From radio to broadband — the fundamental needs for mission critical performance

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First responders have long relied on land mobile radio (LMR) communication to manage their daily responsibilities safely and efficiently. Today, digital technologies driven by the power of mobile broadband are helping to change the public safety landscape. However, that does not mean that essential voice communications are about to be replaced.

Unlike other industries, public safety agencies operate each day in an environment that is described as ‘mission-critical’ — in other words, first responders sometimes find themselves in the most extreme circumstances, where any disruption to their daily operations, however small, can potentially have significant consequences.

This principle extends to the communications technology used by public safety and explains why these organisations require levels of service and performance that typically exceed those needed by enterprises and consumers. In public safety, these non-negotiable needs include the ability to:

  • communicate clearly and without delay;
  • withstand the impact of natural disasters and emergencies;
  • uphold the highest levels of security; and
  • ‘interoperate’ and share information between other public safety organisations.

Without question, broadband technology is transforming public safety — from the ability to send and receive high resolution images and video to the use of sophisticated software applications to streamline daily work or even predict and prevent crime.

However, public safety will always be a ‘voice’ centred environment where clear verbal commands are absolutely essential to ensuring the right outcomes.

We only need to imagine the potential impact of a police officer mishearing a critical instruction in a high pressure situation to understand how much our first responders depend on reliable voice communication. Broadband-based communication will eventually provide the reliability needed to ensure the right outcome in every situation, but not before technology and technology standards mature to the same levels that public safety radio communications provide today.

That is why there is continued investment in LMR technology in Australia and globally. Most Australian states and territories plan to use radio communication for at least the next decade, while in Europe, some public safety radio contracts have been extended to 2040 and beyond.

Investment in radio communication also extends to research and development to improve the communication experience for radio users as well as the capability of radio networks, devices and applications.

Among Australian government organisations investing in both voice and broadband communications is the New South Wales Telecommunications Authority (NSW TA). We are working with NSW TA to upgrade New South Wales’ 150 existing radio sites used by public safety organisations, as well as expanding the network to 23 new sites in the north west of the state.

Recognising the growing importance of smart devices as a communications tool for public safety officials, NSW TA is also deploying a software application within its network to extend radio network access to team members carrying smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices.

The continuing evolution of public safety mobile broadband is a very positive development. It will enable public safety agencies to combat more complex threats to safety, overcome constraints on their budgets and resources and provide them with new capabilities in response to growing community expectations. We developed our vision for smart public safety, Next Generation Mobile Intelligence (NGMI), to help public safety agencies make the right technology investments to achieve their goals. As an industry, we have an important role to play in guiding public safety agencies through a time of significant change, and ensuring that any new technology introduced does not compromise the operational outcomes first responders deliver each day. That is why today and for the foreseeable future, only radio communication can provide the mission-critical performance that our agencies require.

Regardless of whether we place radio or broadband based communications into the hands of public safety officials, we must ensure those who protect our communities have the best available tools and resources to do their jobs.

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