Yes, there’s literally public safety in numbers. LTE’s growing numbers worldwide that is. A few weeks ago, Heavy Reading’s 4G/LTE analyst Tim Kridel wrote a very compelling article that got lots right. He spoke of GSMA’s prediction that, by 2020, 63% of the world's population will be covered by LTE, and more than 30% of connections will use the technology.
Yet, as a public safety communications expert, I honestly believe those usage numbers will and should be much higher among first responders. Think about it: Their jobs aren’t what they used to be and they need information now. Each officer needs quick access to a wireless network to support their plethora of in-vehicle devices, such as dispatching and tracking technologies, electronic ID and license plate recognition systems, electronic ticketing systems, etc. And all of those, as well as many other mobile technologies, need to work whether in the city or on a rural road 100 miles outside town.We believe that’s why, as Sierra Wireless’ public safety folks recently pointed out as well, introducing mobile gateways to the in-vehicle tech setup is the key to delivering always-on connectivity to these many devices across many (really all) working environments. First responders demand significant amounts of bandwidth for the mobile applications they use to do their jobs in the office, field and vehicle. Mobile gateways are one of the best ways to deliver these significant levels of bandwidth consistently and reliably, regardless of which wireless WAN (WWAN) will be tapped and especially when the connection will be shared by all those devices.
Sure, there are always exceptions. In Texas, for example, we have a saying: “One Riot, One Ranger.” In other words, sometimes a single mobile device (like a rugged tablet) can be equipped to handle the aforementioned in-vehicle applications in a single form factor, eliminating that multi-device connectivity requirement. In cases where a mobile device such as this is THE key device used for dispatch, ID scanning, e-Ticketing, etc., then internal WWAN radios are often used as the primary wireless connectivity point.
But whether you’re using a mobile gateway or internal WWAN radio, the question still remains: Which wireless network – 3G, 4G LTE or FirstNet – will be the most reliable and have the best coverage for public safety? And which will keep agency IT departments from going insane when setting up and managing officers’ in-vehicle mobile “offices”? Here’s my two cents:
While Tim’s latest Insider Report discussed FirstNet as the best solution, he was brutally honest when he said the price of such as widespread big-tent effort will be a pretty penny and a lot of time. Those are two things that don’t mesh well with the reality of public safety demands. Our customers will vouch for that. The complications and inconsistent rollout of FirstNet across all states today isn’t good for IT’s sanity either. And it’s no easier to partner with utilities for communications asset sharing quite yet either as Tim pointed out.
But then which WWAN should IT bank on?
Bottom-line: Waiting to see which broadband networks will be most widely available means, well, waiting. Knowing that incidents aren’t going to slow down or change their location just because responders don’t have the right connectivity needed to be effective at their jobs at that pace or location means that we must go with what we know will work now: Tapping the nationwide commercial carrier LTE networks more often. Tim agrees it’s an option.
In the U.S. at least, we have enough coverage for this to be viable now and our law enforcement customers will tell you that this is the direction they’re taking now. That’s why they’re even investing in rugged mobile tablets that are 4G XLTE-ready today.
That being said, for the most critical data connection environments with many in-vehicle devices, true mobile gateways are best. They support all of the data-consuming devices in the vehicle, connect in challenging-signal areas, and don’t make IT “bet” on the right network. They are the gateway to public safety’s long term evolution and will protect public safety’s mobile future.