Public Safety Communications at the GOP

This year, for the first time ever, multiple vendors worked together to deploy a public safety LTE for the Republican National Convention. The law enforcement agencies in Tampa Bay, FL were able to share voice, video and data communications using smart devices over a private, multiple vendor 700 MHz LTE network. This is the only time that federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies have used such a network for a National Special Security Event.

The network was temporary, and set up in downtown Tampa under special orders from the FCC. It enabled the FBI, Coast Guard, Secret Service, National Guard, and Florida state and local police to have secure and encrypted voice and video communications during the convention. Morgan Wright, the senior advisor at Cisco Systems, reported during an interview with Urgent Communications that the network performed better than it was expected to, as this was the first time it had ever been put in the field. Law-enforcement officers used commercial devices with Wi-Fi connections to portable “man pack” Band 14 hotspots that connected to the private LTE network.

Cisco Systems worked to provide the LTE packet core, the IP routing, unified communications apps, and cybersecurity. The LTE radio access network was created by Nokia Siemens Networks and the mobile video and visual collaboration was from Reality Mobile. Raytheon provided systems engineering help and project management while service data and subscriber management were undertaken by Amdocs.

In their blog, Nokia Siemens writes that communications kits using LTE modems provided by many different manufacturers were set up to make portable links available to operatives undercover and in uniform using tablets, smartphones and laptop computers. They system showed video feeds from the permanent mounted cameras in the city as well as real time mobile video feeds from officers and operatives in the field.

This system throws out the old standard that everything in public safety communications needs to be monolithic. Bob Meyer, the business development manager for Raytheon’s public safety and security unit, believes that you can have a secure network and “have it be a mixed environment — one provider of the RAN, one provider of the core, a third provider of devices, and multiple types of applications.” This new network collaboration is opening up questions on commercial technology and high prices. Instead of spending thousands on a single device, Meyer wants to put down $500 and get someone to make what would essentially be a Mi-Fi that he can connect to with security and be able to keep using a n iPhone, Android, Galaxy, or iPad straight from the electronics store.

The network was put together primarily through participating vendors large donations, though some of the applications and commercial devices, like iPhones and iPads, were provided by the county. This LTE system gave law enforcement an advantage and eliminated the issues of commercial and other network congestion. This special temporary authority (STA) network will be valid until January, and the local Police Department hopes to utilize the network for some testing until then.