MCP Insights

Understanding What is Good in Public Safety Communications Networks

Posted on September 20, 2019 by Scott Neal

A key component of effective emergency response is the ability for first responders to communicate with each other, and with their dispatch or control center. Not only is it critical that they can communicate across a common network platform and within the same agency, it is equally important that they have the ability to communicate with first responders from other agencies across disparate platforms. Interoperability between agencies and first responders is a critical consideration for the effectiveness of any wireless network. However, network interoperability is only the tip of the iceberg.

What Other Factors Can Impact a Public Safety Network’s Effectiveness?

While interoperability is important, there are significant other factors that must be considered when determining the effectiveness of a wireless network. What are those factors and how can they impact the strength and health of a wireless network?

  • Coverage: includes the levels of mobile and portable radio coverage, as well as in-building coverage.
  • Capacity: the number of users a system can support now and into the future. In the land mobile radio (LMR) world, capacity is largely determined by the number of channels available for use. With broadband, it is determined by the amount of infrastructure and eNodeBs, the hardware connected to the mobile phone network that communicates wirelessly with mobile handsets, deployed in a particular area.
  • Reliability: How much the network, including the backhaul portion, can be relied on to facilitate communications without significant down time or loss of functionality. Ideally this is 24/7/365.

In addition to these core factors, there are numerous other factors that can influence the current state of a communications network. Some of the other technology and features that can impact the state of a wireless network include:

  • Data transmission capabilities
  • Encryption and over the air programming
  • The number of subscriber devices and their ability to meet the needs of the responders
  • Lifecycle and maintenance, which are essential for ensuring the system provides the expected levels of functionality for the maximum time possible
  • Facilities, such as tower sites and compounds, which correlate directly to system reliability

How to Determine “What Is Good”

Figure 1 - MAPS OutputIn my former life, I was responsible for the operation and maintenance of a large, statewide LMR network. I personally struggled with how to benchmark and assess performance levels for these various system and network components. With so many factors to consider, how do you know “what is good” when it comes to the state of your communications network?

If you have the time and energy, you can conduct extensive research into each component and you’ll likely find some suggested standards for some of them. With that being said—who has the time? You can attend industry events and seek out opinions from others as to what they believe the standard should be, but how do you determine that what you are hearing is accurate?

Mission Critical Partners recognizes that many public safety communications systems administrators are dealing with similar problems when attempting to determine the overall level of their LMR system’s functionality and where it falls on the scale of good versus bad. We also recognize the need to not only quantify a network’s overall functionality, but to display it in a way that visually identifies the strengths and weaknesses and can be easily understood by systems administrators, agency leadership and government officials alike. In an effort to solve this problem, MCP leveraged our staff’s vast and varied public safety industry experience to develop a proprietary assessment program called the Model for Advancing Public SafetySM, or MAPSSM. The MAPS assessment incorporates published industry standards and MCP’s combined staff experience in networks and systems procurement and implementation with an agency self-assessment of factors like coverage, capacity and reliability by the people who interact with those networks and systems every day. The result of this assessment is a graphic depiction of the system’s current state like that shown in the graphic above.

Leveraging Assessment Results to Improve Network Effectiveness

Tools like MCP’s MAPS assessment provide an efficient and effective method for helping agencies better comprehend the current state of their agency’s communications network. This is especially helpful with supporting administrators with demonstrating to government officials the need for improvement and budgetary priority.

For instance, many executives believe that public safety broadband networks, like the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, and their partner AT&T will soon have the ability to satisfy all of the communications needs of first responders so there is no longer a need to spend money to continue to place focus on the coverage, capacity and reliability of their legacy LMR networks. Unfortunately, this is not likely to be the case, at least in the near-term. Currently, neither LMR nor broadband networks can singularly satisfy all of first responders’ needs. As a result, leaders and government officials need to continue to allocate funds to the ongoing maintenance, management and assessment of their current LMR networks and maintaining their coverage, capacity and reliability to meet industry standards.

On Wednesday, September 25, at 2 PM ET/11 AM PT, I will be joined by MCP subject-matter experts Nick Falgiatore and Brian Malinich for a live webinar to discuss how assessment tools, like our MAPS assessment, can be used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your agency’s existing communications networks and how those results can be leveraged to support decision makers in identifying where funds should be allocated to improve those networks. In addition, we will also discuss how data-centric networks like FirstNet can be used to augment current LMR networks to make incremental improvements to maintain the integrity of first responder communications. Space for this event is limited. Register here today.

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