Bill Schrier, senior policy advisor and program manager, Washington State Office of the CIO, is speaking on Day Two of the LTE North America conference, taking place on the 21st-22nd November 2013, in Dallas, Texas, USA. Ahead of the show we find out more about the challenges involved in deploying LTE for critical comms for the Washington State area.
What are the key benefits you feel LTE brings to public safety networks?
LTE is a commercial technology which will reduce the costs of, deploying equipment at cell sites, central site equipment (evolved packet cores) and the cost of devices, especially if Qualcomm produces chipsets which include Band 14, as they have promised to do.
More importantly, LTE network design, construction, operations and tuning is well understood by a wide array of companies and engineers, so there is a wide body of work and expertise to draw upon in building the public safety network, as opposed to public-safety-only network technologies such as P25 which have a more limited set of expertise.
Finally there is competition. With more manufacturers of LTE equipment and devices (compared to public-safety proprietary technologies), the variety of devices available to public safety practitioners should be greater.
Are there still limitations with LTE technology that will need to be overcome in terms of providing mission-critical voice and data?
There are huge obstacles when it comes to mission-critical voice. First, most public safety responders use one-to-many dispatch, where a single dispatch centre will broadcast to dozens or hundreds of police officers, fire fighters, electrical utility workers or transportation workers in the field. Similarly, a single officer broadcasting from the field will be heard by all others on the same channel or talk group. Such functions are hard to implement in LTE networks. Next is the simplex or device-to-device mode. This mode is used extensively inside buildings or when fighting fires, especially in remote areas. This mode does not use an intervening tower, but relies upon high levels of power in the device (usually measured in watts as opposed to milliwatts). Again, such a mode is not presently or easily supported in LTE.
For public safety mission-critical data there are fewer obstacles. The two most common ones are a lack of smartphone/tablet – enabled applications, and identification of the user, as opposed to the device. User identification is important because local, state and federal laws such as CJIS (criminal justice information system) and HIPPA (healthcare) restrict access to certain kinds of data and require the user as well as the device to be identified when such data is accessed.
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What do you feel is the optimal governance structure for public safety network rollout? Is local, regional, state or national level best?
A combination of governance structures is required. There needs to be national standards for the LTE network, the evolved packet core, identity management (see above) and applications management. There must be national testing centres for applications to make sure they are well-behaved and secure before they are allowed on the network.
But state-wide and local governance is also required. Most applications will be developed either by vendors or by local and state-wide agencies. Operations and maintenance must be done locally as well. Finally, local or state officials must have their “hands on the knobs” during serious events or disasters to manage priority of applications, users, devices and so forth. LTE has many inherent controls for priority, but it is up to the incident commander at the local level to make the decisions.
Are public-private partnerships going to be critical to public safety network success?
Yes, such partnerships are absolutely essential. I’ll mention just a couple of examples. In network construction, FirstNet “only” has $7 billion available to construct a network, which, by some estimates, would cost $35 to $40 billion or more if constructed from the ground up. So FirstNet will need to partner and use sites and backhaul (typically fibre, maybe microwave) from commercial telecommunications carriers, other private providers (Crown Castle, American Tower etc.), non-profits (e.g. NOANet here in Washington State, which is a non-profit entity owned by the public utility districts in the state) as well as cities, counties and the state government itself. Another example of such partnerships is the development of applications. Those apps often will be developed by private vendors, but need to be tailored to local needs.
What are your predictions for LTE-based critical comms network rollouts over the next few years?
Public safety data applications already exist and are operational in thousands of jurisdictions using commercial 3G and 4G and LTE networks. One public safety LTE network is already operational in Harris County Texas. I would hope to see other public safety LTE “early builder” networks in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Mexico and Mississippi become operational in 2014-2015. I hope certain FirstNet-constructed statewide networks might become operational in late 2015 or 2016, and to see a substantial operating by 2018. In terms of mission critical voice, I think it will be many years before an LTE network is able to handle this function – probably into the 2020s or 2030.