In an age of increasing threats to public safety, instant access to live data is becoming even more crucial. First responders from rural towns to large cities are leveraging new technologies to evolve from today’s push-to-talk land mobile radios (LMRs) to faster, more reliable broadband applications. Through the evolution of LTE technologies and the upcoming launch of a commercial 5G network, applications such as real-time video, media sharing, secure communication services, and more are becoming a reality.
The push to evolve public-safety communications is driven not only by the rapid advance of technologies but by the evolving needs of emergency responders. They need solutions that improve mobile broadband capabilities and offer reliable coverage, as well as flexibility with application, device, and network choices. While some of these features are available today with mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) through LTE, commercial 5G will be crucial in enhancing the next generation of MCPTT technology, giving public-safety personnel access to high-availability and resilient networks, better location services, network integration, low latency, and more.
For instance, through MCPTT, first responders will be able to incorporate all mobile voice and broadband data applications into a single device rather than relying on multiple devices for their voice and data communication needs. They will be able to integrate public-safety features such as situational awareness on smartphone operating systems or video capabilities such as remote monitoring. In fact, the ability to integrate these MCPTT capabilities quickly has largely become a prerequisite for many public-safety agencies when selecting vendors.
The Driving Force
Currently the public-safety footprint of MCPTT and mission-critical video and data is at an early stage. With LMR applications continuing to dominate the public-safety space and 5G rollouts only in the beginning stages, MCPTT has yet to become widely used. Until it is more broadly available, many agencies are continuing to leverage existing public networks. That said, a recent Ericsson survey found 71% of public safety decision-makers plan to invest in 5G technology because of its ability to improve operational efficiency.
MCPTT will also further diminish interoperability issues. This next generation of push-to-talk is a key component of emerging LTE-based public-safety agency solutions, as it will better complement the mission-critical capabilities provided by the LMR networks agencies depend on today. For instance, Ericsson’s Group-Radio MCPTT, the company’s mission-critical service offering, creates a transitional path to LTE for LMR users while retaining existing operational capabilities for group communication. This further enhances group communication as one-to-one communication becomes one-to-many, and real-time video media sharing is introduced along with other mission-critical user services. Notably, this can help bridge the transition to Group-Radio MCPTT until LMR systems are retired.
For MCPTT to become truly applicable nationwide, interoperability between LTE networks and LMR systems is a crucial first step. Interoperability affects existing LMR networks, overall coverage, and cross-carrier usage, as well as public-safety officials’ ability to effectively respond to high-profile joint-response situations. Once the proper infrastructure is implemented, a common standard of mission-critical communications will bring forth an open, interoperable system that is both cost-effective and can be properly operated. At the 3GPP mobile-broadband conference in June, it was announced that a new work item on interworking with legacy LMR is targeted for completion for December 2018. This new work item will target developments in mission-critical standards that include LMR.
How 5G Will Impact Communications
Once 5G standards are finalized, likely in 2019, mission-critical communications will become a fixture among public-safety agencies. New 5G technology will provide a higher degree of reliable low-latency communications. Instead of a one-size-fits-all mobile broadband service, 5G offers the flexibility to tailor quality of services (QoS) to the specific demands of emergency responders.
With 5G technologies public-safety personnel will be able to benefit from an enhanced version of the Internet of Lifesaving Things (IoLST), one where its full potential can be reached. The IoLST is a subset of the Internet of Things (IoT) that includes devices such as portable sensors, wearables, and smartphones designed to protect individuals and assist public-safety personnel in their daily operations. While the IoLST is currently available in LTE, 5G will unleash new transformative capabilities that will create space for more applications to be connected into public-safety systems. Examples can be found in EMS devices that allow for electronic patient care reporting, in-vehicle routers or vehicle health data, and unmanned aircraft systems and aerial vehicles. The availability and variety of these devices, coupled with the amount of data identified and collected by the IoLST, are anticipated to grow exponentially in the next few years.
As for EMS and hospital officials, the rollout of 5G will allow them to rapidly transfer data and high-resolution images back and forth, equipping them with crucial information when it counts. And with mission-critical infrastructure, the public, transport, and online communities will have the ability to connect with emergency services and even homeland security to anticipate safety and security requirements before disasters occur.
As an example, traffic management systems will be able to assess weather, visibility, and general traffic information and combine it with detailed geospatial information from local road networks and other surroundings to create a shared operational picture of situations. First responders will then be able to share real-time conditions with other agencies to make more informed decisions. Traffic control systems, alarms, smart buildings, and facial recognition and surveillance systems will also be features public-safety officials can utilize.
Perhaps the most prevalent technology is drones. Drone use among public-safety agencies increased significantly between 2009 and early 2017. With the deployment of a drone, crews can quickly monitor and assess a situation during and post disaster. Drones are also capable of delivering items to victims and locating missing people. With the implementation of drones that can maintain surveillance over an area or aid in emergencies, communication to and from EMTs will be drastically improved, as well as response time, the ability to capture reliable and accurate data on site, and the level of consistency in emergencies.
Ultimately, like its mobile network predecessors, the 5G ecosystem will soon be an indispensable part of the public-safety sector. Its fast, reliable low-latency capabilities make it ideal for public-safety use. Once standards begin to take form, interoperability is achieved, and operators start implementing mission-critical networks, the public-safety sector will be fully modernized.
Patrik Ringqvist is principal solutions architect for Ericsson North America.