A significant challenge faced by first responders at an emergency is maintaining connectivity in situations where there are large crowds or large groups of people accessing public wireless networks at the same time, such as during the Toronto Raptors victory celebration. In such circumstances, network congestion can impede access to first responders transmission requirements.
Traditionally, first responders built and managed their own private networks, using dedicated frequencies, with customized mobile devices, in order to take ownership of delivering reliable connectivity.
Although the Government of Canada has set aside billions of dollars worth of spectrum dedicated to the development of a public safety mobile broadband network, those valuable frequencies have been left to lay fallow for more than a decade. [See: Moving Too Slow On Public Safety Communications]
A little over 6 years ago, I wrote “Public safety in the public networks”, suggesting “a public safety broadband network, developed as a virtual application within existing public broadband networks would be even more robust, more reliable, more resilient than a private, dedicated network.”
This past weekend, I learned about Rogers First Priority Service for First Responders, “which provides a secure, prioritized data channel between emergency personnel and their organization’s office or headquarters, seamlessly connecting them to the vital information they need via their devices and emergency vehicles.”
Priority voice services have been in place for years, providing public safety personnel and government decision makers dedicated access to in emergency situations. But the times—and technology—have evolved. With more information available than ever before, first responders need a reliable way to transmit and receive vital, potentially life-saving data.
Enter First Priority Service from Rogers, which provides a secure, prioritized data channel between emergency personnel and their organization’s office or headquarters, seamlessly connecting them to the vital information they need via their devices and emergency vehicles.
As the name implies, First Priority Service prioritizes the reliable wireless network access public safety agencies need to optimize their communications and response times.
Canada’s public mobile networks have proven to be world leading in speeds, reliability and coverage, supported by billions of dollars of ongoing annual capital investment, managed and maintained by thousands of skilled professionals deployed throughout the country.
A virtual network approach is the right way to deliver public safety communications. Technology enables the robust public network to allocate a secure, prioritized channel to ensure uninterrupted connectivity for first responders, with reliability and coverage that would take tens of billions of dollars to replicate in a private network.
At the federal level, officials need to examine how they permitted such valuable spectrum to remain unused for so long. Recall, in his mandate letter this past December, the Prime Minister said to Minister Champagne, “Accelerate broadband delivery by implementing a “use it or lose it” approach to require those that have purchased rights to build broadband to meet broadband access milestones or risk losing their spectrum rights.”
There is a big swath of prime spectrum, in a band valuable for rural broadband delivery, sitting unused.
In my view, it is long past time for first responder agencies to review their communications service strategies. Perhaps the Spectrum Branch at ISED can help accelerate that review.
[Update: March 24] Public Safety Canada has just posted “A Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) for Canada” [pdf, 3.2MB]