Fri Mar 25 13:11:16 2016
Not being at the IWCE show in Las Vegas this week has been tough for me as I have attended for so many years and always enjoyed it. However, circumstances prevented me from attending in person this time so I have been experiencing it vicariously by reading as many of the press releases as possible, the great reporting by both Urgent Communications and Mission Critical, lots of tweets, and of course emails and texts I am receiving from friends who are there.
My impression from this distance is that it was once again a great show and this year it was truly about LMR and LTE. FirstNet had a major presence at the event with many speaking slots and the ability to talk directly to attendees. The LMR vendors are getting serious about LTE and even LTE/LMR devices. While I have not seen the latest from Harris, Motorola, and others face to face, I have read with interest the product specifications. I still think FirstNet will start with LTE-only devices that cover FirstNet and at least one commercial network operator for LTE, and 3G, and that these devices will be an adjunct to, not a replacement for, LMR voice radios for a long time to come.
Next will be combination LMR/LTE radios that have already been discussed and in some cases shown in early form at IWCE. These radios will morph over time into what I believe will become the standard radio type for the foreseeable future. They will provide solid Public Safety-grade LMR voice services, and good LTE video, data, and voice services. It will be interesting to see what form factors emerge from the vendors. I still have to explain to vendors that have never built a radio (cell phones are radios) for the Public Safety market that in many cases, two-handed device operation is a non-starter for field use, and in the fire service especially, the ability to operate at least the basic functions of voice services when wearing gloves is also imperative.
I understand that at IWCE this year there were many discussions and some good presentations about Mission-Critical PTT over LTE. While I won’t repeat what I wrote last week about the subject (posted on our website), I will say that I believe there is a disconnect between what the Public Safety community will trust their lives to and what can be provided in the near future. That is not to say that at some point it might be possible to move all voice communications over to FirstNet but planning to do so prematurely could prove disastrous for the Public Safety community. This is one of those cases where it might be helpful to put those pushing for Mission-Critical PTT over FirstNet sooner rather than later in a Scott Air Pack in a house full of smoke and then let them decide which technology they will trust their lives to today.
But I digress! IWCE is a great measure of how LMR and LTE (FirstNet and commercial) are coming together not necessarily to merge and become one but to be used as tools that provide different types and forms of communications. I started out before FirstNet explaining to people that today’s Public Safety professionals make extensive use of voice communications but the ability to send and receive video and data would be a welcome addition to their communications arsenal. Giving all of these tools to incident commanders and others during incidents and enabling normal daily Public Safety activities to be completed easier and faster in the field without having to return to the station to file a report will have great benefits and will result in saving lives and property.
FirstNet is well on its way toward the day in the very near future when, hopefully, it will receive multiple responses to its RFP and then it can begin the process of finding the right fit for FirstNet and the Public Safety community. I plan to attend the next IWCE in 2017, and I expect that before that we will know who the prime contractor is and how FirstNet and the vendor plan to work together. However, the RFP submissions and the final award are only the beginning of a multi-year journey. Next Year’s IWCE will also be about LMR and broadband, and it will be interesting to see how far we will have progressed in the coming year.
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