FirstNet…because every second counts


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. 

Enter FirstNet... 

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.

Under Armour Gemini: Will people pay for a smart shoe?

Many congrats to all those who put in the long hours of training to qualify for today's Boston Marathon. Here's wishing you a safe and enjoyable race!

As an avid runner myself, I am always looking for an advantage.  While this applies to all of the equipment that I use, nothing compares to my running shoes.  I currently have about 6 pairs of shoes in my rotation, using them for specific tasks (one pair is for speed, one for trails, etc).  Does it actually make a difference?  Probably not, but like most golfers, this will not stop me from always trying to do better. 

So, what about smart shoes? Will I take the plunge? I am sure our friends at Under Armour aimed their most current offering, the Gemini 2, at people just like me. 

The Gemini line of Under Armour has been well received by serious runners since its launch. For many runners, it is the first shoe that actually pushed Under Armour into the realm of the "serious running shoe".  Not that their past shoes were horrible, but you rarely saw them on the feet of any runners at any event.  Most of them stuck with the tried and true brands. 

With the Gemini, I actually saw them on the feet of some half-marathoners last year.  So, the Gemini 2 was going to be popular, even without being "smart".  But, to help push its technology angle forward, Under Armour has added some intelligence to these new kicks. They have a built-in chip that allows for tracking of some key metrics:

- how long you ran for

- your cadence (strides/minute)

- your split times

So, is this more gimmick than helpful? Well, it's not like this information is hard to get.  Any fitness band / free smartphone app can tell you how long/fast you ran.  As well, even the most basic running watch will give you more detail on the analytics of your run. While these shoes won't tell you anything that you can't find out, they will allow you to run without those other "smart" gadgets being required.  

Is there actually any purpose to these shoes?

I think there may be a market for Under Armour with these shoes. It might not be the market that they are likely aiming for because no serious runner would go for a run without their running watch, and if they did, it would likely be for the purpose of "running naked" (without gadgets).  This means that their market is aimed at the casual runner, which is not exactly a small market.  There will be some serious runners who may use them (and not use the technology), but at that price point, there are better deals to be had for similar quality shoes. 

The Bottom Line

I love the idea that companies are pushing the IoT technology envelope, especially when it involves fitness.  I think that this is a decent move forward into the "smart shoe" realm.  Knowing Under Armour, they won't stop here and will change the shoe space going forward.  FYI, Under Armour, I'd be happy to try out a pair and review them for you...

Smart Water Bottles for Dumb People Who Can’t Count

Growing up in a middle class household, there were no shortage of Thermos' in our house.  My Dad, the Construction worker, used to enjoy a warm "bowl" of soup for lunch.  As well, my Mom used to send us off to school with one holding our favourite cold drink.  They did the trick....the "hot stayed hot" and the "cold stayed cold".  Not exactly rocket science, but useful nonetheless. 

Apparently, our friends at Thermos got bored making people happy at lunch and decided to invent a Smart Water Bottle.  Wow, could there be a more useless invention? 

Smart Water Bottle

Ok, I get the general, we fail to drink enough water.  The suggested total of 8 glasses of water per day is achieved by some, but not by enough of least according to research.  So, some people have gone to great lengths to obtain this amount of hydration, hence the apparent need for a $60 Smart Water Bottle. 

The device has a Smart Lid, one that records how many sips of water you have, what your consumption has been and how long you have been fixed on the same container of water. 

Think I am kidding? Read this!  

Is there any merit here?

Well, I think they come from a place that has good intentions.  By providing people with a method of tracking their consumption of water, it may encourage them to stay better hydrated, which is one of the keys to better health.  I have to imagine if everyone used one, we would see a better overall health, ranging from a reduction in some illnesses, to better alertness and most likely an overall healthier weight. 

However, do you really need a fancy water bottle to tell you this?  Besides keeping track of the amount of water in your head, there are no shortages of ways you can do this on your smartphone.  Just about any application that records your food has a sliding scale to add glasses of water.  I have also seen water bottles with little dials on them (for a fraction of the cost) to record how much water you have consumed.  Finally, you can also do what doctors recommend, and that is paying attention to your frequencies of trips to the little boys/girls room as a possible sign of dehydration. 

The Bottom Line

As a person who runs 80 km/50 miles per week, hydration is obviously important to me.  However, I have managed to keep track of it without the use of an expensive water bottle.  It is called 5-year old can show you, if you have forgotten.  At what point do we stop trying to fix what is not broken?