Public safety is about to experience a watershed moment
What is in this article?
Look for the coattails
So, what has to change for the first-responder community to enjoy the innovation and lower price points seen so often in the consumer world? In short, this community will need to ride on the coattails of the much larger and faster-moving consumer market. While many of their durability and security requirements cannot be compromised, some of the very unique requirements may need to be examined and relaxed where possible.
We have already seen some of this during the last 20 years, and it is likely that we will begin to see much more of it. As recently as a dozen years ago, public-safety agencies often operated their own private data networks and shunned the public carriers. There were many good reasons to have a private network—chief among them were security, dedicated channels without consumer interference, and hardened sites that were built to withstand disasters. But this segregation created a very small market with very unique requirements, so the technology created for this market was quickly surpassed by that being developed by the commercial carriers, which offered ultra-fast data rates.
It wasn’t long before many public-safety agencies concluded that they needed the data rates that the commercial carriers provided and they were willing to tolerate some of the less-than-desirable survivability issues inherent with a commercial system. Eventually, however, the commercial carriers adopted security provisions and became very reliable due to their own commercially driven redundancies. As a result, it is difficult today to find a public-safety agency using its own private data network–the technological advantages offered by the consumer market were too great to pass up.
While it is unlikely that public safety would forego all of its unique, mission-critical requirements, it is likely that the sector will take a hard look at what is mandatory and what can be relaxed, in order to be a more active partner in the mass-market, consumer-driven communications revolution that will certainly continue. Making the changes needed to ensure that they ride the wave of global technological growth will drive not only significant price reductions, but also rapid technological infusion into an industry that needs it greatly.
Not only will the requirements for public-safety equipment need to morph, but the habits of the first-responder professional likely will change as well. If you sit in a dispatch center today you hear lots of voice traffic—usually in abbreviated phrases and very short sentences. While that is likely to continue for many years into the future, the advent of FirstNet and dedicated broadband channels for public safety will create access to data rates – on channels dedicated to the public safety community – that were previously unknown, which will change dramatically how 911 personnel conduct their business.
What will it look like when text and data capabilities that meet many, or most, public-safety communications needs become commonplace? Right now, we don’t know the answer to that question, and it is likely that the key applications that will enable this transformation haven’t even been invented yet. However, as more public safety-focused applications become secure and redundant to the point of becoming mission-critical, we can expect to see changes in how the public-safety user goes about his daily routine.
Not only will new access to broadband channels affect public-safety users and the requirements for new products, but it also will impact the companies that provide products, applications and services in a major way. A recent poll by IWCE’s Urgent Communications revealed that nearly all believe that mission-critical voice will begin migrating to a voice-over-LTE solution sometime in the next 5 to 10 years. While few claim to know the exact timing and the rate of the migration, nearly all seem to believe that the narrowband voice market will begin to shrink and, while not likely to disappear completely, will become a shadow of what it is today.