By Lynn Bashaw, Director of Network Operations
This blog is the latest in a series on FirstNet’s role in and observations from the five “Early Builder” (EB) public safety Long Term Evolution (LTE) network projects. The EBs include four National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grantees in New Jersey, Adams County (Colorado), the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS), and New Mexico, as well as Harris County (Texas), which is being funded through other grants and local contributions. FirstNet has entered into a Spectrum Manager Lease Agreement (SMLA) with each Early Builder (EB) that enables the EB to access the public safety spectrum in the 700 Megahertz band to deploy broadband communications capabilities for emergency responders.
As FirstNet works toward deploying the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, it is continually looking for opportunities to learn more about public safety use of broadband technologies in real-world settings. This includes learning as much as possible from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) public safety network projects as they become operational.
Recently, the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California and its hundreds of thousands of spectators proved to be a prime case study for the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS) BTOP project. Members of FirstNet’s technical team were on-site to observe and glean key findings from the demo.
LA-RICS recently completed the construction phase of its project and began transitioning to an operational network supporting public safety personnel in Los Angeles County. Looking to test the capabilities of the LTE Band 14 network, a team comprised of LA-RICS project staff and Los Angeles County Sheriff (LASD) and Fire (LACF) personnel began planning for a live demonstration to those responsible for law enforcement, security, crowd control and emergency response during the Rose Parade.
As the planning for the demonstration progressed, interest in the network increased from local public safety agencies. The Pasadena Police Department and local agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security joined the demonstration team and actively contributed equipment and personnel, as well as guidance on applications and devices.
In the end, over 120 public safety personnel participated in the 36-hour event, and the LA-RICS team established a temporary command center next to the Pasadena Police Department’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for the Rose Parade.
The team installed eight fixed video cameras along the parade route, and the LASD and LACF provided six mobile video units. These cameras were used to stream video back to the command center to demonstrate the utility of the public safety network. Video quality was excellent, and EOC technical staff were so pleased with the quality of it, that they began utilizing the video feeds for mission critical use during the event.
In support of the demonstration, 90 handheld mobile devices were provided and supported by multiple vendors, and used by public safety personnel during the event. Multiple video applications, as well as various Push-To-Talk and situational awareness applications, were demonstrated by the vendors during the event. In addition, the team also demonstrated an application that interconnected LASD LMR traffic with the LTE Band 14 network during the event.
The Rose Parade Demonstration of the LA-RICS LTE Band 14 network consisted of the following elements:
- LA-RICS LTE Evolved Packet Core (EPC)
- Two permanent/hardened LA-RICS LTE Band 14 eNodeB sites provided coverage for the event
- 90 handheld devices
- Several application servers connected to the EPC provided application support
- Eight fixed cameras installed along the parade route, and six mobile camera units, provided live video feeds to operations staff
- A video management server was used to record, access and store all video feeds and network traffic during the event
During the event, project staff compared the Band 14 network’s speeds against two major commercial networks operating in the area. During peak periods of the Rose Parade, they observed that the public safety network provided service at speeds two to three times faster than the service available from the commercial networks.
LASD commanders and staff were extremely pleased with the performance of the network during the event, and came to rely on the handheld devices for mission critical use as the event progressed. Feedback from users on the demonstrated applications was also very positive.
Application interoperability was a key challenge. Several of the applications that were demonstrated during the event were proprietary and could not be operated on all available handsets, illustrating to participants the critical need for interoperability on a nationwide network.
As FirstNet continues the planning and procurement process for the NPSBN, events such as the LA-RICS demonstration for the Rose Parade are critical to understanding public safety’s needs. FirstNet captured a significant amount of user experience and feedback from this event and was able to observe and record significant lessons learned.