What future may hold for public safety broadband

Conference told there will be several advantages of a broadband network dedicated solely to first responders


By Scott Bruner
FireRescue1 Product Editor

LAS VEGAS — A public safety communications expert outlined his vision for the future of mobile broadband communications for first responders during a keynote speech at the International Wireless Communication Expo.

Deputy Chief Chuck Dowd, a 30-year veteran of NYPD, also spoke about the critical choices all public safety, and the big players in the wireless industry, will soon have to make during the conference last month.

In the context of the Federal Communications Commission new plan to build a low-cost, national wireless network, Dowd’s comments reflect public safety’s concerns over the D-Block, which has sat dormant for more than a year.

His comments at IWCE, an annual convention for manufacturers of wireless communications devices and accessories, could potentially influence the roadmap those manufacturers use in build out that network.

According to Dowd, one of the most important decisions to be made is whether or not to adopt a “splintered” approach to mobile communication — with voice traveling in the traditional manner and data traversing the broadband network — or a unified approach, with data and voice being sent on the same broadband channel.

Dowd clearly favored having them travel on the same bandwidth, setting out clear reasons of how public safety would benefit, and outlining advantages of using a unified approach to transmitting voice and data.

First, using a single device to send data would be more efficient, resulting in lower subscriber costs, and allowing for a common frequency band.

Dowd noted that fracturing the two modes of transmission was inefficient, leading to two separate technologies evolving independently of each other. A common technology and common platform would allow for them to grow and evolve together.

“It makes absolutely no sense…In three, four, five years, you will have mission critical capabilities in broadband, specifically LTE,” Dowd said.

During the speech, he claimed there would be several advantages of a broadband network dedicated solely to first responders and not based on commercial networks.

Because commercial networks are based on a market economy, and access is based on “best effort,” consumer connectivity is not considered absolutely essential at all times.

A commercial network can be overloaded at peak hours, when traffic is highest, so some connections do not get made, Dowd said.

“We need the reliability of land mobile radio applied to a mobile solution,” Dowd said. “A public safety network cannot be compromised under any condition …Reliance on commercial systems is a non-started for the public safety field. In order to overcome these difficulties, we need our own dedicated broadband network.”

He also enumerated the reasons that public safety absolutely needed the D-block band of the 700 Mhz spectrum. In urban areas, the additional spectrum might be able to provide enough capacity for 1,000 or more public safety responders requiring wireless broadband connectivity.

In rural areas, the additional spectrum could provide the capacity to deploy networks with fewer sites which still providing adequate cell edge performance.

Additional spectrum allows for flexibility in rural and urban areas when designing the network. Dowd believes that 700 Mhz is ideal for public safety use, noting that the higher bands provide greater data capacity, and better balance.

Dowd commented on the current FCC proposal, highlighting what public safety liked and didn’t like about it. Chief among his concerns was that there was no requirement in the proposal for the D-block winner to build a public safety network. “If we don’t get the spectrum, we can’t do our job,” he said.

Shortly after the conference, the FCC proposed a 10-year plan to build a new, lost-cost, national wireless broadband network over the next decade. In the coming months, the FCC will continue to work on the issue, and various decisions will be pivotal for the future of public safety wireless broadband communications and interoperable communications.