When Public Safety Joins The Hive

The Hive

In the U.S., with the signing of one piece of legislation, the Congress changed the technology direction of an entire marketplace by moving from the typical digital two way radio  standards, in use by public safety today, to those already adopted by the mobile wireless industry.  Of course, as with anything in government, don’t expect it to happen quickly.  But do expect it to have an impact on companies in this sector.

An Alternative Future Becomes Clearer

Standards, already adopted by the cellular phone world, will now begin to envelope public safety, ushering in a brave new world of interconnection.  Now, the public safety world is on its way to unlimited device connection and accessing real-time data at a moment’s notice.  In fact, we’re entering the onramp to a world where billions of devices are not only connected to us, but to each other, and are busy pulling double-duty and forming their own networks.  In the near future, emergency responders may be able to electronically cut off power and other utilities to a building, check vitals on people inside, and send commands to robotic team members to begin search & rescue operations – all before physically arriving on the scene.

An Unveiling of Things to Come

From a layperson perspective, our techno-future might begin looking a little too good, or perhaps, even a bit “Orwellian” given the advanced level of technological homogeneity that is being put into play.  As we watch the future unfold, we see a very mobile world of extensive and intricate interconnection between devices, advanced processing power, and smaller antennae, creating the emergence of the “Virtual Electronically Enabled Hive” .  Technologies are in-place to offer connectivity across an ever broadening range of devices, creating ubiquitous access to data, voice, and video interoperability for Total-Data-Communications On the Move (TDCOM).  Handsets that can connect via cellular, two way radio, WiFi, WiMAX, satellite, “Lego” style “build your own” configurable base stations, redundant centralized cloud processing with virtualization, next generation encryption, drop down apps, and secure/lightning speed/mobile applications, are all part of the nascent technological framework that will blanket the nation.

The U.S. Government’s allocation of radio spectrum in the so called “D block”, tipped the scales in favor of a standard known as Long Term Evolution (LTE).  This move is a bit disruptive as it means that Uncle Sam has finally drawn a line in the sand of technological direction – 4/G paving the way to 5/G.  As this tide turns, the landscape quickly begins looking more like the mobile wireless and cellular landscape, along with the associated supply chain.

We can begin to gain some insight into the future by looking at R&D investments in future technologies and the imprint they will have on the techno-landscape.  Companies like Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia-Siemens, and Motorola spent 12-26%  of their revenues on R&D.  This has yielded some incredible technologies that will fundamentally change mobile wireless and public safety communications as we move into 2020.  Evolving technologies have profoundly changed network and end user functionality in this virtual enclave, and will continue to do so.  An example of these emerging technologies is Alcatel Lucent’s light radio, 2×2” configurable cubes that have sought positioning in the marketplace to replace cell tower functions.  Edge of network devices like Motorola’s LEX 700 (which can leverage LTE and carrier networks, and interactively offer push to talk, video, and voice interoperability through P25 gateways) give us an idea of how user devices are defining the new landscape.

While it may take years to roll out, LTE eventually holds the promise of not only rich broadband data transmission for public safety applications, but also voice over LTE.  Many in the public safety community have already weighed in on the concerns for LTE eventually carrying mission critical voice.  Do we remember the early 2000’s when voice over IP (VOIP) made conversations sound like we were in the bottom of a rain barrel?  Even the early stages of second generation VOIP systems like Skype have had their challenges.  So have commercial VOIP systems that originally cannibalized internal bandwidth until better bandwidth management applications came along.

As public safety becomes part of the “virtual electronically enabled hive” (VEE-Hive), the environment beyond 2020 looks quite different than it does today.  P25 gives way to LTE/4G, and 4/G gives way to 5G or whatever becomes the accepted standard post 2020.  The 5G concept may not be as much about speed as it is about network loading and efficiency given the sheer number of devices communicating over the network.  The idea is to prioritize traffic and automate the process of prioritization.  P25 at least puts us in the modern electronic world.  Think of it as leaving a wash-boarded gravel back road and pulling onto a highway.  P25 to LTE is the onramp to the superhighway that connects us into the world of digital broadband devices and interoperating protocols that connect voice, data, video, sensors, and even robotic/unmanned systems.  The M2M (machine to machine) world of sensors and devices communicating with other devices will provide instantaneous updates, enable rapid, highly granular/high-fidelity life-saving capabilities, and enable time saving multi-step process reduction that can spare lives and reduce costs.  In the future 5G world, groups of devices talk to each other and are pre-programed for priority to make way for emergencies and free bandwidth to avoid mission-critical network congestion.

After 4G comes 5G, likely delivered through IMT Advanced (International Mobile Telecommunications) a specification of a collection of technologies for high speed global broadband approved by the ITU.  This bundle of technologies includes 802.16E (basically, souped-up WiMAX) and advanced LTE.  Since network traffic could grow 1000-fold between now and 2020, newer networks will accommodate growth by offloading processing functions to the cloud, and by getting machine to machine interfaces working effectively so latency can simultaneously be decreased.  Incorporating cognitive radio will also simultaneously enhance spectrum efficiency.

Glimpses of the Future Today

Even though the network may look more like a cellular carrier as we transition to 4G/LTE and 5G, the end user experience is often another story.  Have we ever been in the middle of sending an email or making a critical call when our “smart” phone decides to do something really dumb (like update handset operating system and reconfigure all applications to baseline in the middle of a busy work-day)?  These are the nightmarish visions first responders often have when they think of moving into the 4/G 5/G enabled world.  Automatic software updates, screen fades, power conservation, and loading data from the cloud onto the device all constitute potential ongoing challenges for unfettered end-to-end emergency coverage.

However, you can expect the bold move to 4G/LTE in the public safety market to continue the evolution of players in this market.  It is unlikely that the public safety community has yet grasped the impact to supply chains.  From a core network standpoint, where data/voice switching and routing occurs, the evolution of the supply chain leaves few U.S. manufacturing companies.  On the edge of the network we find device manufacturers who will have to focus on consolidation, specialization, or market exodus.  Trends Digest™ will continue to bring to you our specialized analysis of how we anticipate this market will unfold.  TD

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