Can your current wireless transport system help you on a path towards a successful transition to Public Safety LTE?
Public safety right now is undergoing tremendous changes, and one of those changes is the inclusion of multimedia for situational awareness. Enhanced situational awareness is essential to ensure the safety and effectiveness of public safety personnel and often involves receiving information from several sources, information that is delivered or sent as voice, data, or multimedia in the form of video feeds. The information must also be presented in real time so that it is useful for the mission or incident as it unfolds.
The increasing use of data and multimedia applications to enhance the situational awareness of the first responder requires that the backhaul network be capable of supporting demand. The use of media-rich applications brought about by advances in technology places pressure not only on a system’s backhaul but on public safety operating budgets as well in order to take advantage of these critical advances.
This article will discuss how wireless transport should be considered as a viable part of any public safety backhaul solution and how it can be a key part of an overall unified network plan to meet the increasing demand to support voice, data, and multimedia services. We will also cover some of the various challenges faced by public safety for determining backhaul needs for both new and legacy networks that will share the same transport network. And there will be a brief guideline for topics to be considered with any backhaul network, focusing on the use of wireless transport as well.
More Advances Means More Demands
The increased responsibilities placed on public safety as well the increasing number of security threats today require cross-agency coordination and information collaboration, often requiring more than mere voice communication. To address these increased communication needs, public safety is using many technological advancements that often require broadband connectivity.
To support these advances, public safety mission-critical networks are moving from Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems such as P25 to a broadband, multimedia-centric network based on LTE. In order to leverage the various applications which will be made available to public safety, providers must reassess and possibly change some of the existing public safety infrastructure. As technological advancements become more integrated into the standard operating procedures of first responders, the use of applications and delivery of content becomes even more critical.
Backhaul: Mission Critical
The backhaul network for public safety is a key element in any unified communication network plan. As with all elements of a communication network, the backhaul network must be reliable and resilient so as to ensure that information, whether voice or data, is delivered uninterrupted to support public safety during normal times as well as in times of natural or manmade disasters. It does not matter if your backhaul network has great bandwidth if it is not available when you need it.
Backhaul networks based on time-division multiplexing (TDM) systems are great for legacy low-bandwidth applications. However, these systems were not designed to support the increased data consumption of public safety and do not scale well. The use of an IP-based backhaul network does support multimedia applications and can scale effortlessly. But while this transition to multimedia-based communication is taking place, there is still a need to support the predominant legacy applications like TDM circuits.
The selection of a broadband backhaul transport technology falls into one of three areas. The first is satellite communications, or satcom, which has the advantage of providing coverage in remote regions as well as providing a temporary backup in the event of a disaster. The second is wireless transport, or microwave, which provides connectivity between points using radio frequency and has the advantage of connecting remote locations via high-speed data capabilities and supporting legacy networks. The third is wireline connectivity, or fiber, a wired connection that provides broadband connectivity.
The Wireless Way
Unfortunately, there is not a single solution for a backhaul network, and a well-designed broadband backhaul network will take advantage of primarily wireless transport along with fiber connectivity and use satcom for specific cases. Wireless transport and fiber are the two predominant transport technologies used in any robust backbone network. Both have numerous benefits, however the rest of this discussion will focus on wireless transport’s advantages and some use cases.
Wireless transport has some unique capabilities in the delivery of multimedia services as well as support of legacy networks. The backbone for public safety interconnects similar and dispersed systems and networks, and wireless transport can simultaneously support both legacy TDM networks as well as IP-based multimedia. TDM-network support is achieved by transporting it over radio without the need of a fiber mux.
One concern surrounding any technology investment is the amount of time before something else comes along that makes an acquisition obsolete. Wireless transport is future proof since it supports both IP and any other medium that may arrive in the future because its transport medium is radio based. It can also scale quickly either by software enhancements or with the addition of a module. Wireless transport is secure as well and can thus be used in the dissemination of sensitive information. Additionally, the total cost of ownership for wireless is much more economical than other transport methods since the asset is a capital purchase with minimal operating costs versus leasing fiber transport.
Some typical ways a wireless transport system can assist in the successful delivery of content in a public safety broadband network include:
- Providing broadband connectivity to a building, campus, or emergency operations center (EOC) that may not have access to fiber. This would allow for the backhaul network to be extended where public safety has complete control of the connection.
- Offering a fail-safe solution to protect critical connections that may use terrestrial services like fiber. The redundant path created using wireless ensures a completely different path so that, in the event of a backhoe fade, the wireless transport path can be used to ensure that the critical link(s) remain functional.
- Providing connectivity for a temporarily deployed asset. The temporary assets in support of a mission or incident can include search and rescue, multiple-agency responses, and hurricane-aftermath response to mention a few.
One further, and very interesting, application for a wireless transport network involves the use of closed caption television, CCTV. Specifically, a wireless transport network can backhaul high-definition images that are used for facial/tattoo recognition as well as evidentiary purposes or for monitoring a traffic intersection.
Review & Reassess
All in all, wireless transport can and should be a vital component in any backhaul network supporting public safety. However, mission requirements do change, and providers must also take into account the introduction of new capabilities and applications. Therefore, it is advised that part of your good practices approach includes reviewing the needs of a backhaul network on a regular basis regardless of the backhaul configuration. Some of the items that should be included in a review involve:
- Existing broadband network usage and projected trends or needs
- Broadband network backhaul topology / architecture
- Service level targets (KPIs) per link
- CapEx and OpEx budget considerations
- Wireless transport’s ability to help meet KPI targets
- Wireless transport’s ability to reduce recurring costs
- How links will be restored in the event of a disaster
There are obviously other issues to consider, but this list serves as a good starting point.
The requirements for first responders has changed dramatically with multimedia and will continue to evolve as social media becomes more embedded in the operating procedures of public safety. Wireless transport not only can meet today’s data-rich demands, but it can also support legacy networks. Additionally, wireless transport can provide a graceful transition of current mission-critical applications to those of the future that are data and media rich. Therefore, as the requirements and needs of public safety continue to evolve, wireless transport for backhaul can and will continue to play a critical role in meeting these communication needs.
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