By Barry Leitch of the FirstNet CTO Devices Group
Last month, staff from FirstNet’s technical headquarters attended the annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which features one of the largest displays of new consumer technologies and product innovation in the world. The FirstNet team approached CES as a sneak peek to what may be possible with the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN).
Major technology transformations usually take place first in the consumer space and then transition to public safety platforms. Some examples of products and services that were initially developed for the consumer market and are now widely used by public safety organizations include:
- Smartphones which provide telephony voice, messaging and data access to public safety personnel
- Laptops and tablets to be used as mobile data terminals
- Vehicle mounted wireless routers to provide mobile connectivity to public safety vehicles
- GPS receivers to provide automatic vehicle location (AVL) tracking of vehicles
- Wi-Fi access within public safety facilities to support high bandwidth wireless data connectivity
At CES, we also looked to when new technology solutions for public safety may spur innovation in the commercial sector. Keynote presentations during the show covered topics including the Internet of Things (IOT), commercial video streaming service, and cognitive learning systems working with IOT and cloud services.
The CES exhibit areas were organized by a combination of 26 marketplaces and 40 product categories, with some having direct applicability to the FirstNet device ecosystem. This included long term evolution (LTE) chipset vendors, LTE device manufacturers, wireless wearable device suppliers, and IOT and Machine to Machine (M2M) platform developers.
Additionally, we checked out a number of specialized device categories, including medical monitoring sensors, aerial surveillance drones, wireless body cameras, 360-degree field of view video cameras and a wide range of specialized biometric sensors. Exhibits of particular interest included:
- LTE Smartphones, Tablets and Laptops: Vast displays of the latest products were shown from many large international manufacturers.
- IOT and M2M Communications: Exhibits displayed a variety of solutions for low power, low cost wireless connectivity, including cloud support systems. Network connectivity options included Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Sigfox, LoRaWAN (power wide area network specification) and the latest LTE technologies, including category 1, category M, and narrowband LTE (NB-LTE) which is a new Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) work item.
- Self-driving Car Technology: A variety of exhibits were set up by car manufacturers, chipset developers and automotive electronic suppliers to demonstrate real-time sensing of objects located around a vehicle containing special sensors.
- Telemedicine: Exhibits showing sensors and communication platforms to improve the home health process by sending patient data to health care providers. These healthcare related advancements may find their way into future EMS tools supported over FirstNet.
The FirstNet CTO team is focused on making the latest technological advances available for the benefit of public safety users with the FirstNet network. However, in many cases, before consumer technology transitions to public safety use, it must first be customized to better support the public safety operational procedures and working environments. Examples include ruggedizing devices for operation in hazardous environments, modifying user interfaces to match the public safety usage requirements, and enhancing security capabilities to allow connection to limited access databases.
These are just some of our many observations and lessons learned at CES. The show identified a number of areas for further investigation by FirstNet’s technology office to help facilitate the best in class technology when standing up the FirstNet network for public safety stakeholders.