Can We Stop The Insanity?

By Richard Mirgon, Public Safety Consultant

There are many out there who believe that public safety can be fully interoperable with a multiple of networks. Well let me say this, “you’re wrong”. Now I completely understand that a lot of you smart engineers know how to make this happen and yes I am sure you can, but let me point out a couple of issues. We currently have and have had for years a robust cellular market with multiple carriers using the same technology, LTE, and we haven’t solved the problem. Why is that? Well public safety needs more than to just phone a friend and dial a number. We need apps that share information, push to talk, high security and a single “throat to choke”. How many of us that have managed public safety networks had them go down and everyone blames the other guy and you can’t get it solved? All of us.

Then there is the question of what would it cost? I have literally had divisions in my former agency buy software, decided they needed to exchange information between two groups and then spent more money on the API to interconnect them than the original software price. Yet they both could have used the same software but they had their own budget and the authority to make their own choices.

Let’s consider the history of P25. A single standard to solve all interoperable communications problems. It sure hasn’t worked that way. I remember the day the old Ericsson public safety radio company stood on the stage at an APCO conference and announced that they wouldn’t support P25. They had their own product, EDACS, which they felt was better. That split public safety. Oh and yes I remember all the smart engineers talking about interconnecting network. How well has that gone?

We also shouldn’t forget this little game Motorola played with encryption. That convinced public safety that their proprietary encryption was better than the encryption standard that was part of P25. The results were that now two P25 systems couldn’t talk with each other. Oh and how many P25 systems from the same vendor sit in neighboring jurisdictions that can’t talk to each other? Several.

Back when we started the Public Safety Alliance and discussed what we wanted in the legislation we talked at great lengths about the difficulty public safety had in creating interoperable networks and the overreaching influence vendors had on agencies. And I am not going to put all the blame on them, public safety owns some of it. We all have met the local government public safety engineer that had their preferences and influenced the outcome by ignoring public safety requirements. I personally lived through that battle two decades ago only to be left with systems that couldn’t talk.

Why have we spent billions, yes billions of taxpayer’s money to build LMR interoperable networks to be left with high prices, complex systems and not being able to talk? Have we forgotten the one billion dollar Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) grant program that was going to fix Interoperability and didn’t?

Look, we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That is insanity. Oh yes, a really smart guy said that, Einstein. Let’s stop the insanity and not repeat history. It’s time to focus on one nationwide public safety network, FirstNet.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this company or any company with whom the author may be associated.

Richard Mirgon is a Public Safety consultant focused on FirstNet. He is a Past President of APCO International and has over 35 years of public safety and first responder experience. For more information about the author please go to http://www.next-paradigm.com/about/

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3 Comments on "Can We Stop The Insanity?"

  1. In our area, AT&T lacks public safety grade tower sites and lack in public safety grade fiber facilities management outside the central office. A “…single “throat to choke” is apparently desired. Unless and until AT&T knocks down their internal silos, the following question is dysfunctional: “How many of us that have managed public safety networks had them go down and everyone blames the other guy and you can’t get it solved?” In our area, the internal divisions of AT&T don’t talk to one another, don’t plan well together, and fails in what they refer to as “engineering”. The 9-1-1 Resolution Center is out of the loop for construction or fiber management, leaving 9-1-1 centers with no service during what AT&T might call ‘routine serving’ of fiber. The “dog techs” are ordered to provision a leased data line, and they discover the circuit was not “engineered” right. These are not one-off incidents – it is repeated over and over. What happens when “everyone blames the other guy” and all of those guys are WITHIN AT&T? We’ve seen it countless times.

    The leased line people within AT&T don’t understand mission critical circuits for public safety. AT&T has been given a rubber stamp to set all fees and lease costs, so that the state authority who approve the rates has no mechanism to protect the public safety customer from skyrocketing costs. When you are a monopoly and have nearly unlimited resources to influence politicians and regulators, that’s what happens. We had a 272% increase in leased lines over a 5 year period, and the state regulators were useless in protecting us.

    A recent article, FirstNet announced that there will be two different providers of MC-PTT. How does that fit in to the “insanity”? Here is a quote: “…AT&T plans to offer at least two carrier-integrated MCPTT solutions. “The FirstNet requirement is at least two,” Sambar said. “FirstNet doesn’t want to see a single vendor lock-in, and the providers must follow MCPTT standards. … Interoperability is important.”

    Well, so much for “locking in” one vendor. Now, THAT is a insanity, or at least a little bit of hypocrisy.

  2. Daniel McKimm | March 24, 2018 at 7:31 pm | Reply

    If my AT&T phone can talk to your Verizon phone and her T-Mobile phone and his Sprint phone why can’t we be carrier agnostic? This is especially crucial when talking about a critical public safety communication infrastructure whose core function relies upon interoperability. Or, am I missing something here?

    • The response below is from the author with staff posting on his behalf.

      Thanks for the question. Telephone calling is an entirely different process and technology that was developed over a century ago. Think of FirstNet as a data delivery process. A common analogy would be letter/package delivery. To do that you can use the US Post Office and they have their delivery process. It gets there when they decide. Yet if you have a more critical need you might use FedEx or UPS for faster delivery and tracking. If you had something high value such as currency you might use a private delivery service with security. FirstNet is private delivery with security, priority and preempting other deliveries.

      One of the many things that happens in a phone network is congestion. You use to get a busy signal. Today if the network is congested you may not complete the call or they may push it to voicemail to make you think the other end isn’t available when in fact it is the network that is congested. Public safety requires special handling and cellular just can’t provide it.

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