Broadband technology has the potential to revolutionize the way public safety performs its mission. Newly available 700 MHz spectrum will allow public safety to adopt technologies that support high-speed data transmission across long distances, creating access to video, mapping, GPS applications and more. These new capabilities will undoubtedly help public safety better perform its mission of protecting lives and property.
As President Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address, broadband technologies offer possibilities for first responders that weren’t imaginable just several years ago. This sentiment echoes the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, published in March 2010, which calls for establishing a nationwide, interoperable, public-safety broadband network that will allow first responders nationwide to communicate with each other at all times and without delay.
In support of this goal, the Department of Commerce’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Program has been developing a 700 MHz public-safety broadband demonstration network—the first network of its kind—to provide a vendor-neutral environment to test and observe how equipment in this band operates. Broadband infrastructure and subscriber unit vendors are deploying their equipment on the demonstration network through cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs). Currently, PSCR has executed over 20 CRADAs with companies, including wireless service providers, equipment manufacturers, network integrators, testing facilities and more.
To help public safety and industry understand the capabilities of current LTE equipment, PSCR has developed a three-phase test plan. Phase one will test and evaluate basic functionality. Phase two will involve system and node-level testing, including performance and network stress testing. Phase three will test advanced features, conformance, interoperability and roaming. Based on the results of these tests, PSCR will help emergency responders understand how broadband LTE systems perform and determine through hands-on experience how these systems will or will not meet their unique needs.
In addition to the on-site testing, PSCR is also actively engaged with international standards bodies and standards organizations, such as the Third Generation Partnership Project, Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions and the MultiService Forum, to ensure that specific public-safety requirements are reflected in published standards.
PSCR is also collaborating with federal partners, such as DHS’s Office of Emergency Communications and Office of Interoperability and Compatibility and the White House, and public-safety organizations, such as the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, the SAFECOM Program and others.
All of these efforts hinge on PSCR’s ability to form close partnerships and gather valuable input from industry and public safety. With this in mind, PSCR held an inaugural stakeholder meeting in April 2010, bringing together public safety, industry, federal partners and other stakeholders for the first time to discuss expectations, concerns and requirements for public-safety broadband networks. This meeting led to the identification of several key topics of interest, which PSCR is working with industry partners to address.
A follow-up meeting was held in December 2010 and included presentations from PSCR, the FCC, DHS and members of industry. The goal of this meeting was to update participants on project progress and highlight some of the key issues and questions facing public safety as it begins deploying broadband networks. These issues and questions include network architecture, quality of service, priority and preemption, network identifiers, roaming, application and infrastructure testing and more. PSCR continues to work together with industry leaders and public-safety practitioners to tackle these challenges.
Future stakeholder meetings will focus on informing public-safety practitioners of testing results and providing industry the opportunity to discuss their public-safety broadband solutions.
The future of public-safety broadband and LTE is a bright one, but many questions remain. In some cases, we’ve only scratched the surface of what we understand about 700 MHz broadband for public safety. PSCR expects that the demonstration network will help ensure that the next generations of public-safety communications technologies are interoperable and meet users’ expectations.
Dereck Orr is the program manager of the Public Safety Communications Research Program.