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How the wireless industry can work with first responders
|11 марта 2010|
This week, only two weeks before the big CTIA Wireless 2010 event, I will be in Las Vegas for a very different type of show--the International Wireless Communication Expo, for the two-way radio industry that includes public safety and two-way radio customers, dealers and vendors.
For the past few years, IWCE has also been drawing companies such as AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and other commercial vendors and network operators. The reasons for this are many and reflect the fact that these two very different worlds are coming together.
The Federal Communications Commission and other agencies within the federal government are trying to help the public-safety community with its interoperability issues. This entire interoperability issue is foreign to those in the commercial wireless side of the business so let me try to put it in perspective. Suppose our cell phones worked only on a single radio band. Since most operators are using several bands (850 MHz, 1900 MHz, AWS and soon 700 MHz), we would have to carry several phones to be able to use cellular everywhere we went. In its most basic terms, this is the issue for first responders today. Their systems are spread out across many different bands of the radio spectrum and even with many vehicles equipped with two or more radios, they have problems communicating among departments.
Having spectrum that is adjacent to the new 700 MHz commercial spectrum would mean the public-safety community would be able to use commercial networks while it builds a nationwide broadband network of its own. Further, since the public-safety network will be using LTE, the same technology as commercial operators in this band, public-safety equipment should be widely available and less expensive than it is today. As outrageous as it sounds, each public-safety private network two-way radio costs between $1,000 and $2,500 today, so the cost of outfitting an average patrol car with two radios and a laptop computer with broadband capabilities can run as high as $10,000!
So IWCE, as well as the two-way radio industry, is undergoing a number of changes. Commercial network operators want to work with this sector to assist in making the transition to broadband, and they certainly would like more public safety and other two-way radio customers on their networks. Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent will be there along with some device vendors, mostly to talk to two-way radio users to gain a better understanding of how different public-safety devices need to be and what the opportunities are.
On the flip side, I have suggested that those in the two-way radio industry should start attending CTIA Wireless to learn more about commercial capabilities. Even though they share wireless as their communications media, there are many differences between the two industries and it would be beneficial for all to learn about these differences. For example, commercial customers are accustomed to cell systems and devices with power output at 500 milliwatts or so while public safety uses high-power devices--mobile units usually have power levels of 50 to 100 watts and handheld radios transmit at about 5 watts. This means that there are necessarily many differences in the two basic system designs.
One educational session I am leading is about next-generation technologies. The two presenters, one on WiMAX and the other on LTE, will be talking about how very different these systems are and how those involved in the two-way radio business will have to learn to plan and build their systems differently going forward. There is a common thread between the two industries in that one of the ways they are solving their interoperability problems today is by using IP as a common platform to tie different types of radio systems together. Some of these systems even provide for a commercial operator's push-to-talk offering to be able to bridge back into public-safety networks using IP devices.
I have been providing consulting and educational services to both industries for many years, and I find it interesting to see this transition taking place. Even though radio (wireless) is the common bond, the two industry segments speak different jargons. In the commercial world, for example, we talk about Frequency Division Duplex that makes up the bulk of our networks, and Time Division Duplex that most WiMAX systems use. These two phrases have no meaning in the world of two-way radio, but if you said to a public-safety communications professional that the system was a half-duplex repeater system or that it was based on simplex or tactical radio channels, he or she would understand exactly what you were saying.
Not only do the two industries need to learn from each other and work together, they need to learn enough about each other's language to be able to translate what they are saying into something the other industry can relate to. Commercial companies that are attending IWCE are learning about this different world and those involved in the two-way radio business attending CTIA Wireless will become more conversant with the world of commercial devices and systems. The result will be better communications capabilities for the first responders, something that has been an issue for more than 30 years and is finally receiving public attention only after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
Andrew M. Seybold