Dustin Springman, Director Network Operations at Southern Georgia Regional Information Technology Authority (SGRITA), is not a professional hockey player, but he’s following the philosophy of the great Wayne Gretzky.
“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be,” Gretzky said.
Springman, who oversees the delivery of technology infrastructure and services to local public safety agencies in five counties in rural Georgia, has begun deploying a “pre-LTE” mobile broadband network capable of letting police and other first responders roam between 2.5 GHz in more urban areas to 700MHz in some of the most rugged and rural parts of Georgia. Based on these benefits, Springman decided to trial the 700MHz solution for the public safety agencies he serves —testing that has now been ongoing for several months.
As has been previously reported on PoliceOne, the move toward interoperable mobile broadband communications in 700MHz has been happening at a glacial pace, so Springman’s achievement is not an insignificant one.
From the Urban Jungle to the Georgia Forest
SGRITA, a consortium of five counties whose goal is to deploy a state-of-the-art broadband network throughout Baker, Calhoun, Early, Miller, and Mitchell Counties, is using a solution from a company called IPWireless, and is leveraging some of the same technology being used in NYCWiN, considered by many to be the most comprehensive multi-agency wireless broadband network of its kind. The NYCWiN system — about which you can read more here — was announced earlier this year by the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and Northrop Grumman Corporation and is now operational across more than 300 square miles in New York City’s urban jungle.
The solution being rolled out by SGRITA provides several technology advantages that are critical for a public safety network. According to IPWireless press materials related to the SGRITA deployment, the solution “delivers superior throughput, with a peak of 21 Mbps per sector and in each 5+5 MHz license in the 700MHz band. The same equipment can also operate in 10+10 MHz, for example in the combined public safety allocation and D-Block, delivering over 42 Mbps peak. For demanding video surveillance applications, the solution can support over 9 Mbps on the uplink. The IPWireless technology also provides excellent indoor coverage in relatively large cells compared to other technologies targeted at public safety broadband applications.”
IPWireless says that its UMTS-based solution “allows radio traffic to be prioritized by type of user as well as type of application; thereby ensuring the system always allows service to the highest priority users such as government officials or emergency response personnel.”
Small Organization with a Big Mission
In the simplest terms, the SGRITA is a county-owned data transport mechanism for all manner of public and private entities in the area, supporting data delivery to residential homes, schools, commercial large business, small business and different public safety applications. Created by State Legislative Act and governed by local volunteers (two from each county), SGRITA is effectively an outsourced IT department for communications for public safety entities within five counties and the cities within those counties. From a public safety perspective, the mission at SGRITA is to ensure that police, fire, and other first responders be able to communicate with one another whether it’s via land mobile radios, computer telephony, or cellular and wireless signal.
“We do a lot of county, city, emergency management, fire, police, and things like that,” Springman says. “For our local police, we’ve got security cameras systems on the network. The police leverage those very heavily especially in this area. Going back to the extremely rural nature of this area, most of these counties and cities can’t even afford to have a police officer on duty 24 hours a day because of lack of money and whatnot. So they’re leveraging the network by having multiple eyes in multiple places by having the security cameras on the system.”
Springman also says that his agency is also providing the backhaul to transport land mobile radios from point to point so they can have a broader reach and fill in some of those “dead zones” that they’ve had in the past.
“We’re just leveraging all the hard assets, using the towers we built, using the network infrastructure we put in, and the communication facilities we’ve installed,” Springman says. “We’re using all of these and letting the police access those so that they can increase the reach of their mobile radio systems and things like that.
SGRITA is working closely with various different integrators in the area, says Springman, to empower them to be able to do additional things that they were never able to do. Agencies still turn to the same companies they’d worked with before to have mobile display terminals and radios installed inside the cruiser.
“We’re trying to empower the different agencies in the community to have new services and have new capabilities that they didn’t have before. So if police department A likes this integrator better than police department B and police department B has their own integrator then that’s great. We’ll hand out cards to everybody and say ‘Here’s how it works, here’s how to install it. We’ll just make the network work.’ That’s also kind of a way to transition to the 700MHz system we’re building right now. Basically, we’re just here to do transport.”
Staying Ahead of the Hockey Puck
Importantly, everything that Springman and his team has built has been structured to migrate to LTE. Springman says that all the software that they’re testing on the 700MHz right now is an LTE load. “It is LTE software running on the last generation before LTE equipment I guess you could say. And we’ve got a migration path that is not ‘rip and replace’ like a lot of the other technologies, which is really important to us.”
Springman says that the eventual move toward interoperable communications for public safety on 700MHz is a big part of what drives the project. “Interoperability is actually one of the main reasons why we went with 700MHz as opposed to other frequencies. Of course, 700MHz has the best propagate characteristics for our region which is important to us because our region is very rural. I mean, we’ve got 65,000 people in five counties. Most cities have that. But there also has always been this talk about possibly a national 700MHz public safety plan or possibly regionalizing it. So when we started looking at 700MHz and looking at what public safety was doing, we tried to run in parallel and hopefully there will come a day when this area, whoever becomes the public safety entity, we can partner with that company and combine our channels and basically be one of the only establishments in the country that will have full access to a 20MHz of a 700MHz channel. We’d have the potential at that point to deliver 28 megabits per second to a cruiser rolling down the road at 55 miles per hour. That’s big time.”
Public Safety, Public Service, Public Good
SGRITA is a local public authority that initially begun in 2005 by community volunteers who wanted to bring “true broadband Internet service to the un-served and underserved citizens of Baker, Calhoun, Early, Miller, and Mitchell County.” Included in that group (in addition to businesses, citizens, and schools) are first responders who must cover more than 2,000 square miles of farms, forests, small towns, and country roads. SGRITA (which became a legal entity in July 2007) in October of that year was awarded $2,700,000 in OneGeorgia Broadband Rural Initiative to Develop Georgia’s Economy (BRIDGE) Funds. In fact, Springman says that most of the organization’s funding has come from grants.
Operating as a public authority — not unlike a UASI in conceptualization, although totally different from a size and scale perspective — SGRITA is able to place “public good” central among its core principles. In fact, the SGRITA Web site lists as its vision and mission statements the following:
• Vision: To elevate Southwest Georgia to one of the leading regions in the world for broadband Internet penetration.
• Mission: To promote the health, welfare, safety, and economic security of the citizens through the provision of a sustainable broadband network to serve the un-served and underserved regions of our five counties.
Naturally, not all communities existing in widespread and diverse regions have the ability to organize this way — arguably, few would even want to. But it’s an instrumental model to look at when you consider that the alternative is to continue to exist without a viable mobile broadband solution at all.
Springman concludes, “My background is primarily in providing commercial and educational services. This is a community-based system — it has been built from the ground up by the county commissioners trying to fill that void where there was pretty much no service availability. Nobody was going to build out here and bring broadband — or any type of transport mechanism — because there are just not enough people out here to support that.”