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A big boost for public safety broadband


May 4, 2015
By Tom Rataj

There was a long hoped-for announcement in the April federal budget; a commitment to reserve an additional 10 megahertz (MHz) of cellular radio spectrum in the 700 MHz band to expand the capacity of the proposed national public-safety broadband network.

This is in addition to the initial 10 MHz of spectrum previously committed to and reserved for the network. The budget also committed $3 million dollars for 2016-2017 to help get the network started.

As I previously wrote in the April 2011 issue of reserving the 20 MHz for emergency services will provide us with the ability to use almost any mobile data and voice service.

The Canadian Tri-Services – the CACP, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and Paramedic Chiefs of Canada (PCC) – issued a joint statement welcoming and applauding the government for taking this “very important step in the right direction.”

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“This network will significantly contribute towards supporting mission critical emergency management communication and interoperability between responder throughout North America,” wrote CACP President and Saskatoon police chief Clive Weighill.

“Coordinated public safety service in emergency situations will ultimately save lives.”

CAFC President Paul Boissonneault agreed. “Canadian firefighters, police officers and paramedics must have modern and reliable communication capabilities, including high speed access to data and video, to communicate with each other across agencies and jurisdictions during emergencies.”

“This is a historic day for public safety in Canada,” said PCC President Paul Charbonneau. “This new capability will improve the ability of emergency responders to protect communities and save lives.”

The Tri-Service Special Purpose Committee was created in 2010 to raise awareness of the need and opportunity to reserve spectrum for a public safety broadband network. It lobbied all levels of government and urged all emergency services to raise awareness of the issue at the local, provincial and territorial levels.

The Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group (CITIG) also played an important role in advancing this issue across Canada.

Their efforts appear to have paid off, putting us the way to a better communications world.

{Why 700 MHz?}

The 700 MHz spectrum is so valuable because signals can travel extended distances while still penetrating buildings. Almost half of the 20 MHZ spectrum was previously occupied by analog over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasts on channels 51 through 69. It became available when all OTA television went to digital in August 2011. The new digital channels were moved to a variety of other frequencies more appropriate for stationary applications.

Some other portions of the 700 MHz band have already been auctioned off to Canadian cell phone providers during the intervening years, but the full 20 MHz portion now committed to the Canadian Public Safety Broadband Network remained available.

Most Canadian cell network providers already operate portions of their highest speed LTE (Long Term Evolution) cellular data networks in the 700 MHz band, and most recently released smartphones able to operate in the band, so many civilians are already enjoying the great performance that it offers.

In real-world conditions, LTE typically provides twice the data throughput of the previous generation HSPA+ (3G) technology. In addition, the next generation of digital cellular voice communication, Voice over LTE (VoLTE), is already in the test phases. It works similar to wired VOIP phones, but uses LTE to transmit and receive digitised voice communications.

An additional advantage, as alluded to by Weighill, is that this slice of the 700 MHz band will support communication and interoperability throughout North America. This is because our US colleagues already have the same spectrum reserved for the very same purpose, which should substantially improve the ability to (eventually) establish cross-border cooperation and operations.

{Moving data}

The capability to transmit large amounts of data at high speeds between emergency services personnel in the field and management will offer numerous advantages.

Operational efficiencies, effectiveness and safety will be greatly improved because so much data (including audio and video) can be readily shared through a high-quality, high-speed connection virtually anywhere.

Police personnel in the field will be able to use many new and advanced services not previous available in the mobile environment. Live 2-way video feeds between vehicles, boats, and helicopters and command centres offer almost endless possibilities. Video from officers wearing body-worn video cameras could also become available as would video feeds from UAV’s.

With advances in personnel tracking and health-monitoring, police and fire services would be much more capable of tracking all personnel. First responders could see the locations of every one on scene and receive floor-plans, hazard information or aerial video from aircrafts.

Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel could also have live two-way communications with trauma centres, sending live patient-health data and receiving patient records while underway.

{More money promised}

Two other police related items were also in the new budget.

In recognition of the unique policing environment in Ottawa, the budget proposes an extra $10 million over five years to the Ottawa Police Service. With all the federal landmarks and institutions in the capital, the OPS likely encounters service demands beyond the normal municipal mix so the added funds would be useful. I suspect the additional money is in response to the terrorist incident in 2014.

Another $1 million was reallocated to fund the federal share of a memorial in Moncton, NB, commemorating the murders of RCMP constable David Ross, Fabrice Gevaudan and Douglas Larche in June 2014.

Public safety and personnel safety should benefit greatly once all the components of this network are in place. All agencies should start planning now so they are ready to implement great solutions by the time it goes live.

While the budget has yet to pass as presented, the potential is great.


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