyone who shows up at the scene to work with them.”