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LTE and LMR Combine To Create Next Generation Public Safety Communications
Author: Mike Petersen, Rick Mostaert, & Renata Oiticica Lampert, Motorola Solutions, Inc.
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content,
Harris County, Texas, launched its 4G LTE* public safety communications network in 2011. At the time, it was the first of its kind. The county was the only one in the U.S. to operate 4G LTE devices alongside an extensive land mobile radio (LMR) Project 25 (P25) network that serves more than 230 agencies and includes about 80,000 portable radios.
* [LTE = Long-Term Evolution, a standard for wireless communication of high-speed data for mobile phones and data terminals.]
The county made its move to LTE because officials were convinced the combination of LMR and LTE would have a dramatic impact on situational awareness for its first responders. They believed that would translate into greater safety for them and those who live in the communities they serve.
Recent LTE and broadband developments may soon bring Harris County some company.
In March 2014, the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communication Systems (LA-RICS) announced it will develop a new wireless Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) of its own. The LTE system will provide mission-critical data communications to more than 34,000 law enforcement, fire service and health service professionals working in 80 regional public safety agencies. The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will provide primary funding for the system. The system is projected to eventually incorporate some 231 sites and cover more than 4,000 square miles with a population of about 10 million.
This news follows another LA-RICS announcement in August 2013 of a new LMR system for the same region and agencies. This system is expected to be deployed over the next five years.
Then, in June, Adams County (CO) marked the launch of the initial phase of its county-wide LTE network. The county says it is the first deployed as part of the emerging FirstNet national interoperable broadband public safety communications network. This system also is funded through BTOP.
Talk around the industry is that other BTOP-funded systems including some in New Mexico and New Jersey, among others, may not be far behind.
All of this recent activity suggests two emerging LTE trends: The first is that funding may be loosening. Lack of funding, or more specifically, freezes in funding as agencies re-considered the potential impact of the FirstNet national public safety communications plan, has caused a number of systems to start development only to stop. The second is that the “next generation” system concept is not just about data. The “Next Generation” system model more likely will be a hybrid system that incorporates the best that LTE, LMR and broadband technology together have to offer in one shared network.
This is a different reality than many will remember with past public safety communications technology transitions. Major shifts over the past decades have taken public safety agencies and departments from conventional to trunked, and then from analog to digital. In each of these transitions, public safety agencies and departments eventually replaced one technology with the other.
LTE - Moving Forward
The great news right now for first responders everywhere is that there is reason for excitement about increasing deployments of LTE systems around the country. All of the ingredients are coming together - technology, spectrum, funding and a growing number of devices - to enable departments to create “next generation” communications systems for themselves.
Still, much of the discussion surrounding public safety LTE continues to be about its promise. There are many things we know these systems will do - transmitting and receiving real-time “live” streaming video being likely the most dramatic. But, their ability to move huge amounts of all types of data, relay it to and retrieve it from everywhere, extend communications reach anywhere broadband exists, and do all of that in seconds is no less impressive.
Yet, what may be the most thought provoking fact is that the future of LTE appears limitless.
That’s why first responders are anxious to get their hands on LTE devices. However, they realize the devices they want for their jobs are not the ones many use at home. First responders want LTE devices that deliver the same reliable and secure communications capabilities and features they are accustomed to receiving from their mission-critical LMR systems.
That time may be nearer than many think.
While today we are just at the earliest stages for public safety LTE systems and LTE devices, many of the latter are already available.
Smartphones and hand-held computers
An increasing number of manufacturers now offer these devices, which deliver data, photos, video and voice quickly, reliably and securely over multiple networks from private public safety LTE networks to commercial 4G LTE wireless networks and Wi-Fi. They also provide multiple voice communications options from making a simple phone call to joining a P25 radio talk group via a P25-LTE gateway.
Right: Motorola Solutions introduced its first mobile LTE data device, the LEX 700, in February 2012. The device provides access to a range of multimedia applications and features all designed to enhance situational awareness and tactical collaboration. Some of those features include wireless data security, real-time video from mobile and fixed devices, Bluetooth® technology to connect to a wide range of peripherals, and real-time tracking information and collaboration software for better deployment of personal and equipment.
LTE modems enable public safety agencies to put broadband right into their vehicles. Now, ultra-fast database look-ups, transmitting and receiving photos, mapping, or streaming video take only seconds.
These modems even enable first responders to connect to nearby Wi-Fi networks, use their mobile device as a Wi-Fi “hot spot,” and connect to commercial carrier LTE systems.
USB LTE Devices
These and other LTE data adaptors enable laptops and mobile computers to connect to the broadband network. With a standard USB data interface, connections are quick and easy.
Embedded LTE modules in Fixed Devices
Installed in remote devices ranging from parking meters to cameras and other sensors, these modules relay data wirelessly to control centers for monitoring, analysis and response as required.
What does all of this really mean for public safety agencies right now?
