Public Safety Advocate: PSBTA Visions; Smartphone’s Little Brother, Questions Asked

PSBTA Vision 2022 FirstNet Users Summit

The Public Safety Broadband Technology Association (PSBTA) will be holding its a Vision Summit that has been designed exclusively for the FirstNet user community. Any agency preparing to join FirstNet should probably plan to send a delegate or two as well. The Vision Summit will be an ideal way to get up to speed on all things FirstNet. 

As the PSBTA says in its advertising literature for this event, “The Vision 2022 FirstNet Users Summit is the ultimate venue to learn from the developers themselves and share your thoughts and ideas on current and future FirstNet advancements.”

Vision Summit will be held in Las Vegas from September 19 through 22, 2022, at the South Point Casino and Spa. This hotel with its conference center is a fitting venue for the summit. There are a number of excellent restaurants and, of course, a casino and spa. We spent a few days in the hotel in January and enjoyed all its amenities, facilities, and services. 

The PSBTA has put a great deal of effort into making this event one that provides a wide range of sessions for both FirstNet users and public-safety professionals. The PSBTA states, “The Vision 2022 FirstNet Users Summit is the ultimate venue to learn from the developers themselves and share your thoughts and ideas on current and future FirstNet advancements. FirstNet currently serves over 3.3 million connections. Nearly 21,000 public safety agencies and organizations subscribe to FirstNet service. The challenge now is to make sure all aspects of the network and ecosystem are being used to their greatest potential.

The tech industry has responded to the development of FirstNet in a way that has finally put the first responder first. After rigorous vetting, specific to criteria necessary for public safety use and reliability, there are now nearly 200 public safety specific applications in the FirstNet app catalog. These applications have been developed in response to your needs in the field. FirstNet Users Summit attendees will gain valuable insights in using the tools being created for their benefit.         

Hardware development has taken a notable turn toward public safety as well. In the past, first responders relied on hardware built for the general consumer. To date, there are over 400 FirstNet Ready© devices available for use in the field. Hardware must also pass stringent qualification criteria to be recognized as FirstNet Ready©, and several products will be featured at the FirstNet Users Summit breakout sessions and in the exhibit hall.           

The Vision 2022 FirstNet Users Summit agenda is designed to give end-users, decision-makers and public safety IT professional training and insight into the many ways FirstNet can enhance communication capabilities. Broadband communication for emergency services deserves its own space, allowing specific training, information sharing, and opportunities to have your voice heard, and this is it. 

Not a FirstNet user yet? All Primary and Extended Primary FirstNet eligible personnel looking for answers on how FirstNet can vastly improve communications on all levels of emergency preparedness, response and recovery are welcome. The FirstNet Users Summit will have network, hardware and software specialists on hand to address your inquiries.           

Highlights of the Summit include case studies on FirstNet’s performance during high-profile emergency events, Safer Building Coalition’s sessions on improving in-building connectivity over LTE, how to optimize FirstNet’s exclusive access to High Power User Equipment through Mega Range™, FirstNet and 9-1-1 and how they work together, the future of 5G for public safety, how to leverage FirstNet Push to Talk in emergency and non-emergency settings, and workshops on utilizing grants to help fund communication needs.”

September is not that far away, so register today for the conference at Vision 2022 FirstNet Users Summit 2022. I will be there along with a number of others who have been involved in the formation of FirstNet and contributed to what FirstNet has become today. FirstNet (Built with AT&T) is the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) that had been sought and eventually acquired by the public-safety community. Now in its 5th year of operation, FirstNet has proven that it is, indeed, the public-safety community’s network.

Smartphone’s Little Brother

Just before IWCE in March, I was shown a new product that has been designed with basically one purpose in mind: To provide Push-To-Talk (PTT) over FirstNet. Now that I have one and have had a chance to run it through its paces, I thought it would of interest to our readers. 

To set the stage, this device is not a smartphone, nor does it have a large screen on its front. However, it has a screen on top of the unit adjacent to a selector knob. The first time most people hear about this device they do not fully understand why it was built and why it was designed to provide a single function on the FirstNet network (or another broadband network). This device’s sole purpose is to enable push-to-talk over FirstNet (or another broadband network). It is easy to distribute them to responders in the field who need to communicate via voice but don’t need a smartphone or don’t want to have to learn how to use a push-to-talk application on a smartphone.

Made by Siyata, the SD7 looks more like a large pager than a FirstNet device. As a matter of fact, in some areas, the SD7 could be used instead of a pager for alerting volunteer firefighters who would be able to respond with clear PTT quicky and with much louder audio than any smartphone I have heard. Siyata’s SD7 can be put into the hands of people who have never used a cell phone or whose cell phone is not compatible with FirstNet, or perhaps users who have never used push-to-talk. It can also be handed out to non-public-safety personnel and FirstNet prime users who may not have the appropriate PTT client installed on their device. The SD7s will enable the inclusion of these groups of users so they can assist in PTT coordination at major events and incidents. 

I think this is a great tool for FEMA, the Boise Fire Cache, and other agencies to stock and be ready to deploy. 

Today, when purchased from FirstNet, the SD7 comes with Motorola’s Kodiak FirstNet Certified ™ PTT application. However, there is no way for this PTT application to communicate with other SD7s or smartphones that are using a different FirstNet Certified PTT application, but there is another option, see below).

Remember when LMR handhelds had a channel switch on top? It was easy to change channels without ever looking at the radio. If you were told to go to channel 4, you turned the knob back to the stop (channel 1) and then counted three clicks. The SD7 works the same way except instead of changing radio channels it is changing talk groups. For example, the demo I have has a number of groups set up and channel 5 is an intercom-type PTT system for the few of us who have these devices.

