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APCO International, the world’s largest organization of public safety communications professionals, is holding its Annual Conference & Expo, in Philadelphia, PA this week. On the top of their agenda is a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network dedicated to law enforcement, fire and hazmat incidents.

Also on the APCO agenda is the transition to Narrowband, with a nationwide deadline by the end of next year, and Next Generation 911 (NG911) which will enable the public to transmit text, images, video and data to the 9-1-1 center (referred to as a Public Safety Answering Point, (PSAP). There are roughly 6100 primary and secondary PSAPs in the U.S.

January 1, 2013 is the deadline for a transition to Narrowband in the 150-174 MHz and 421-512 MHz Bands. All non-Federal FCC licensees operating on the VHF and UHF bands must use 12.5 kHz (11.25 kHz occupied bandwidth) or narrower channels with one voice channel per 12.5 kHz of channel bandwidth or a data rate of at least 4800 bits per second per 6.25 kHz (pdf). Unfortunately, many critical public safety radio systems used locally still operate on 25 kHz-wide radio channels.

Hundreds of millions of public service radio gear has been bought and installed by police and fire agencies. There is a strong desire to fold that upgrade into an LTE broadband upgrade. Whether the dedicated broadband public service band will incorporate the additional 10 Mhz of “D Block” in the 700 MHz band is still unknown.

House Republicans are wavering on the $10 billion program. If Verizon bought the “D Block”, for example, they may build out the broadband network on their dime — while providing broadband wireless access to rural citizens — with priority access by first responders.

Mission-critical, voice-over-LTE is possible, but it’s not available today. Some industry pundits say mission-critical voice over broadband could be available within a few years, while others project it will not happen during the next decade.

Twisted Pair Solutions has an app for that (FAQ).

Twisted Pair has developed IP-based software that allows smartphones to talk to disparate networks and participate in different talk groups. All you need is a broadband network. Any broadband network.

All is not going smoothly with giant public service radio projects that tie different public service agencies together.

Last week, Los Angeles County voted to scrap years of planning for a vast emergency communications system and restart the search for companies to build the complex project, putting the county at risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds.

The drastic decision came three years after officials from the county and the many independent cities within its borders launched the massive project, which is expected to cost about $700 million to design and build. In early June, county attorneys raised concerns that the nearly completed contract violated state rules on how contracts for publicly funded projects must be structured and awarded.

If it is built, the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System would be one of the largest and most complex of its kind in the country, supporting more than 34,000 first responders and local mission-critical personnel within the region.

Enhanced 911 (E-911) automatically associates a location with the origination of the call. The calling party’s telephone number is used in various ways to derive a location that can be used to dispatch police, fire, emergency medical and other response resources. A second phase of Enhanced 911 service allowed a wireless or mobile telephone to be located. Most often, this is done through triangulation between radio towers or GPS equipped phones.

Equipment vendors are ready to move:

  • Motorola is rolling out two Public Safety LTE-equipped vehicles at APCO 2011: a Chevrolet Caprice and a Chevrolet Tahoe with integrated VML700 LTE Vehicle Modem with a MVX1000 Digital In-Car Video System, MW810 Mobile Workstation, Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR), Real-Time Video Intelligence (RTVI). Motorola, which is estimated to have some 80% of the public service radio business, continues to expand its ASTRO 25 Project 25 (P25) two-way radio portfolio.
  • Harris and Nokia Siemens Networks announced today a 700 MHz LTE system providing first responders video, voice and data applications. The Harris 700 MHz LTE networks supports applications such as streaming video, advanced situational awareness and PTT (Push To Talk) voice-over-broadband features. Harris has received a $50 million contract to support Oregon’s Statewide Radio Project. The integrated network will provide the statewide communications and will include more than 6,800 Harris Unity XG-100 Multiband portable and mobile radios for voice and data interoperability among state, local, county, tribal and federal agencies.
  • EF Johnson announced today that it will unveil its new ATLAS P25 System which provides a complete Land Mobile Radio (LMR) system solution in all public safety VHF, UHF and 700/800 frequency bands.
  • NetMotion Wireless will be demonstrating Mobility XE, a mobile VPN. The company says their software is currently used by more than 80% of the largest state law enforcement agencies and over 60% of the nation’s largest local police and sheriff departments, based on the number of sworn officers
  • Raytheon developed a new server-based system that links public safety 4G LTE and P25 communications over the same network. It uses gateways for local interoperability and also to convert non-IP communications (from radios, telephones, etc.) for transfer to the server.

APCO wants the enactment of a bill to allocate the 700 MHz D Block to public safety, and provide $10-12 billion in funding to build out the broadband network. They oppose any legislative effort that would require the auction of D Block including draft language released by the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Greg Walden (R-OR) which would require the auction of the D Block, and mandate state and local governments move all 700 MHz narrowband voice communications systems to allow for broadband data services.

Now that the Obama administration has come around to APCO’s position on the need for a dedicated public safety network, the Republicans have now switched sides and are now blocking the proposal for a nationwide network.

In related news, the failure of the $30 billion U.S. Coast Guard program to resolve communication problems hampered the exchange of data between aircraft and vessels during last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, federal auditors say. The original estimate for the program in 2002 was $17 billion.

The program, also named Deepwater, was started in 1996 to refresh nearly all the service’s assets, including command-and-control operations. But the upgrade has not produced intended benefits, according to a July 28 GAO report (pdf). Deepwater uses HF transmitters with automatic link establishment (ALE) which automatically searches for clear radio frequencies, enabling Coast Guard operators to pass voice and digital messages to mariners more quickly. APCO Project P25 radios communicate with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Voice over LTE is being used by MetroPCS, and may be the ultimate solution for Verizon, Sprint and first responder radio networks. The VoLGA Forum seeks to enable mobile operators to deliver mobile voice over LTE using the existing 3GPP Generic Access Network (GAN) standard. A VoLGA solution from Kineto outperformed 3G network call-setup times by nearly 40 percent.

Broadband lets cops download an NCIC photo after scanning a driver’s license to verify identity. Try that with your brand new, taxpayer-supported, $600 million P-25 radio network. You can’t. First Wireless says VoLTE could free up the 12 Mhz chunk currently dedicated (and largely unused) for “siloed” narrowband voice communications.

Related stories on DailyWireless include; Public Safety Net Removed from Debt Ceiling Bill, The D-Block Gamble, D-Block Gets a Hearing, National Wireless Initiative, White House: D-Block to Police/Fire, State of the Spectrum, FCC Green Lights Lightsquared, Oregon’s $600M Public Safety Network Likely Killed, Oregon’s Public Service Network: $100M Over Budget, Bay Area 700 MHz Net in Altercation , SF Announces LTE First Responder Net, New York Cancels Statewide Wireless Network, M/A-COM to NY: We’re Good, FCC: Interoperability on 700 MHz Band, Riot in D Block

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