The evolving synergy of comms and dispatch solutions
Dispatch solutions have evolved considerably since the early days of desk clutter, when control room operators relied on a range of technologies such as radios, telephones, pagers and intercom systems to do their job. In the days of hardware-driven manufacturing, console vendors came up with button-based consoles which essentially today have been largely replaced by fully integrated intelligent software consoles. Running on commercial off-the-shelf servers and Ethernet switches, they are deployed on secure IP networks and are fully capable of intelligently aggregating disparate voice and data platforms.
So what does this evolution mean for control room managers looking to ensure that core operations run efficiently at all times?
To answer this, let’s start by taking a look at global and local trends. As national public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) networks roll out in the US, Korea and UK — with others such as Australia and New Zealand in the planning stages — there are valuable lessons being learned. Dedicated PSMB networks provide higher availability data and enable better group situational awareness using image and video sharing, location tracking, secure messaging and so on. There are plans also to provide mission-critical voice on these systems, but as yet there has been no widescale rollout of open standards-based, mission-critical PTT solutions.
Additionally, in the US the FCC is receiving requests for FirstNet to be interoperable with LMR and commercial LTE networks. But officials representing the FirstNet Authority and its contractor are pushing back, questioning whether the FCC has jurisdiction in the matter. Further, it typically takes three years from 3GPP standard release to commercial availability, which is giving rise to PTT-over-cellular that is generally unproven as mission-critical voice technology in public safety scenarios.
There are other issues. For example, many mission-critical services’ (mission-critical PTT, data and video, collectively known as MCX) capabilities were optimised for multicast networks but currently only FirstNet’s Band 14 (part of the 700 MHz spectrum licensed for the network) core will be multicast in the US. Additionally, lack of proximity services chipsets from more than one vendor currently affects direct-mode communication.
While many of these challenges will likely be addressed in due course, it is evident that PSMB is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. In a vast country such as ours, supplementary coverage will be needed and interoperability will be key to ensuring operation in a hybrid environment. Our ongoing experience with the bushfire disasters has forcefully driven this point home. But feedback received from some of Zetron’s customers has only strengthened my opinion that fully interoperable and always available integrated dispatch systems will continue to be of key importance. As control rooms gradually become broadband hubs and distillers of data (including from IoT and social media), voice and LMR will remain relevant in the near future.
For those looking at transition, listen to your end users to clearly identify core requirements and choose to partner with vendors truly embracing open standards-based solutions to not only increase your buying options and interoperability, but also decrease your total cost of ownership.
Finally, the rollout of a coordinated Australian PSMB and NG000 strategy will ensure delivery of robust, synergistic, long-term solutions for public safety officials servicing the needs of their local communities. I'm honestly looking forward to the future, and I have no doubt the best is yet to come.
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