Blog 5.5.20




May 5, 2020

Push to talk (PTT) has long been the foundation of mission-critical voice communications in public safety, dating right back to the earliest deployments of two-way police radio in the 1930s. While public land mobile radio (LMR) systems have evolved considerably over the decades, the core technology remains the same.


The reliance on LMR entails fundamental limitations for high-speed data transmission and interoperability between jurisdictions, as well as the cost burden of maintaining a local infrastructure of radio transmitters and repeaters. These limitations were a key driver for the creation of the First Responder Network Authority, which was tasked with establishing and maintaining an interoperable public safety broadband network.


Now, with expansion of the FirstNet network and the recent controlled introduction of the FirstNet Push-to-Talk service, public safety agencies are able to access reliable PTT voice services together with broadband data over a nationwide cellular network.


This unification of communication technologies is also spurring a new generation of smart devices that provide the full spectrum of cloud applications along with fully featured PTT, including open standard-based mission critical push to talk (MCPTT) services. One example is Samsung’s Galaxy XCover FieldPro, a ruggedized smartphone with programmable PTT and emergency response keys. Combined with accessories such as holsters and shoulder mics, these purpose-built smartphones mirror the physical LMR experience with improved technical capabilities and superior voice quality for the public safety user.


Smart devices are now the foundation for public safety communications. While initially, rugged LTE smartphones may be a complement to LMR, over the next decade they will eventually replace radio networks in areas where the coverage and capability with priority and preemption of available public safety broadband networks meets public safety’s communications needs.


In addition, with Third Generation Partnership Project (“3GPP”) Releases 14-16, additional functionality will become available, including mission critical push-to-data and push-to-video in addition to MCPTT (collectively, MCPTX).


With the ongoing implementation of PTT functionality over public safety broadband networks, and the expansion of coverage and capacity, it is incumbent upon public safety agencies to consider developing migration plans to help ensure redundancy and a seamless transition and successful implementation of such capabilities into agency operations.


This incorporation of ruggedized, PTT-capable smartphone technologies into agency operations will ensure public safety leaders are able to comprehensively support a true mobile-first environment, utilizing both LTE broadband and LMR. The ultimate goal is a fully integrated and unified broadband communications system, which provides public safety-grade reliability and universal operational access for responders throughout the course of their duties.


For leadership managing such an implementation, this is about reducing risk while providing the right tools for the mission in a way that fosters seamless operations. Agencies can reduce risk by initially having two parallel and interworking voice communications systems for their first responders, while lowering costs, increasing capabilities, and preparing for the future of public safety communications. With configured gateways, a MCPTX/PTT capable rugged smartphone can integrate with existing LMR systems so that smartphone users and LMR handset users are able to maintain their routine and emergency communications even across networks.


The smartphone has been an integral part of the lives of first responders in their personal lives for more than a decade, paving the way for a seamless and efficient transition to smartphones at work. Some agencies have yet to provide this capability for emergency personnel even though there are now public safety networks that permit easy sharing of video, photos, and other data. Experience has already demonstrated that public safety use of broadband capabilities improves operations, reduces costs, and results in better outcomes. It is now time to ensure our public safety professionals are provided the best state of the art communications tools to perform their crucial duties.


As with any change, however, the process must be appropriately managed.  We suggest each agency follow a specific implementation journey to enable appropriate and efficient transition to, and implementation of, new broadband technologies.  Such a journey would consist of the following stages:


  • Current State is the status of your communications program.


  • Assessment is where you begin to analyze the inefficiencies, the pain points and the feedback from your team on current communications.


  • Awareness is where you start to become aware of the various options for communications changes, and availability of public safety broadband networks.


  • Education is where you further review the data, engage in field-testing and gain a greater understanding of the options.


  • Consideration is where you compare the options, seek peer feedback and understand financial and operational impacts.


  • Acquisition is the process utilized to acquire initial product, services and capabilities.


  • Activation is where you engage key stakeholders in the deployment strategy within the agency.


  • Training should be relatively minimal given personnel’s familiarity with broadband devices and networks.


  • Expansion is the point where you expand the deployment more broadly throughout the agency.


  • Advocacy is the phase where you actively advocate the solution both within your agency and with peers, highlighting the implementation successes and overall operational and financial efficiencies.


Public safety has not been able to fully take advantage of the many available technologies in the market due, in part to the historic lack of assured and reliable connectivity to the cloud.  Now, with the availability of public safety broadband networks with priority, preemption and encryption, public safety is finally able to leverage many of the benefits of cloud-connected platforms that other industries have been benefitting from for years.


With the addition of true MCPTT capabilities running on rugged smartphones and an ever-growing suite of technology solutions for cloud aided dispatch and situational awareness platforms, public safety agencies are finally in position, both practically and financially, to take advantage of what the communications ecosystem now offers and lead the way in mobile first operations. Public safety needs and wants reliable and rugged LTE smartphones to support their daily operations. These tools are critical, and our first responders’ communications will validate that they are mission critical when they have them operating in real world operations and have built up confidence and experience with them.


Download the Public Safety Network’s comprehensive guide, “A Public Safety Agency Roadmap for Successful MCPTT Implementation.”

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