MCP Insights

Key Takeaways from IWCE - Part 1

Posted on April 24, 2024 by Glenn Bischoff

Key Takeaways from IWCE - Part 1

MCP subject-matter experts blanketed the recently held International Wireless Communications Expositions (IWCE). The following are some of their most important observations.

LMR is enjoying a bit of a renaissance

Almost from the moment that Morgan O’Brien first floated the idea for a nationwide public safety broadband communications network at IWCE in 2006, much of the chatter has focused on whether this network could replace  — if it came to fruition and eventually delivered public-safety-grade voice communications — land mobile radio (LMR) systems, which have been foundational to emergency communications for decades. Given the cost of implementing and maintaining LMR systems, it’s a legitimate question.

But it’s not one that is being asked as often these days in the aftermath of AT&T’s service outage that occurred in February, affecting tens of thousands of customers in multiple locations across the country. The public-safety community seems to have noted that the broadband network being implemented by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) leveraged AT&T’s commercial Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology. As last month’s event illustrates, significant commercial network outages have happened numerous times in the past, and it’s a safe bet that they will continue to occur in the future.

If FirstNet’s network were the only network being used by a public safety agency, an interruption could be catastrophic to emergency response. In contrast, LMR systems offer resiliency and redundancy that make service interruptions very rare—and this realization is driving the renaissance.

LMR cybersecurity and in-building coverage are top of mind

There was a lot of chatter during this year’s IWCE about the cybersecurity vulnerabilities of LMR systems and what to do about them. While it might seem counterintuitive, this is a positive development in the sense that this danger wasn’t on the radar screen of very many public-safety officials a year ago — and now it is. (Click here to read our whitepaper on this topic.)

In-building coverage was also a top concern, with much of the conversation focused on how to enforce the standards established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) without inadvertently causing other problems.

To comply with the standards, building owners must ensure that their structures deliver a delivered audio quality (DAQ) score of 3.4 (on a five-point scale). This equates to easily understandable speech without repetition, though some distortion might be present. The most common approach to meeting this metric is the implementation of bidirectional amplifiers and/or distributed antenna systems (DAS).

The problem is that there has been a tremendous proliferation of such implementations with very little coordination with the local authority having jurisdiction, which most often is the fire marshal. The result is a significant amount of unintended interference to public-safety radio systems, which puts emergency responders and citizens at greater risk and prevents the former from doing their jobs effectively. Many jurisdictions across the country are struggling to find a solution. If yours is one of those jurisdictions, please contact MCP — our subject-matter experts can help you identify the source(s) of interference and then develop a mitigation strategy.

NIST’s cybersecurity framework gets an update

The recently released version 2 of the National Institute of Technology and Standards (NIST)’s cybersecurity framework was a topic of conversation. The latest iteration places a greater emphasis on policy development. (Click here to read a recent MCP blog that provides more detail.) One thing that hasn’t changed is NIST’s emphasis on independent third-party assessments of an organization’s cybersecurity posture. We recently learned the importance of this proviso recently when we were asked by a client to conduct such an assessment shortly after the agency’s system vendor did the same — in doing so we found numerous vulnerabilities that the vendor missed, any one of which could have led to an exploitation.

Please reach out if your organization needs a cybersecurity assessment, especially if you need help formulating a strategic plan that encompasses offensive and defensive tactics — both are needed to combat cyberattackers who evolve seemingly by the hour.

Two other important cybersecurity concepts that were explored during IWCE include:

Security by design

Embedding cybersecurity features from the initial design phase of any new technology or system ensures a stronger defense against potential threats. This approach is crucial for critical communications infrastructure, where vulnerabilities can have significant consequences.

Public-private partnerships

Collaboration between government agencies, private-sector organizations, and academic institutions is essential for advancing cybersecurity measures. Sharing knowledge, research, and best practices can help public safety and justice organizations stay ahead of cybersecurity threats and ensure the resilience of critical communications networks.   

Rural communities are dealing with unique challenges that need to be addressed for the greater good

An educational session explored the challenges rural communities face — specifically a scarcity of time, resources, and personnel needed to support communication infrastructure — and how those challenges can make those communities the weakest links regarding broader communication systems, especially integrated 911 systems. Best practices for addressing these challenges include a more inclusive, collaborative approach to ensure that these communities do not become vulnerabilities in the larger public safety and emergency-response ecosystem and strategic utilization of limited resources primarily through prioritizing investments that offer the most significant benefits in terms of improved communication and interoperability.

Glenn Bischoff is MCP’s content specialist. Before joining MCP a decade ago, he was editor-in-chief of Urgent Communications and Fire Chief magazines.

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