5 Considerations for a Successful Public Safety LTE Deployment
Rajesh Mishra, President & CTO | May 13, 2015
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), is a U.S. government program with the objective of establishing a nationwide network to provide public safety agencies with a secure communication system to enable data and voice.
FirstNet will be the first nationwide wireless broadband network that is dedicated solely to public safety. There are several requirements for a public safety network that will ensure the ability to communicate effectively in emergencies, disasters, and day-to-day:
Provide local control
Where LTE provides these requirements for every day usage, it is not sufficient enough when people’s lives are at stake. FirstNet seeks to cost-effectively address these challenges to better enable first responders to communicate and save lives.
Because disasters can strike anywhere, there is a need for FirstNet to provide coverage everywhere. Simply put by FirstNet’s website “because emergencies don’t just happen where people live”. With 72% of U.S. land area being rural (Source), the lack of fixed infrastructure in these areas creates coverage gaps. In rural areas such as Havre, Montana, public safety personnel have referred to this lack of coverage and reiterated the need to fill these coverage gaps. Since it would not make economic sense to build cell towers in every corner of these rural locations, FirstNet needs a mobile solution that enables responders to bring their coverage with them.
Another challenge faced by public safety is a need for reliability. If a network goes down during a natural disaster (which is ought to happen), there needs to be a way for first responders to maintain communication. As a result, FirstNet needs to have resilience built into their network to ensure that public safety personnel can communicate even when the network infrastructure is down.
Public safety agencies also need local control and traffic prioritization abilities for communication so they are not slowed down by a congested network. Because commercial LTE architecture is centralized, it is more prone to network outages. As a result, public safety agencies need local control of their network to deliver resilience in day-to-day operations as well as in emergencies. Providing local control and priority access to public safety personnel would enable them to communicate without interruption so they may continue to save lives.
This network must also enable interoperability between agencies so they can warn each other of incoming danger, or alert EMS of people in need. Without a shared network to enable this, responders must go through a longer chain of communication to get their message to the intended agencies and personnel, thus wasting precious time. With an interoperable network, first responders are better able to communicate with any branch of public safety they need to get in contact with.
So what are some of the possible solutions?
Traditional approaches are not necessarily an ideal solution for FirstNet; as an example, the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communication initiative (or LA-RICS) was recently suspended due to the challenges they’ve encountered with cell tower site uncertainties, delays in construction, and public concern over additional LTE sites (as reported by Urgent Communications).
Though this suspension has now been lifted, it still provides an example of how FirstNet may need to consider alternative LTE architectures.
Utilizing their smartphones would facilitate first responders by giving them access to reliable LTE, databases, and life-saving apps.
Another technology option being considered is small cells, or, small, low-powered radio nodes that extend the coverage of a macro network. This option would require advanced orchestration of the cells in order to, for example, manage interference. Additionally, outdoor nodes can help first responders stay connected even in indoor disasters. As any firefighter may tell you, indoor communications infrastructure is the first thing to go in a building fire.
Bring Your Own Coverage (BYOC) is one option that may solve this issue. BYOC, empowered by Parallel Wireless, focuses on using low-cost, portable, and easy to deploy small cells (known as CWS’). Installed in public safety vehicles, these nodes would enable communication via daisy chaining as they are mesh-enabled by an LTE Access Controller (LAC). The LAC also makes the network future-proof as a software upgrade makes it compatible with any future 3GPP release.
What this means is that each small cell can wirelessly backhaul to one backhaul donor cell, rather than requiring each cell to have wired backhaul. This would greatly reduce the costs typically associated with small cell deployments. As these nodes would be mobile, they are always near the end-user so the device is easily able to “sniff out” the node and connect to it. The LAC then mitigates interference and manages nodes as they come and go from the network. As a result, this would remove public safety users from the congestion of a public access network and would provide resilience in the case of infrastructure failure. Parallel Wireless will be presenting the BYOC solution and its benefits to public safety on August 19 at APCO 2015.
FirstNet is still exploring possible options for their nationwide public safety broadband network, and several sources have admitted that “[they] haven’t even explored new technologies”. As several sources have expressed an interest in exploring these alternatives, such technologies might help to eliminate the challenges of traditional solutions to enable this ambitious yet essential deployment.