Verizon emphasizes need for interoperability, resiliency in first-responder communications
Industry and public safety have worked together to address many of the communications issues that plagued first responders during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, but the introduction of new digital capabilities make the interoperability discussion more important than ever, according to a Verizon official.
Nick Nilan, Verizon’s director of federal civilian accounts, reflected briefly on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks during an IWCE speech, noting the communications operability and interoperability problems of that time—many of which have been addressed with system investments, standards like P25 and LTE, and prioritized access for first responders.
“We all got to work over the last 20 years and solved a lot of the problems that we saw on that terrible day. We solved a lot of the operability challenges; we’ve built more reliable networks …” Nilan said during his IWCE 2021 keynote in Las Vegas. “We’ve made sure that radio networks can talk to other radio networks. We’ve made sure that radio networks can talk to LTE networks. And we’ve made sure that LTE networks can talk with LTE networks.
“If we look at what we’ve done over the last 20 years in making connectivity more interoperable, we’ve solved the problems—for the most part—of 20 years ago. But where we’re going is so much more complex.”
Indeed, the current level of interoperability may not be enough in the future, when sensor-driven data applications are expected to play an increasingly greater role for public-safety agencies and the various community sectors they are charged with protecting, according to Nilan.
“How does public safety play in the broader scheme of smart cities, smart schools, smart buildings and smart infrastructure? How does all of that communication come together?” he said.
“That’s why we’re here talking about interoperability today. We want to work with you in the public-safety community to make sure that your communications, your networks—but also your IoT sensors, your video, and your applications—are interoperable. Because when we say ‘interoperable,’ we don’t just mean network-to-network. We mean at the application and the security layer.”
Some have questioned whether interoperability can be achieved without compromising security. Verizon officials do not believe security should be considered a barrier to interoperability, Nilan said.
“What Verizon is really focused on is that we have created network connections that are reliable, resilient and secure, with carrier partners around the world. We’ve become experts at this,” Nilan said. “If we can figure it out in some of the more remote places around the world, we can absolutely do it here [in the United States].”
At the heart of the Verizon Frontline communications platform for first responders is a robust broadband wireless network that includes battery backup at 100% of all macro cell sites and “permanent generator penetration” at 85% of macro cell sites, according to Jason Mitchell, senior manager of Verizon’s Response Team. (Editor’s note: for more details about the Verizon Response Teams and drone teams with certified pilots, check out this article).
When natural disasters or other events compromise the terrestrial network, Verizon has more than 530 deployable assets with dedicated satellite capacity to provide coverage, Mitchell said.
In addition, Verizon used IWCE 2021 as an opportunity to showcase the Tactical Humanitarian Operations Response (THOR), company’s new deployable communications vehicle. Although it is just a prototype, THOR already has demonstrated its potential utility during a recent military exercise, Mitchell said.
“We were out there in an area that had zero coverage, and we went to 3.5 gigs per second over 5G Ultrawideband,” Mitchell said. “Think about that for a minute. Zero coverage at [a Marine base] in the middle of nowhere to 3.5 gigs a sec.
“That’s going to give them the ability to communicate back effectively, quickly and really provide those mission-critical communications.”