5G: Taking Public Safety Communications Into a Smarter Future

Digital signals flying over highway. Digital transformation. Internet of Things.
Image: Courtesy Telit

Increased bandwidth, low latencies enable advanced tech and better agency coordination with public safety communications in 5G, according to interviews with Telit.

As cellular technology advances through its various incrementally upgraded stages, from 2G (2nd Generation) through the last big enhancement into 4G, communications over cellular devices are offering faster speeds, larger frequency spectrum (which accommodates traffic to be sent across designated frequencies at the same time) and increased ability to send larger quantities of data. With cellular technology now embarking on the latest step forward into 5G, what can we expect this next generation to offer public safety?

Telit, a company that designs cellular components for a variety of communications applications for public safety and other markets, answers this and more questions in the consideration summaries below.

“Over the last five years there’s been a big push around how public safety uses cellular technology and how advantages of cellular over traditional wireless technology can benefit first responder communications,” said Telit’s Ken Bednasz, vice president of app engineering. He and Joe Braga, head of campaigns and regional marketing, addressed the benefits of cellular-based public safety communications.

4 Key Considerations for 5G in Emergency Communications

#1 How will 5G communications aid public safety and emergency management in the coming future?

The term Long-Term Evolution (LTE) refers to a standard for wireless broadband communication for mobile devices and data terminals. The standard was developed under 3G but had a big push during the jump to 4G in December, 2009.  With fifth generation cellular network technology now upon us, users and vendors alike are gearing up to see how the LTE standard will be affected by this latest generational leap.

“We’re already getting really strong data feeds with 4G LTE,” said Bednasz, “but a 5G radio will get a tremendous bandwidth — up to 20 gigabits a second download and up to 10 GB a second upload — so there will be a significant impact on the ability to transmit large amounts of data very quickly and very efficiently.”

In addition to bandwidth capabilities, 5G cellular will have extremely low latencies. Low latency refers to a computer network’s ability to process a very high volume of data messages very quickly, with minimal delay. Low latency allows things like drones to be controlled over cellular, for example during an active shooter event, a disaster response, or a search and rescue situation.

Now you’ll have dedicated spectrum that will help reduce interference and you can actually control devices over the cellular network,” said Bednasz.

Another aspect of particular value to public safety is location, and 5G will allow the distribution of much more accurate location data. “The beauty about cellular with 5G is that it incorporates voice communication, data communications, text messaging, as well as location,” Bednasz explained. “You’re going to see a mix of technologies becoming more innovative together on how we deliver the data.”

#2 How will 5G benefit existing networks such as FirstNet and emergency safety IP networks (ESInets)?

At present, FirstNet and other public safety networks are running with 4G LTE, which had laid the groundwork for 5G, which will add another dimension by making cellular components operate faster, and with a bigger focus toward how the data is distributed to multiple agencies.

“One of the current challenges in public safety is when multiple agencies are cooperating but they’re still gathering their own individual data,” Bednasz explained. “One of the big advantages that’s going to happen with 5G will be the bigger data pipe, and the ability to share data and coordinate more between agencies.”

“When we get to 5G, what we often think of are traditional infrastructures — the cell towers and so on,” added Joe Braga. “But in public safety there’s the additional impetus to augment the traditional networks with mobile infrastructure — so now you’ve got a 5G cell antenna mounted on a drone to cover theaters of rescue or fire, and so on. You’ve not only got the drones doing the job of surveillance but they’re also doing the job of providing 5G coverage.”

This is a significant step beyond what we have with 4G and LTE. The coverage becomes almost fluid in that you can stretch it at will to wherever it’s needed.

#3 How do the advantages of 5G cellular affect the ubiquity of Land Mobile Radio (LMR) radios in public safety, which have been such a part of the first responder’s toolbox?

According to Bednasz, with LMRs focused around voice only, we’ll be seeing more of the advantages of cellular technology, especially location and data that can be mixed with the voice signal, enhancing what radios are currently offering.

Rather than having first responders carry both a cellphone and a radio, the optimum may be combining them into a single portable communication device. “One of the key developments that is making this happen is the U.S. Government issuing the spectrum in Band 14 for FirstNet and other network operators like Verizon, as well as dedicating some of that network to public safety,” Bednasz answered. “So we’re seeing the advancement in technology from the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) cellular standards body, which is now taking into account public safety. This is not a proprietary technology, it’s a cellular technology with open standards. I believe the open standard aspect of it, along with the security of such communications systems, is making cellular the right choice for replacing the hand-held radios that are used today by public safety.”

Braga feels those regulatory standards bodies have incorporated push-to-talk in current cellular communications, and is moving forward. “So the traditional feel of the emergency responder’s radio can be maintained in addition to all the other benefits of cellular,” he said. “You can have a sleeve-worn video as part of it; so you can twist your wrist and see an entire video screen that is part of the radio, and so on. But push-to-talk is a big addition to the cellular standard that will be forever with it as the technology moves forward.”

#4 Is 5G radiation dangerous or harmful?

There have been some concerns that radiation from 5G wireless services could be dangerous to public health. Bednasz and Braga feel that this is being addressed at the government regulatory level.

“I do know that there are some versions of 5G which are much more high-powered than a held-held or router box, and there is CPE equipment which does transmit at a higher output power,” Bednasz observed. “People may be confusing some of the isolated high power devices which are not going to be body-worn or hand-held.  In the end, I think the regulatory bodies have this worked out. People may be mixing up some of the concepts and not understanding them.”

Smart Data Enhancements

Bednasz imagines a near future in which 5G devices are incorporated with LMR to both send data — such as monitoring a firefighter’s heart-rate or the environment’s surrounding temperatures, overhead drone images of a crime or fire scene identifying hotspots — to incident command or to the dispatch center, which can provide an situational viewpoint  that can be relayed back to the firefighters at the incident.

“We’d be able to direct them with voice communication or with sensors which way they need to go.” Bednasz stated. “As we coordinate the drone information from infrared cameras to the firefighters on the ground we can identify hotspots, or watch out for hazardous conditions identified from the data sent from their devices.

We’re going to be able to get a lot smarter on how we do our jobs and, more importantly, much safer. The cellular aspect of it, with 5G, allows you to get location, data, imagery, as well as voice. It’s going to get much more advanced than what the LMR voice-only radios do today.”

About the Author

Randall D. Larson is the founder and Plans section Chief for the California Mobile Command Center Expo and a retired dispatch supervisor, field communications leader, and dispatch/field comms instructor with the San Jose Fire Department.

 

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EfficientGov seeks expert insights to share with civic leaders. The views and opinions expressed in our guest columnist articles are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position or opinion of EfficientGov.