Most people do not know that I originally started my working life wanting to be in Law Enforcement. I actually studied it in school and initially saw myself being in that area for a long career. For various reasons, things did not work out as planned and I went into technology instead.
One of the most important things in the world of a First Responder is communication, and specifically, information. Police officers need information about certain people/places; Firefighters need information about buildings/systems and EMS need to be able to get/send information about patients.
For years, most of this information was done via voice. Staff had private radio mics on their shoulder and they asked dispatchers/other staff for the information they needed. As these radio networks started to better support data, they were able to get some data (mostly text-based) on terminals to streamline this process. Over the past 15 years, the data requirements have been moved slowly over to traditional public cellular networks for non-vital items, while many agencies still use their private radio data network for critical applications like dispatch.
That always brought up one vital issue....traffic.
On the roads, First Responders are able to get through traffic faster than the rest of us because they are given priority access. However, the same was not usually the case on the cellular networks where they had to contend with people watching videos on YouTube.
A while back (in 2012 to be exact), the US Congress set aside some frequency on the 700 MHz band (Band 14), as well as some cash, that will do just that. They called it FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority), and it was intended to set up the first dedicated space on a high-speed network for Public Safety.
The idea makes a lot of sense....for the same reason that First Responders use their roof lights. During times of low traffic, they are able to get where they are going with little interference. However, when an emergency takes place, both networks (the freeway and the cellular network) equally fill up to capacity. Just think of a major incident, such as a plane crash, huge highway pileup or even when the President comes to visit. While the rest of us may be able to wait (in my case, impatiently) to get through the traffic pileup, First Responders do not have that luxury. When they have to wait (either to get through a highway traffic jam or to get valuable information from a server), people's lives are at risk.
So, that's it, Band 14 is in place? No, not quite yet....
First, we need to have a network to put this new traffic on. In the US, this is well underway, but will take some time to get done. It is not like the cellular carriers did not have other things to work on! Once the network is in place, it will require specialized devices that can use this new band. I suspect that most of the devices will focus around in-vehicle based traffic, as First Responders are mostly mobile in nature ... Police/EMS/Fire, as well as other specialty units such as Utilities, Water and other companies will use this network as needed. Finally, since Band 14 will not be in every location (at least not to start), the devices will have to be able to switch between traditional LTE networks and specialty ones on Band 14. These devices tend to be more complex, leading to longer sales cycles.
The Bottom Line
I have always made every effort to not use these blog posts to sell anything, but rather to educate. So, I will not start now. What I will say is that Novotech is working quite closely with its various partners to put together some offerings that will appeal to many different first responders. However, we do understand that while planning a new network takes time, so does putting together budgets/strategies to make such a drastic change to a fleet of vehicles, especially ones that may be out 22-23 hours per day.
As such, we invite any First Responder Agencies to reach out to us for free advice on this. We understand that purchases for equipment may be years away, but we will be glad to offer some of the best free advice in the industry to help you through your initial planning phases. Saving lives is kind of important, so we want to make sure that you have all of the information you need to make the right decisions now and for the future.