Motorola demonstrates over-the-air LTE in 700MHz public safety spectrum

Demonstration is a significant milestone in the development of LTE for public safety

Something pretty special happened during the 2010 Motorola Integrated Command & Control Users’ Conference at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas on Tuesday. To be fair, it’s a safe bet that a number of special things happened — it is Vegas, after all — but the one that bears repeating here is the operational demonstration of over-the-air LTE on the public safety swath of 700MHz spectrum.

“We’ve been working pretty hard,” said Motorola’s Dan Naylor, “to try to make a small-module, PC-USB connected capability a reality. Over the last several weeks we’ve had that running in the lab, and now we’ve got examples — we’ve essentially taken a commercial chipset and put it into a module with a SIM card to run on the LTE network with the appropriate filtering and duplexing to run on the public safety 5+5 spectrum.”

Wait. Hold on. This is propeller-head stuff, right? Yes indeed, it is. But it’s also the future of communications for public safety, and although the future is not here yet, this demonstration proved that the future is not too far off. In fact, pointing to a small round bar table on which laid two small antennas (about four inches tall), two small black boxes (about the size of a very small mobile phone), one similarly sized clear-plastic box, and one ruggedized Motorola in-car computer, Naylor continued, “Here, we have a live example.”

Motorola’s Dan Naylor demonstrated his company’s latest advancement in over-the-air LTE on the public safety swath of 700MHz spectrum during the 2010 Motorola Integrated Command & Control Users’ Conference at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas.  (PoliceOne Image)
Motorola’s Dan Naylor demonstrated his company’s latest advancement in over-the-air LTE on the public safety swath of 700MHz spectrum during the 2010 Motorola Integrated Command & Control Users’ Conference at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. (PoliceOne Image)

Technology Demonstration
The scenario was relatively simple. Video feeds from two sources were shown on a set of screens.  Those screens were provisioned and prioritized based on the needs of the hypothetical users connected to the network. Those users were a utility worker, a primary police officer, an out-of-jurisdiction first responder traversing the region, and a command center entity. The officer and the command center have optimized usage, while the utility worker has what he needs to conduct his business. The off-duty cop, EMT, or fire fighter from another jurisdiction would be given somewhat lower — but sufficient — priority on the network until that moment at which a mutual aid call comes in.

Then, when the imaginary critical incident begins, the primary officer and the command center are provisioned for top priority, the possible mutual aid responder is give elevated use, and the utility worker is sent to the back of the queue, or shut down altogether, depending on the rules the agency sets in the system in advance. The quality of the image seen by each user — as well as the speed of the connection — is therefore appropriate for the needs of the user within the context of the situation. 

For this demonstration, the folks at Motorola had set up a core network running some basic lab software in a room down the hall, added a currently-available Motorola Networks eNodeB (Evolved NodeB) base station site — dialed down to about five watts — and strategically positioned two nearby multiple-in / multiple-out (MIMO) antennas to transmit signal to the aforementioned setup on that round bar table. For the purposes of the mid-day demonstration shown to a small handful of journalists — yours truly included — that table represented a hypothetical police squad car. It could equally have been an imaginary EMS vehicle, or a notional fire truck.

Would have been cooler if we were looking at an actual police car, fire truck, or EMS vehicle? Sure, but the fact of the matter is that the thing worked, and sometimes the best way to understand the beauty of what you’re seeing is to remove the complication of “packaging.”

In fact, the “packaging” of one of the units was clear plastic, enabling a view of the inner workings of the device — a device, by the way, that supports the Band Class 14 (that 10MHz owned by the PSST) public safety spectrum without a converter from Band 12 or Band 13 to the public safety band. To our understanding, that’s a first.  We were told that when the vehicle modem and portable devices are released later down the road, those will be multi-mode to commercial networks.  In effect, future models will support additional frequency bands which will enable public safety LTE to roam onto commercial wireless carrier networks. Further, should Congress pass the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act of 2010 — a.ka. “the Rockefeller Bill” — and allocate the D-Block to public safety, this technology will work on that spectrum as well. 

The device shown in Las Vegas (pictured at right) will not be the final “form factor” but here’s the beauty of what we saw. Naylor said that in the San Francisco Bay Area — where Motorola is already building out an LTE system in 700MHz for Bay RICs — devices like these will begin to be deployed for testing in Q1 2011. Two months from now. Oh, and they will be smaller. Oh, and more effective. The future is getting closer every day.

Speaking of the Future
In a morning session at the conference, Scott Landau — who serves as Director of Business Strategy for Motorola — spoke about some of the strategies for public safety agencies to consider for the rapidly approaching grant application season.

“Start preparing your grant applications now,” said Landau. “Understand that his is not a sprint. When they announce these grant solicitations from the federal government or the state, it’s typically 30 days that you have to apply for the grant. What we’ve learned is that the customer that wait for the grant announcement and then start learning about the grant program and start writing thins up, they really suffer.”

We’ll dig deeper into Landau’s session on grants in coming weeks, but we already know from our experts at PoliceGrantsHelp that many of the grant proposal periods are announced — and the grants themselves awarded — at roughly the same time every year. Now is the time to do some homework on creative ways to find funding for projects such as improvements to your communications infrastructure.

“Start prioritizing what you projects are, who the stakeholders are, and identify the key people. If you’re going after a grant, for example, that has a 20 percent match, now is the time to talk to the administration and say, ‘We’re going after this, and if we do, are you going to be able to come up with the 20 percent match?’ Or, if you’re really cash strapped, how do you start looking at in-kind matches.”

As we all know, most state and local are cash strapped. Most states have “closed the books” for FY 2010. According to Landau, preliminary figures show that 34 of 44 states for which complete fiscal 2010 is now available, saw declines in tax collection for the year. Further, 63 percent of cities and 39 percent of counties have reported cuts in public safety for 2010. Although some economic numbers in the past few months have indicated a slow recovery in the economy may now be underway, we have to agree that the future remains unclear.

Now is the perfect time to begin planning your grants and funding strategy for 2011.

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