Texas Emergency Management ONLINE2013 Vol. 60 No. 8

What is PS LTE?

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Public Safety Long Term Evolution (PS LTE) is a term used to describe the next generation cellular technology which will be used to build the nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN). PS LTE relies upon a global standard called 3GPP and which is commonly called LTE or 4G LTE. Public Safety LTE or PS LTE, uses the same technology, but implements LTE dedicated to public safety differently to meet the more demanding needs of Public Safety users.

The differences between PS LTE and commercial LTE is that PS LTE is dedicated for Public Safety use and operates on special spectrum in 700MHz called Public Safety Broadband Band Class 14. The PSBN will be designed for higher reliability and survivability. It will use special priority schemes to support special PS multi-media services and applications that will be unique to the network. Access to the PS LTE network is highly controlled.

The problem with mobile data today:
Mobile data has become an integral part of public safety response but, unlike public safety radio, response organizations utilize the same carrier networks as other consumers. The problem lies within the fact that carrier networks are not built for mission critical redundancy nor do they prioritize the traffic of public safety.  During high congestion incidents --disasters, evacuations, concerts, sporting events, weather-related events, etc. -- public safety is equally impacted by the same congestion issues the consumer encounters.  Unfortunately, high-congestion incidents correlate with the need for more public safety communications in order to protect life and property.  During these high volume periods, responders are adversely impacted and unable to utilize communication/IT resources when needed most.

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How it will be solved:
Nationally, the mobile data problem in public safety was officially recognized during the events of 9/11 leading to a recommendation in the 9/11 Congressional report for a Public Safety mobile data network. In response, Congress eventually passed the Spectrum Act of 2012 which reallocated the “D Block” and an additional 10 MHz of 700 MHz (total of 20 MHz) to public safety and provided an immediate $2 billion and a total of $7 billion in funding for network build-out nationally.  It also established an administrative entity called FirstNet to begin the monumental task of implementing a nationwide Public Safety Long Term Evolution (PS LTE) plan.

But Texas DPS, Harris County and other partners had been proactive in solving these mobile data problems even before Congress acted because they recognized the importance of data during disasters.  Disasters in Texas will not stop and Texas has invested heavily in data networking tools to improve response and save lives.  But a hardened network unimpeded by consumer traffic is foundational.  Additionally, Texas believes that criminals cannot be allowed to have more sophisticated communication tools than public safety.  Texas has chosen once again to lead the way and invest in the technologies of the future for the benefit of our citizens and our responders.

In 2009, Harris County and many jurisdictions within it began the process of identifying PS LTE as the way of the future.  Public Safety had for years used low bandwidth, obsolete systems such as Radio Data Link Access Procedure (RDLAP) for in-car data connectivity. Not only did they need a broadband network to replace these antiquated solutions but also to add new functionality such as regional application stores, enhanced security capability and mission-critical network hardening – all of which could only be provided in a network which was designed by public safety and controlled by local IT and communications specialists. 

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Harris County and its partners today have 14 PS LTE nodes working within the Port of Houston area.  Baytown has completely converted police and fire vehicles to the new network and other users such as Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Houston Area Metro Bus system, and others are in various stages of implementation. 

On this new PS LTE system, the public safety world will be unaffected by consumer network congestion.  Additionally, the LTE 3GPP standard allows for dynamic prioritization of bandwidth – allowing local jurisdictions to decide in real-time which users or applications needed to be given priority.  For example, a hostage stand-off could be given full motion, high definition video capability in an instant at the expense of non-essential traffic – placing a high-degree of control in the hands of responders not carriers.

Benefits:
Public Safety LTE will help deliver state-of-art solutions to first responders and the communities they serve.

The work done in Texas and, specifically, within Harris County have laid a foundation that goes far beyond our borders.  In January, the FirstNet board participated in a full-scale demonstration within Baytown and College Station where they saw for the first time PS LTE in action:  PS LTE devices, applications and infrastructure.  Since that time, FirstNet has worked closely with Texas to gain from our lessons learned.  This collective knowledge will be invaluable as the national system is designed and implemented. Efforts are underway to gain a long term spectrum lease within Harris County and also for the many other jurisdictions that now wish to begin their own deployments.

Want to know more?
Public Safety Broadband LTE will change how we respond:  New devices, new applications, regional app stores and much more.  But there are many questions that are yet to be answered:  How will bandwidth be practically managed?  Which applications will take priority?  How will public safety applications be vetted?  What authentication processes will be used?  How will the system be implemented nationally?  How will rural areas be served not just urban?

And to answer these and hundreds of other questions, Texas needs your help!

“Texas is leading the way in this important communication arena,” said Todd Early, TxDPS Deputy Assistant Director for Communications and the Statewide Interoperability Coordinator for the State of Texas. “But we can’t solve these problems effectively without the input of the professionals that will ultimately use these services – responders, administrators, IT professionals, legislators and many, many others.”

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To gather this input, TxDPS encourages you take this short survey. Once you have signed up, you will be on the list to receive updates and newsletters concerning the Texas Public Safety Broadband Program.  In the next few months, this list will be used to identify those who have particular PS LTE topic interest, start discussion groups, etc.

Texas is leading the way – be a part of the future!
More information can also be found at www.dps.texas.gov/lte


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