Urgent Matters

Next week’s meetings could set stage for potentially transformative year in public-safety communications

by Donny Jackson

Table of Contents:

Dec 01, 2015

There are a lot of questions today surrounding the deployment of FirstNet and next-generation 911 (NG911) systems, but many of these queries may be answered during the next year—beginning with potentially significant meetings that will be conducted next week.

As we move into December, there are a lot of normal preparations happening: people shopping, families arranging to get together, and college football teams getting ready to play in bowl games. But the most significant preparations of all could come next week in the public-safety-communications arena, where significant policy positions could be made that determine the fate of FirstNet and next-generation 911 (NG911) deployments.

That’s because the FirstNet board will convene on Tuesday and Wednesday in its final scheduled meetings before releasing the much-anticipated request for proposal (RFP) by the end of the month. Then, on Thursday, the FCC’s Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA) is expected to deliver its final report that integrates the work of its three working groups that have spent much of the year formulating recommendations about how three key components of next-generation 911—implementation, cybersecurity and funding—should work.

Indeed, it is possible that we will look back on the upcoming year and say that this was: (a) when policies were created to enable a successful shift from legacy public-safety communications to IP-based next-generation broadband communications, or (b) when unrealistic policies were established that delayed the transition—necessarily or unnecessarily, depending on circumstances or your point of view—by several years or decades.

To a large extent, the functional technologies to make these IP transitions happen already exist. Admittedly, some still need to be tested further, but by this time next year, we could have a much better idea about many key aspects of next-generation public-safety communications, including:

  • Indoor-location technologies for wireless calls to 911—A new testbed for these solutions is expected to be established next year. Although the testbed is designed for 911, the resulting developments also could have positive impacts on indoor coverage and location information for both consumers and first responders.
  • Public-safety broadband in the field—While FirstNet’s RFP process next year will be a focal point, it is not the only initiative. Efforts in South Korea, the United Kingdom, Australia and other parts of the globe will be monitored to determine the best model for making this happen.
  • Mission-critical voice over LTE—Current timelines call for 3GPP (the LTE standards body) to approve a mission-critical voice standard by the middle of next year.
  • NG911—Virtually all of the standards work has been done, and several key components already are in use, but we haven’t seen NG911 implemented fully anywhere yet. By this time next year, we almost certainly will see some calls routed via next-generation technology, at least in a test or trial. (To learn more, register for Wednesday’s free webinar entitled “The Evolving World of Command and Control” sponsored by Avtec, which will examine next-generation solutions for critical infrastructure and NG911)

Two technology wild cards are cybersecurity and the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT offers the promise of connectivity between all sorts of sensors and devices that can be beneficial to the public-safety mission. However, to make these things as ubiquitous as projections indicate—as many as 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020—the devices need to be relatively inexpensive and easy to deploy.

Of course, one concern associated with the IoT is that inexpensive devices may not be as reliable and secure as the public-safety and critical-infrastructure communities need, which could result in false alarms or failures to sound an alert when something goes wrong. Meanwhile, there is the ongoing worry that hackers could disrupt systems or steal data with access gained via an IoT device connected to a sensitive network.

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