Public Safety Advocate: IACP 2018

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference held in Orlando this year was once again a great success. I admit I left a day early because of the pending arrival of hurricane Michael, but while I was there it was a busy time. For a number of years, I have judged conferences not only on the quality of the sessions provided but also by the traffic on the show floor and the products being shown.

IACP is different from an International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) or other wireless-only show as this conference covers virtually all aspects of law enforcement activities. The show floor is no different. You can see many weapons, training tools, new radar, and flashing lights mounted almost anywhere on a vehicle. There are command vehicles, helos, and drones…excuse me, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), in every aisle. Communications are a major element of the show since communications is the glue that holds law enforcement activities together.

FirstNet had a major presence this year and its booth was filled with interested attendees every time I stopped by. The booth was manned by a variety of knowledgeable people to answer questions from both the sales and technical sides, and as always, some of FirstNet’s partners took turns in the booth presenting and explaining their roles in the network build-out and operation. FirstNet had a new and energetic buzz, and I found more and more people were interested not only in FirstNet but also in the equipment many vendors were showing.

For the past few years, I have considered the number of ruggedized laptops to be a guide for how successful vendors would be, but a few years ago I became a lot more interested in ruggedized tablets. I believe that within a short period of time the tablet will replace the notebook as the mainstay in vehicles. The reason is that unlike a notebook, the tablet can be quickly taken out of the vehicle and used in the field—tablets are fast becoming the incident commanders’ best friend. As more and better applications become available, simply touching one of the many video thumbnails along the edge of the screen will blow up the video to full-screen, which will be a vital tool.

By providing the ability to visually see incoming units, where they are, and where other needed resources are located, to identify where to place roads blocks, and to receive building plans and so much more, the tablet becomes a powerful platform. Group leaders such as incident commanders, swat team leaders, and others can also better track their people and their activities, and can see video of other views of an active incident in real time, rather than depend on verbal descriptions from others. The very old expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” is more than true for incident commands today.

There were many tablets on display at this show. The typical players were well represented by Panasonic, Samsung, and others, but there were also some interesting smaller companies with tablet products I really liked though there were some things I would like to see tablet vendors do differently. For example, because I have a modem in my vehicle as well as a tablet, my tablet is connected to my modem by WiFi, which takes time to set up and does not provide all the information I would like to have when it comes to coverage and other factors. I have ordered an Ethernet-to-USB-3 adapter because I have an Ethernet cable running from my Sierra MG-90 up to the console. However, I think building in an Ethernet connection would enable a level of operability for the tablet I do not have now.

Another issue is the way the tablets are supposed to be mounted in a vehicle. In many cases, it appears as though the designer of the mount has not been inside a law enforcement vehicle loaded with radios, light and siren controls, radar, and other devices. Not many will want to work at finding room for a bulky mount that tends to take over the little space there is between the seats. We need a simple mount that will release the tablet easily but that can also lock it in place if necessary. The mount needs power and I would like to see Ethernet included. In the meantime, I will keep looking for the ideal tablet and the ideal mount. The good news is that many smart people are working on these things to improve them.

The show floor at IACP is not organized in any logical fashion—gun dealers are next to radio vendors that are next to crime scene tools. You really need to walk the entire floor multiple times to make sure you have seen all the communications equipment and you should also walk the last booths on the sides and back of the exhibit space. These are smaller booths occupied by new companies with new ideas and they are worth at least seeing. You never know what one of these companies might develop that will be a contribution to public safety.

The sessions at IACP cover every conceivable topic relating to law enforcement work and the ones I joined and looked in on were all well-attended. I started the show at the IACP Communications and Technology Committee meeting on Sunday. This has been one of my favorite features for years. Led by Chief (Ret.) Harlin McEwen, we heard fifteen to twenty-minute reports and discussions on many different aspects of communications and technology. This year under the direction of Chief Eddie Reyes was no different.

I gave a twenty-minute presentation in the morning about two topics, Push-To-Talk (PTT), and the issue of the T-Band, which the feds have required to be returned so they can auction the spectrum. The push-to-talk portion of this short report was to discuss what is happening with PTT and FirstNet, and PTT and LMR and FirstNet. I pointed out that most of the work being done on PTT was to ensure interoperability between PTT vendors over FirstNet but little was being done to solve what I consider to be the one lingering and remaining problem with PTT. It can be best summed up by a tweet Bill Schrier posted during my talk, “Interconnection between #FirstNet and Land Mobile Radio is one of the most important missing pieces in the interoperability puzzle.”

At the moment, LMR to LTE PTT interoperability is far more important than conducting PTT tests over LTE for twenty to thirty vendors, most of which will never be approved for the FirstNet network. We should be focused on a common and affordable way to tie LMR and LTE networks together that provides all the flexibility needed. This means a way to tie analog, P25, and DMR PTT to FirstNet and WiFi, which is so affordable every department on FirstNet will deploy and use it. Anything less will not solve this issue. The 3GPP folks love to look into the future to try to identify what needs to be done, the Public Safety Communications Research Division (PSCR) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are also forward thinkers. However, that does not solve the issues of the day. We need to solve these first and then move on.

The T-Band portion of my presentation was about cancelling the give-back of the T-Band and the bills that are presently in Congress waiting for action. In the House, the bill has co-sponsors from both parties but the Senate bill is lacking co-sponsors from the majority party. At the moment, Verizon is the only network operator supporting these bills. We need to fix this. It appears that some in the House and Senate may have seen that many of the eleven metro areas are located in areas dominated by the party not presently in power. This is not a valid reason for withholding support for these bills and the public safety community. If anyone wants a PDF of my presentation, email me at andy@allthingsfirstnet.com and I will send it to you.

One of those things that just happens was that the next presenter was Stu Overby with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), who retired from a long career handling FCC spectrum matters for Motorola. We remarked at the end of the day that the two talks dovetailed with each other as though it had been planned. It was not planned, but Stu talked about the T-Band, 4.9-GHz, and the 6-GHz microwave band, all of which are in some form of disruption by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). As I have stated before, today the FCC is all about money and money does not come from the public safety community, railroads, or business radio users, it comes from carriers who want more spectrum. So, it appears that as long as the FCC continues to eye ways to auction more spectrum, every bit of spectrum needed for public safety will be in peril. It is a sad commentary on where we are today.

Winding Down

The IACP show was well attended. On Monday, the President came to speak to the IACP and what I noticed most was how well the logistics were handled by both the Orlando Police and the Secret Service. During the time the advance team was on site until everyone left, the conference sessions and show floor functioned without any disruption. It was well done and well planned and those who wanted to hear him were able to either in the ballroom where he spoke or on the TV monitors in the hall. For the rest of us, it was business as usual.

FirstNet is growing, more and more agencies are signing up at least some of their people, and they are kicking the tires. The coverage is expanding and Band-14 is showing up in more places, but networks are not built overnight and patience is still needed—there will continue to be hiccups. I found on this trip that everyone at FirstNet I talked with was acutely aware of the lingering issues, and all of them are dedicated to making this network great and smoothing out any rough spots along the way.

Andrew M. Seybold
©2018, Andrew Seybold, Inc.

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