Public safety needs data and application interoperability
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Task isn’t FirstNet’s aloneÂ
The need for application interoperability is not restricted to video. Efforts already are underway in the 3GPP — the global body that establishes LTE standards — to develop mission-critical push-to-talk (PTT) voice. Moreover, NPSTC’s Public-Safety Communications Assessment identified 11 other applications where standards were required to meet interoperability needs. They encompassed such diverse needs as radiological and biometric telemetry, as well as hospital availability. It is likely that many other applications will be identified that will require standards development.
While FirstNet and the vendor community initially must focus on the network itself, the effort to advance applications standards can and should begin now; it is essential that the two initiatives be conducted in parallel, so that public-safety agencies can reap the full benefit of operable and interoperable applications from the very first day that they join the network.
The NTIA’s State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) presents an ideal, near-term program and opportunity for public safety to articulate the most beneficial applications and to define the best method for making them available to first responders. The nation and FirstNet will derive considerable value from public safety defining these applications as a SLIGP deliverable. Because the applications will drive the FirstNet network’s architecture and throughput requirements, the SLIGP can help public safety determine data interoperability early in the deployment lifecycle.
FirstNet doesn’t have to build these standards or the products that use them; that task can remain within the public-safety standards bodies and with the technology vendors.
Instead, FirstNet can assist these entities in their efforts to introduce standards-based solutions to the market and to serve as the +data exchange hub” for interoperable transactions where appropriate. It also could offer data-center access for vendors to host applications (or application components), or to resell hosted services — both would provide FirstNet with an opportunity to add value in the public-safety application space that goes far beyond an app store.
Alternatively or concurrently, it may be more appropriate for states or locals to host the applications themselves. The bottom line is that the SLIGP represents the right time and opportunity to understand how public safety can benefit fully from the nationwide network and how those application benefits will be realized. Importantly, the states need to define the role that they think is most appropriate for FirstNet to play in helping to achieve nationwide application interoperability.
FirstNet, public safety and the vendor community can best promote application interoperability by first recognizing the overall magnitude of the requirement. In the absence of specialized interoperable applications, public safety will be challenged to fully benefit from the promise of the nationwide network. In the absence of standardized applications, essential information-sharing will be limited, which will place lives at risk and minimize the benefits envisioned by the network.
Instead of patching together stove-piped systems, we now have the opportunity to create a nationwide framework for application interoperability. The work to define critical public-safety application requirements can be facilitated through the SLIGP, and this insight will provide valuable information to FirstNet and the industry to best drive and develop the required standards.
Rick Burke and Joe Ross are the managing partner and senior partner, respectively, of Televate, a leading public-safety communications and IT consultancy headquartered in Vienna, Va.