IoT Blog
IoT Blog

FirstNet Enables Next-Generation Mobile Technology for Police Departments Nationwide

by Benoit Tournier, Director of Marketing, Transportation
A stolen car crashes onto a sidewalk, tearing through the nearest storefront and injuring a pedestrian. The driver flees, leaving thousands of dollars of damage in his wake. The responding officer takes witness statements and photos of the accident, securely uploading everything to a central database. He runs the licence plates of the stolen vehicle so that dispatch can send a mobile alert before continuing on with his morning.

Traditionally, this series of events might require a dedicated team of crash investigators, and hours back at the station entering all the information into a report—a task that could take officers away from patrol duties for the rest of the day. Technology is transforming the way that law enforcement officers access and exchange information, and their day-to-day routines.

Wireless Technology and the Promise of FirstNet™

One of the main weaknesses of wireless technology for first responders has always been that agencies often use different networks—both public and private. In the case of public cellular networks, traffic congestion can be a serious problem, and the process of inputting and accessing data can be painfully slow.

The solution lies in FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority)—a dedicated public safety broadband network—which currently operates using a dedicated Band (14) of the LTE licensed spectrum. In time, FirstNet will create a nationwide wireless LTE network that provides highly available broadband coverage for first responders in both urban and rural areas. While stakeholders such as utilities, public transportation providers, and other mission-critical groups may eventually gain access to FirstNet, first responders will be given priority.

The main benefit of FirstNet is that it will provide a dedicated network that enables first responders to communicate on one network, sending their data in a reliable and secure fashion. This opens up a number of innovative applications that will further transform the way in which responders perform their work.

Improved Availability Contributes to Safer Cities
One city already preparing for new applications is Charlotte, North Carolina. The city previously faced issues with slow speeds on their 3G network, slow log-in processes, dropped calls, and poor functionality of apps in the field. All this led to an average downtime of 5-10 minutes per incident. The City received a Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grant to improve public safety, and is using the funds to deploy Sierra Wireless AirLink® solutions as the primary vehicle communications platform for its police officers and firefighters. 

Since the deployment, Charlotte is able to leverage new mobile devices, such as body-worn cameras and multimedia communications, which are all connected via the Sierra Wireless vehicle router platform. These new technologies, in conjunction with more traditional devices like computer aided dispatch (CAD) and automatic vehicle location (AVL), give officers real-time information and provide the essential network infrastructure to support advanced mission-critical applications, like electronic monitoring to identify potential suspects near crime scenes.

However, the biggest benefits are yet to come. FirstNet will enable next-generation mobile services, like live video feeds and immediate intelligence updates, giving officers the right information at the right time to make the right response.

Consider again the crashed, stolen car. A smart, city-wide infrastructure might allow the officer at the scene to access local cameras and back-end systems, and have photos of possible matches sent to their device. A network of facial recognition cameras around the city could seek out the perpetrator, spot him, and dispatch officers to his location. All of these new applications will be possible with a high-availability, high-speed network.

Law enforcement agencies, as well as fire and emergency medical services are only just scratching the surface of the potential for mobile technology to keep citizens safe—potential that will be fully realized when FirstNet is available nationwide. And that's a step closer now that FirstNet has selected AT&T to build and manage the network.

My next post will detail the ‘must have’ technologies for public safety vehicles that effectively turn each vehicle into a mobile office.

At Sierra Wireless, we provide innovative wireless solutions that connect first responders with critical data. We have shipped more than 120 million IoT devices worldwide, and operate on more than 80 networks. To find out how we can work with you to make your city safer, Start with Sierra, watch our on-demand FirstNet webinar or view our full city of Charlotte case study.