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April 13, 2010
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Making the case for public safety broadband

Keynote speech by NYPD Deputy Chief Chuck Dowd at IWCE focuses on the future of wireless broadband, the D-Block, and 700MHz

By Scott M. Bruner
PoliceOne Product Editor

Deputy Chief Chuck Dowd, a 30-year veteran of NYPD and an expert on public safety communications, addressed attendees at the International Wireless Communication Expo (IWCE) held recently in Las Vegas. Dowd detailed the future of mobile broadband communications for public safety responders, and spoke briefly about the critical choices public safety, and the big players in the wireless industry, will soon have to make.

In the context of the FCC’s new plan to build a low-cost, national wireless network, Dowd’s comments reflect public safety’s concerns over the D-Block, which has sat dormant for more than a year. In the context of IWCE, an annual convention for manufacturers of wireless communications devices and accessories, Dowd’s comments could potentially influence the roadmap those manufacturers use in build out that network.

According to Dowd, one of the most important decisions to be made is whether or not to adopt a “splintered” approach to mobile communication — with voice traveling in the traditional manner and data traversing the broadband network — or a unified approach, with data and voice being sent on the same broadband channel. Dowd clearly favored having them travel on the same bandwidth, setting out clear reasons of how public safety would benefit, and outlining advantages of using a unified approach to transmitting voice and data.

First, using a single device to send data would be more efficient, resulting in lower subscriber costs, and allowing for a common frequency band.

Dowd noted that fracturing the two modes of transmission was inefficient, leading to two separate technologies evolving independently of each other. A common technology and common platform would allow for them to grow and evolve together.

“It makes absolutely no sense…In three, four, five years, you will have mission critical capabilities in broadband, specifically LTE,” Dowd said.

Dowd referenced a number of emergencies in the past where current systems were overloaded, and that true communications interoperability would be essential for future incidents. In addition to the obvious, massive-scale incidents typically raised during such discussions, events on much smaller scale can lead to severely strained communication systems. Dowd specifically mentioned the 2006 Corey Lidle plane crash, where there was up to six times the demand placed on those systems. Dowd recounted other situations, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the Fort Hood shootings, as incidents where communications system can face severe threats of being overloaded.

Dowd spend a good deal of time explaining the advantages of a broadband network dedicated solely to first responders and not based on commercial networks. Because commercial networks are based on a market economy, and access is based on “best effort,” consumer connectivity is not considered absolutely essential at all times. Commercial network can be overloaded at peak hours, when traffic is highest, so some connections do not get made. Compare that to the requirements for a public safety network, where even one instance of connectivity failure is totally, completely unacceptable, and you can see why Dowd embraces a dedicated public safety network: for a first responder, the highest traffic would likely occur when the need for communication is highest.

“We need the reliability of land mobile radio applied to a mobile solution,” Dowd said. “A public safety network cannot be compromised under any condition…Reliance on commercial systems is a non-started for the public safety field. In order to overcome these difficulties, we need our own dedicated broadband network.”

Dowd also enumerated the reasons that public safety absolutely needed the D-block band of the 700 Mhz spectrum. In urban areas, the additional spectrum might be able to provide enough capacity for 1,000 or more public safety responders requiring wireless broadband connectivity. In rural areas, the additional spectrum could provide the capacity to deploy networks with fewer sites which still providing adequate cell edge performance.

Additional spectrum allows for flexibility in rural and urban areas when designing the network. Dowd believes that 700 Mhz is ideal for public safety use, noting that the higher bands provide greater data capacity, and better balance.

He listed several critical public safety applications for using the spectrum, from license plate recognition to gunshot detection, incident command and even real time crime analysis centers.

Dowd commented on the current FCC proposal, highlighting what public safety liked and didn’t like about it. Chief among his concerns was that there was no requirement in the proposal for the D-block winner to build a public safety network. “If we don’t get the spectrum, we can’t do our job,” he said.

Shortly after the conference, the FCC proposed a 10-year plan to build a new, lost-cost, national wireless broadband network over the next decade. In coming months, the FCC will continue to work on the issue, and various decisions will be pivotal for the future of public safety wireless broadband communications and interoperable communications.

PoliceOne will continue to follow this issue—if you have information on what your agency is doing in the meantime, we want to hear from you. Add your comments below or send us an e-mail.

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