ESChat is also FirstNet Certified and is available on the SD7. Since ESChat is an “over-the-top” push-to-talk application, any SD7 with ESChat can be used to talk to any other device that is enabled with ESChat including other SD7s and smartphones. If FEMA, for example, had a cache of SD7s with ESChat loaded on them, they would quickly and easily become part of a group or groups of other ESChat PTT devices regardless of which network they are on. In essence, the combination of the SD7 and ESChat opens up a number of different options for agency-to-agency interoperability. (The SD7 also supports standard Wi-Fi services).

The SD7 requires almost no training. First-responder personnel can pick one up and start using it since it was designed with simplicity in mind. There is a push-to-talk switch, an emergency button, and up and down volume controls. As mentioned above, the SD7 puts out a lot of audio volume. The folks who built this device did not stop with the basics, they included the ability to attach an optional speaker/microphone, and it uses any USB charger with a USB “C” connector, which is quickly becoming the norm. (Even my new iPad uses a USB C for charging.) There is also a multi-unit charger, as shown in the photos.  It comes with a belt carrying case and there is a vehicle unit the SD7 slides into. When inserted into the mobile unit, it is ready to go in the vehicle. When it is removed and used as a handheld PTT device, it will have a full battery charge. 

When I first describe this unit to others, they always ask the same thing, “I have a smartphone with my PTT application installed, so why would I need a device such as this?” Once I go through the rationale for why this is a great device for outfitting many people with PTT devices that require virtually no training. If the SD7s are set up on FirstNet, they can be handed out to anyone qualified to use FirstNet but they may not have the same PTT client on their smartphone. 

Then there are events. Voice communications are usually wanted and needed for events but many or all users cannot qualify to operate on FirstNet. In such cases, SD7s can be used on other networks and at least one other carrier in the area of the event.

The SD7 is not considered a full smartphone. It costs less and since it is classified as an Internet of Things (IoT) device, the per-month cost for using the network is lower, and the PTT, which is priced per unit, is very reasonable.

The audio volume will blow you out of a room if you turn it up all the way. The engineers who designed the SD7 also made sure it had a large battery; the SD7 battery is rated a 3,800 mAh (milli Amp hour).

If there is a cache of SD7s that, say, FEMA purchases and is responsible for, and the units are equipped with ESChat, a FirstNet Certified PTT product that is also used over commercial networks and for federal agencies, groups can be created on the fly. This means all FEMA devices could be on AT&T or another broadband network by using groups. However, during an incident where FirstNet is in use, the SD7 users could be quickly and easily added to other ESChat PTT users on FirstNet if they are qualified first responders. 

I have to wonder if a device such as this could replace the unlicensed but very low power PTT radios that are usually sold in pairs for Family Radio Service (FRS), used for work tasks, and are often used for car-to-car communications when two or more vehicles are heading for the same destination. I have a feeling that the SD7 might find its way into businesses, especially if they need to keep track of fleets of people on the road but don’t want to provide each driver with a full-up cell phone. It will be interesting to see what different and unique uses there will be for this device. I am impressed with the SD7. Mine is equipped with ESChat and I can use it on a number of talk groups that are also set up on my smartphone. However, I can simply pick up the SD7 and make or answer a PTT call more quickly.

Winding Down

As I talk to public-safety professionals each month, I ask them what they want to see added to FirstNet. Most topics they ask about are things I have written about before. Why is it taking so long for a nationwide PTT system on FirstNet so all of us can talk to each other? Others have to do with applications but when I talk to people trying to figure out how to determine the best common ways to share data it becomes a lot more confusing. Many of these folks already use applications they like and field personnel have become comfortable with them. The DHS/CISA program that is meant to convert data so it can be deployed on multiple devices and in multiple formats will be tested to see if it will be able to translate all sorts of data and deliver it in the appropriate format. Will DHS/CISA see the light of day or will someone else come up with a solution? 

Once Next-Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) is funded nationwide and being deployed might be an opportune time to find a solution or set of solutions for sharing data, pictures, and video services. We should also use that time to make sure all the Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems can be made capable of sharing their data files with other Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs). This would also enable one ECC to take over for another if it is damaged or out of service for some reason. 

Other questions or requests run the gamut from, “How soon will there be high-power user devices that can be used by an individual and not be vehicle bound?” And, of course, is the question that seems to surface in almost every conversation, “How long will Land Mobile Radio (LMR) be around?” along with, “Is FirstNet ever going to replace LMR systems?” and “How will we access off-network communications that work as well as LMR off-network (simplex) devices do today?”

There are many smart people out there who I hope are working on every one of these issues plus a lot more public safety would like to see implemented. I hope these can be resolved soon, but I keep seeing announcements for products or services that seem to be technology or application features and functions that do not solve any of the issues public-safety professionals want to see resolved. Rather, they are some engineer or marketing type’s idea for something that might sell well. Most of these fizzle out quickly since they do not solve a single problem.

My suggestion is for those who want to improve public-safety communications to spend time working on the problems and issues public safety would like to have resolved much sooner than it appears they will. 

It boggles my mind that in year five of FirstNet there is not even a nationwide, fully-interoperable PTT system I can see even on the horizon. If I were setting priorities for first responders, nationwide PTT or Unified PTT would be at the top of my list of things to get done!

Until next week…

Andrew M. Seybold
©Andrew Seybold, Inc.  


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