Lives can be saved by adding L-band satellite capacity to FirstNet
Government workers are all too aware of the vital role that first responders play in ensuring citizens can live safely. The catastrophes of 2020, namely the Australian forest fires in New South Wales and devastating ongoing humanitarian impact of COVID-19, has further highlighted the importance for governments in maintaining a strong and reliable communication network between first responders. From paramedics to emergency medical support, police officers, and firefighters, the dedication of first responders goes a long way in ensuring the best possible management in an emergency situation. Technology also has a key role in enabling first responders to provide fast and effective support; guaranteeing a quick and efficient response.
For example, upon arrival, and as an emergency unfolds, it is crucial that teams have access to clear and uninterrupted communications that facilitate continual discussion between first responders and their respective dispatchers. During the most serious of incidents, such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters when every minute counts, reliable communications at a state level (or local) is import but equally so communication between state and federal (or national) resources.
While many expect communications in an emergency to be a “given”, the reality is that reliable interagency radio coverage remains a significant issue across the U.S. This is particularly the case in rural areas, where “white spots” – places with little or no radio reception – constrain first responders’ abilities and cause major delays when every second counts.
When it comes to interagency communications between local, national and FEMA workers, coverage is even more limited and siloed. The consequences of this can be serious: when there’s limited access to healthcare, border control and property, lives could be put in danger.
In recognition of the need to improve emergency communications, great strides and investment have already been made in the U.S. A nationwide FirstNet emergency management network is being rolled out to “develop, build and operate a nationwide broadband network that equips first responders to save lives and protect U.S. communities”.
FirstNet is being driven by the ongoing transition of traditional digital mobile radio (DMR) and land mobile radio (LMR) radios to Long Term Evolution (LTE) Mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT). This has brought huge advantages to first responders, including the ability to use 4G wireless broadband technology, increased network capacity and speed to mobile device users.
However, while FirstNet is commendable in terms of driving interoperability and encouraging the use of MCPTT systems, it will fall short of its mission to deliver nationwide coverage unless additional provisions can be made to address “white spots” in remote areas. This issue is universal and is being experienced by other LTE MCPTT first movers.
Enabling interoperability using satellite and LTE
Fortunately, there is a solution available that provides seamless and continuous connectivity between first responders and their Dispatch Center/HQ. This solution enables interoperability between DMR, LMR, LTE and MCPTT systems.
The solution works by harnessing L-Band satellite technology to provide uninterrupted connectivity in the case that legacy radio systems or First Net LTE coverage is not available. Applying a combined L-Band satellite and LTE communications systems to MCPTT also delivers a continuous interface between the user's data devices (computer, tablet or smartphone) back to the central IT systems.
“On the ground” support can access this technology by integrating existing VHF/UHF based trunk radio systems with Push-To-Talk (PTT) solutions such as Cobham’s PRISM PTT+. The combination of radio, LTE and satellite provides users with Beyond Line-of-Sight voice and data communication that is systematically routed communications between the most reliable terrestrial (2G/3G/LTE) and satellite (L-Band) networks (multiple bearers). This network agnostic, user-friendly solution provides a failsafe solution that enables users to make mission critical calls, as well as sending and receiving important data also when LTE network coverage is not present.
Avoiding a radio investment dead end
When it comes to enhancing communications during emergencies, the U.S. is a global trailblazer thanks to its significant investment in FirstNet and the dedication of its first responders and agency workers. This combination of skills, new infrastructure and technology will go a long way towards protecting and preserving more lives and property. However, while FirstNet will enable first responders to realize great benefits, particularly in urban areas, it is important that the U.S. does not lose sight of the limitations of LTE-based MCPTT systems – particularly in rural and remote areas without LTE coverage. By ignoring the capabilities gained by adding L-Band satellite for failover and redundancy, first responders and sister agencies will not fully benefit from FirstNet– and huge tracks of investment may end up in a dead end. With government budgets being reconfigured amidst a COVID-19 induced global recession, it is important that investment continues to be made in first responder networks to save money and most importantly, save lives.