For starters, this technology and these devices, coupled with robust existing LMR systems, make the long-discussed concept of connecting a first responder personally and the public safety vehicle individually to the complete communications network finally possible.
Many believe the future “connected” first responder will be equipped with systems that take situational awareness well-beyond anything available today. Think about some of these possibilities:
- Integrated display glasses for critical status alerts.
- A video remote speaker phone that sends and receives live, real-time video.
- Bio-monitoring to keep track of the first responder’s vital physical condition from heart-rate to “man-down.”
- Environmental sensors to detect hazardous materials.
- A smart portable computer and smartphone.
- A gun holster sensor.
The reality of a “connected” vehicle transforms a first responder’s vehicle into a true mobile office. A vehicle’s communications system is no longer capable of just simple “look-ups.” Traveling to the incident scene, the first responder’s vehicle communications system puts everything right at his or her fingertips - live and archived video, real-time and archived reports covering incident locations, descriptions of individuals involved and other first responders deployed. It is no longer necessary to return the station to retrieve anything. And, when the incident is resolved, complete reports can be filed right from the first responder’s driver’s seat.
Together, these systems will redefine how a first responder works. They will keep first responders deployed, on the move and visible in their communities. Access to rich, complete information as first responders travel to an incident scene will impact overall response time. Keeping first responders and their vehicles continually “in service” may even help reduce department operating budgets.
However, the story of next generation public safety networks is not just about inventing new ways to deliver data. It is about re-imagining LMR, too.
LMR systems available today are being re-designed and configured to take better advantage of broadband and LTE private and public networks. Some of these new features include these:
- Multi-band and multi-channel capabilities for enhanced interoperability.
- Integrated mission-critical voice and data in a single unit.
- A unified push-to-talk feature that enables LMR radio users to extend their communications footprint to include talkgroup members who may be outside the primary coverage area using smartphones and other broadband and LTE devices.
- Bluetooth® technology that enables LMR radios to connect to a broad range of wireless devises including LTE devices.
- Wi-Fi connectivity to access to 3G, 4G and broadband networks.
- Physiological monitoring capabilities for situations ranging from training to SWAT, fire and EMS applications.
Right: This past March, Motorola announced its first portable radio that merge LMR functions with LTE capabilities. The APX 7000L is a multiband P25 portable radio with an LTE module that enables the transmission and reception of broadband data - the first portable device to include LTE connectivity in a public-safety-grade LMR handheld device.
Sophisticated new LMR portables today already are incorporating mission-critical LMR voice and LTE capabilities like these in one handheld device. The multi-band capabilities of these radios means that mission-critical voice and broadband data finally no longer have to compete for an uninterrupted channel to a first responder.
These radios, such as the newly-introduced Motorola APX 7000L, deliver a long list of features including over-the-air programming and re-keying. This feature cuts to seconds the time it ordinarily could take to change a radio’s operating personality. Some of the other key data capabilities include GPS location information, text messaging and text-based database inquiries.
The ability to re-key quickly is particularly important to federal law enforcement and other users who routinely travel to work incidents across the country with agencies often operating communications systems on different bands and channels. Over-the-air re-programming and re-keying makes it possible for these agencies to be absorbed into the existing response team almost seamlessly.
Planning-- The Best Preparation
The reality of next generation public safety communications systems has shifted from “if and when” to “here and now.” Public safety agencies and departments everywhere are ready to make their move to LTE and the new hybrid communications systems they will be part of.
The first step for any agency or department making this move is to decide how the utilization of this technology should occur for them. That hinges on a well-structured plan. Managing a network filled with different types of devices takes a disciplined approach. The foundation of the plan depends on the answers to some obviously fundamental questions:
- What applications will my department require? What might my video needs be?
- What types of devices may be included in my department’s evolving LMR/LTE network?
- What are the profiles of my users? What do they need?
- Will other departments likely share my network? If so, which?
- What level of service and prioritization will be required?
Clearly, the best time to answer these questions is right now as the move to LTE systems is beginning to gain momentum. This provides time to make the significant choices these answers may reveal. As you work through this process, be sure to consider how LTE devices available now could be gradually incorporated into your evolving LMR and broadband system structure.
This preparatory work will help you realize the significant dividends these hybrid communications systems will provide. Certainly, one of the first is that the transition itself will be smooth, efficient and quick. But more significantly is that this thoughtful planning will ensure that the long-term impact of these systems, and your system in particular, will prove to be as limitless as we imagine.
Writing on behalf of Motorola Solutions, Inc. about LTE and LMR technologies in public safety, Mike Petersen is the director of Astro Subscriber Product Management; Rick Mostaert is Senior Director Private Broadband Product Management, and Renata Oiticica Lampert is the Applications & Integration Portfolio Manager for Motorola Solutions’ Global ASTRO Product Solutions.
For more information, see Motorola Solutions
Photos via Motorola Solutions, Inc.