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Overcoming a device-centric mindset to realize the true potential of LTE

Written by James Mustarde

Trade magazines, radio hardware vendors, even agency communications strategists have all regurgitated the same, albeit exciting, opportunities that long-term evolution (LTE) will bring to the public safety table. Certainly new possibilities come with the faster mobile exchange of bandwidth-intensive voice and data, generating stronger response scenarios for public safety. Overcoming jitter and latency, as well as sharing real-time video, high-resolution images and better, more detailed maps, is only a sliver of what we can expect to see from the adoption of LTE.

But who’s talking about software—the really exciting headline that should be front page as we follow public safety’s adoption of the broadband wireless network? The story that we are well acquainted with is that progress costs a lot of money. Many of the developments that are associated with quicker voice and data traffic come with a caveat—the purchase of expensive new radio devices and hardware systems. Radio manufacturers have supported a shift to LTE and are diligently educating the public safety landscape about the ways in which their newest devices will best leverage the 4G network. But the dialogue—reminiscent of P25—is all about doing more with more.

The truth is that public safety’s interoperability and network growth options are not limited to proprietary hardware acquisitions and upgrades. By leveraging IP as the intelligent voice and data transport, there is a better, more cost efficient solution for extending the scope and improving the quality of voice and data networks. This is what makes LTE exciting. Software is about doing more with less.

By no means am I suggesting that public safety should or will do away with two-way radios. The rugged handheld devices have proven their mission critical reliability across environments and have become ubiquitous tools of the trade. They are public safety’s most valued life-saving technology and will undoubtedly play a role in public safety’s communication renaissance. To fully realize the potential of LTE, public safety must acknowledge software as a solution for supporting and complementing their tried-and-true landmobile radio (LMR) systems.

Because of this, we can expect to see a whole new set of players and software applications—technologies that approach unified communications differently and better. It is software, which is easier to implement and cheaper to deploy, that will determine network barriers in ways never before seen with proprietary solutions. Unlike hardware, software technology can unify any combination of new and old radio devices, presenting public safety, for the first time, with a legitimate solution for realizing interoperability between units and even across jurisdictions using radios they already own.

Very soon we anticipate enormous demand for mission critical applications such as these, designed to create and consume many forms of voice, video and data. In fact, both private and public LTE networks will be responsible for fostering software innovations developed to improve situational awareness, monitoring, location tracking, dispatch and other urgent communication efficiencies.

A multitude of products that enable these IP talk groups or team channels of communications—fully capable of running on LTE networks—will soon be available. Some will be in the form of simple applications on handheld and portable devices or dispatch, incident commandand-control, and situational awareness products.

Others will transmit telemetry and sensor data to those who need it or will be focused on video distribution. These products will introduce a new breed of software powered solutions that will enhance the kinds of LMR systems in existence today. Many organizations already acknowledge advanced software technology as the best approach for creating open and shared mission-critical communications environments.

Right now, while much of the public safety landscape is waiting on the multicast and voice over LTE (VoLTE) standardization requirements for transitioning cellular communications from 2G/3G networks to 4G/LTE, many agencies are already benefiting from mission critical applications, leveraging IP to quickly and reliably route voice, saving money and achieving secure and scalable communications frameworks.

One such technology is Twisted Pair Solutions’ WAVE Radio-over-IP, which is the industry’s only pure-software solution dedicated to providing unified voice communications. Whereas other technologies require vendor supplied and often proprietary servers and data network components, WAVE operates on off-the-shelf, industry-standard hardware, giving urgent communicators a choice regarding the hardware they use and buy. And, unlike hardware, WAVE sets a foundation for real scalability. When users want to add new devices to their communications network, they may do so in real time without contemplating the interoperability hiccups they faced before. WAVE’s software-only approach enables greater deployment flexibility, lowers acquisition costs, and preserves prior investments in network, server and desktop infrastructure.

With WAVE, radio systems of all types can operate seamlessly together regardless of make, model and frequency. Analog, IP and cellular phones can be patched into a radio network and used as push-to-talk (PTT) devices to transmit and receive radio voice traffic. Intercom systems can be used to broadcast voice communications from multiple sources and locations. Paging systems can be harnessed to facilitate rapid message or alert distribution from non-standard sources. Personal computers and personal digital assistants can be used as PTT radios or as end-points for any other communications device. Existing group communications technologies such as hoot-and-holler systems and airport crash phones can be expanded to include new groups and ad hoc participants. And, the real beauty is, with WAVE, all of these capabilities can be brought together, over one channel, in real time, redefining the concept of situational awareness.

While LTE brings with it all of the advantages of a newer and faster network, the real opportunity is the new and progressive software applications designed to take advantage of this bigger and faster new pipe. These software applications will revolutionize the way public safety agencies consider legacy investments, interoperability and mission critical voice. As more people begin talking about these possibilities, the new consensus will be that the evolution of voice communications for public safety will go beyond the capabilities of proprietary hardware devices to factor in a set of applications that run on a variety of broadband IP networks. No doubt these hardware makers will be partners through the landscape’s every life phase, but, for the first time, they will not have so heavy an impact on future acquisitions nor be a limiting factor in realizing interoperability.

As software changes the cultural status quo, we will see a series of transforming events and changing perceptions that will have influence beyond pipe boundaries and communications outcomes. Network-based applications will redefine network barriers and they will unite disparate communications devices and systems in ways hardware cannot.

While LTE is slated to have quite the comingout party, the secret sauce will be in these applications that are designed to change how we think about voice and our collective arsenal of investments. As networks evolve and LTE devices get fine tuned, it is time to consider the ways in which software applications will take advantage of the progressively faster network concepts.

James Mustarde is the director of marketing for Twisted Pair Solutions.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jan/Feb 2011

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