LTE for improved and smarter public safety communications

By Lux Maharaj of Parallel Wireless

The wireless communications technology has transformed the way we live and work across the globe. It is the foundation of global economy and financial transactions that are seamlessly conducted everyday across the continents.

The impact of mobile and wireless technology is far more profound in a developing region, like Africa. Access to mobile phones has spurred innovation and provided a boost to the income of the country. A study by MIT says that merely by gaining access to M-Pesa, Kenya’s mobile-money service, 2% of the country’s households were lifted out of poverty between 2008 and 2014. This is just one of the many examples of the transformative power of the wireless technology.

It is now time to use the same technology to transform the public safety communication systems. Last year itself Africa witnessed many natural disasters, including floods in Nigeria, mudslides in Sierra Leone and fires in Kenya and South Africa. While the natural disasters and emergencies are unavoidable, a reliable, resilient and responsive public safety communication system can enable the authorities to save as many lives as possible.

Why LTE For Public Safety?

Efficient critical communications systems ensure that the first responders can communicate with relevant organizations faster and more reliably. Long Term Evolution (LTE) is emerging as a technology of choice for the concerned authorities to transform their mission-critical systems.

Globally, LTE is one of the most popular communication technology. According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), 521 operators have commercially launched LTE, LTE-Advanced or LTE-Advanced Pro networks in 170 countries by 2016.

The previous-generation public safety communication system was based on TETRA technology and relied on voice. It can’t transmit images or videos. A key advantage of LTE is that it can transfer large, high-quality pictures and videos. Location-based intelligence is an added advantage. Live streaming of emergency situation or access to reliable location information can provide critical insights ensuring faster access to relief in the affected area. It can be the difference between life and death.

LTE also helps in bringing down complexity and cost of public safety networks. Public Safety usually involves coordination between multiple agencies, including medical services, law-enforcing agencies and others, which might be using different systems. LTE enables interoperability with legacy networks allowing various agencies to communicate with each other without a glitch.

A key reason for the growing popularity of LTE is that 3GPP, a standardization body is developing features targeted explicitly towards mission-critical services. Features, such as prioritization of services and preemptive network access, allow it to continue functioning even during emergencies. This is a crucial capability that makes it perfect for any mission-critical project. Traffic of the concerned authorities can be prioritized ensuring swift action.

Another benefit of LTE is that the existing mobile service operators can be used for LTE network services thus avoiding the requirement of a dedicated frequency, availability of which is always a problem. A number of service providers have already launched LTE network in Africa, making it easier to use the technology for public safety networks.

Enabling Instant Coverage In Case Of Network Outage

The LTE technology is also the driver of providing instant communication in case of network outage, which usually generally is the case during a crisis. Solutions like Bring-Your-Own-Coverage (BYOC) and Network-In-Box (NIB) deliver coverage anywhere. This allows first responders to set up their own broadband communication network and not let the network outage affect the rescue mission.

The plug-n-play and ease of deployment ensure that the communication is not affected by a crisis. Network-in-box consumes much fewer batteries making it long lasting and sustainable in the event of an emergency. A portable LTE public safety solution allows connectivity between people and things leading to better control of available resources during a crisis.

The solution is especially relevant in areas where there is no connectivity at all. The developing regions continue to have areas that lack reliable and stable telecom services. This can be a severe handicap during an emergency. BYOC can help in this situation.

Despite the use of state-of-the-art technologies like LTE to bolster public security system, there can still be holes in the last-mile coverage. The BYOC-approach is a way of plugging these loopholes and enhance the coverage of public security system allowing the first responders to provide best-possible response.

Further, it allows low-cost, portable and easy to deploy small cells to be installed in public safety vehicles. These small cells then form a network with the existing LTE system. It is small enough to be carried in a backpack allowing instant coverage in remote and difficult-to-reach areas. It also allows public security executives to use their everyday equipment for last mile coverage.

The BYOC approach was tested in the US in January last year. The Oklahoma Public Safety Broadband Network (OKPSBN) Project Team conducted a demonstration of the BYOC system in the State of Oklahoma.

LTE for Public Safety satisfies the demanding requirements of a public safety network, such as resilience, security, and best-in-class quality of service. It is time Africa starts to leverage these advantages to save lives and provide reliable access to public safety services to the affected.

Lux Maharaj, Director – Africa Sales, Parallel Wireless