LTE isn’t just a great technology for uploading pictures of the cake you just baked to Facebook – it could soon prove to be a life-saving technology. What the public is becoming increasingly aware that LTE is the technology behind ‘4G’ not many realise that plans are underway in the US for it to be to be used to build a public safety network.
This is a network that is set aside from the regular communications networks, exclusively for use by first responders in an emergency situation, such as terrorism or natural disasters. While these systems already exists it is hoped that the introduction of LTE will enable these first responders to act even more quickly and effectively thanks, in the main, to one of LTE’s key features – speed. An LTE public safety network should be several times faster than the networks currently in place, enabling information to be sent and received faster and more reliably.
As such, an LTE-based system called FirstNet is currently being discussed in the US and the opening sentence of this report prepared for the US Congress on FirstNet, indicates how acutely the issue is felt in the country, stating that, “[on] September 11, 2001…. communications failures contributed to the tragedies of the day.”
The recent events on 20 April in Boston have once again brought attention on the progress being made in developing a newer public safety network and in a recent meeting of the FirstNet board the matter of how an LTE powered FirstNet could have helped in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing was discussed.
According to this report the most relevant assistance it might have brought was to board member Kevin McGinnis, who is also CEO of North East Mobile Health Services. He said that he can monitor the health of up to 20 patients on his smartphone in real time – but to do that a robust reliable network is required. Presumably this isn’t so that he can ‘work from home’ but rather he can help more people by being in more places at once, as it were, by having life-saving data at his fingertips.
Another example given at the meeting was by board member Charles “Chuck” Dowd, deputy chief of the New York City police department who said that bomb squads from different areas sometimes pooled resources and used real-time HD video to work together to diffuse devices. HD video is of course one of the things the LTE does best.
In an interview with the LTE World Series earlier this year, Tony Gray, board member of the TETRA & Critical Communications Association (TCCA) and chair of the Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG), pointed out that the public safety community can benefit from the economies of scale the LTE provides, lowering prices and time-to-market of equipment, which up to now has been proprietary and expensive. However, he also pointed out that LTE as a standard will have to adapted to meet the specific requirements of the critical communications community in the areas of group-based operation, fast call set-up and off-network, device-to-device working.
This and other issues will be addressed at the LTE Public Safety expo that is taking place on the show floor on day two of the LTE World Summit on Tuesday 25th June. At the expo, which is free to attend, you’ll also get to hear from other key Public Safety experts such as Emil Olbrich, lead project engineer for NIST, and Herman van Sprakelaar, who is in charge of tactical management for the Netherlands Police.
While we all hope that critical communications will never have to be used, it is reassuring to know that LTE technology will soon be on hand to assist in these worst-case scenarios.
The LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, is taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a brochure for the event.