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LTE is the next wave

The wave is about simultaneous transmissions in the field for the purpose of public safety

I recently spoke with Rick Keith and Matthew Mensinger of Motorola about LTE — Long Term Evolution, the latest push which will bring law enforcement information technology into the future. It is a “no-brainer” to recognize the fact that an increase in the amount, security, and integrity of the data that can go from a dynamic scene to dispatchers and decision-makers simultaneously can increase the margin for safety for officers in the field and aid in asset deployment and management. Before we go any further with this, the reader needs to understand that I am simply reporting as much as I understand to you from the mouths of people who know what they’re talking about.

I don’t know everything that those guys do, but I do know what LTE means. It means real-time video, voice transmission, officer location, application space like reporting software with real time archiving and the building plans/hazmat implications on the same screen, at the same time, viewed by ALL of the key personnel that need to see it at the same time, encrypted. At the same time, routine logging must be seamless and inaccessible to the public. If the cardiologist in another city needs to interpret the data while the ambulance is zooming, he can also view a simultaneous video of the patient, without interrupting the live traffic report streamed to the driver in a congested city. It means more of the same type of streaming that has already acquitted many officers in a jury trial by You Tube.

The current mobile technology is 3G and LTE is often marketed as 4G. Really, the various agreements that create this kind of thing are monitored by organizations like ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R), which requires 1Gig/s in order to comply with 4G protocol (about 15 times faster than 3G). This is the first part of the 4G mission: Create mobile broadband that is indistinguishable from fixed networks.

Speed Kills
Keith was able to put LTE into terms that most of us (especially me) needed to understand the problem. First, data rate is an important issue. After all, typical data rates for an MDC (Mobile Data Computer) are about 19.2 kb per second, which begs an important question: Why does my teenager have a better transfer rate in a broadband wireless cell phone than the officer responding to a crime in progress?

LTE is about several things, the most readily apparent, And the reason we are having this discussion at all, is the upload speed.

When it comes to the ability to transmit data, consumers are usually treated to relatively fast download speeds. Statistically, a wireless Internet user will download their YouTube videos and surf the net, not upload videos. They will do a lot more downloading than uploading. Wireless providers know this and provide blazingly fast download speeds and moderate upload speeds. This is the way that providers apportion bandwidth for their customers.

Before we even go there, I know that the topic for LTE is law enforcement. However, the topic is also commerce. Providers are circumspect in giving the best and most reliable product to the public safety market. However, if one thinks that public safety consumers drive the market, one is completely wrong. If this were the case, there would be other markets like law enforcement vehicle companies (okay, there’s one), law enforcement only firearms manufacturers, and similar phenomena. There aren’t, because regular, run-of-the-mill retail consumers flex the muscle here.

Video is the Driver
Rick Keith told me that the hot button is video. In public safety, the video speeds need to be two-way so that mutual aid responders can retransmit what they are seeing to responding units adding to the margin of safety with real-time visual input. The video needs to be accompanied by the voice transmissions in a way that it dances the visual. There is key information that only the officers on the scene with audio can describe.

Obviously, the first question I had was about transmitting sensitive information. Keith told me that the early specs of LTE created VPNs (Virtual Private Network),which allowed secure data to be sent along an encrypted data path. VPNs are static. With LTE, MVPNs (Mobile Virtual Private Network) must transparently hold, secure, and protect information crossing from a private network to a commercial network path and back.

I asked Keith if any roadblocks to LTE existed. He chuckled. First, he explained, LTE is relatively mature technology. I looked it up. Various companies have been using LTE technology since around 2006, which means many of the inherent risks and speed bumps have been encountered and minimized.

The real risk is the fact that “real” LTE resides in a completely different band. That is, current 3G devices will not work. I’m a consumer and I am reluctant to give up my iPhone, even for another iPhone. Keith told me that transmitting base station switching will not be a major problem. In fact, Motorola already began investing in chipsets for the conversion.

Keith told me the device market is another issue. However, Keith told me, “All ships will rise in a growing tide.”

I hope so. I believe that LTE is a viable solution to interoperability, provided everyone rides the wave.

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