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 https://www.next-paradigm.com/about/