To the average consumer, broadband means the ability to surf the Net at high speeds and download data and information like pictures and videos from the World Wide Web. So, why would a firefighter care about broadband?
Access to broadband services could mean the difference between life and death for a firefighter or any first responder.
It can also mean the difference between going into a fire blind versus knowing the layout of the building before arriving on the scene.
It could provide the ability to transmit a video from a helmet cam, so the incident commander is able to remotely view where the firefighter is, assess his/her situation, and when needed, send in backup to rescue or assist the firefighter.
It could also mean the ability to transmit real-time biometric data monitoring of bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing and skin temperature of a firefighter during an incident.
Broadband, in short, can provide the ability to utilize real-time tactical data and video to improve firefighter safety and save lives before, during and after critical incidents.
Just think of the value of utilizing video, pictures and data analysis of incidents for training, after action reporting, evaluation and lessons learned alone.
The intention of a Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) is to cover the United States coast to coast and border to border. This PSBN is intended to supply broadband to metropolitan, suburban and rural areas.
It can also be utilized by EMS first responders to do in-field critical care evaluations and the information sent to hospital and trauma center physicians
While data and video technology can be used by firefighters and EMS personnel today, even more spectrum needs to be allocated to public safety to transmit the data and video effectively.
One of the biggest limitations to using broadband technologies is the amount of available spectrum. Smaller amounts of spectrum greatly limit the ability of users to transmit and receive data and video.
Without sufficient spectrum, data responses to small-scale and even day-to-day incidents can clog a system to the point where the overburdened network completely shuts down.
Public safety groups from all disciplines have joined together to form the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) to urge Congress to quickly pass legislation to allocate sufficient spectrum and funding toward the construction of a nationwide, interoperable and mission-critical broadband network.
Currently, public safety has 10 MHz of spectrum for such a network, but this is not enough to meet the immediate-to-long-term data needs of firefighters and other first responders.
Public safety needs an additional 10 MHz of contiguous 700 MHz spectrum, known as the D block, to secure a nationwide 20 MHz broadband network. This spectrum is available today across the country, and it sits directly adjacent to public safety held spectrum.
One important fact is that today's PSBN using Long Term Evolution (LTE) is only capable of transmitting data and video. Mission critical voice is not currently possible using LTE.
It is very important that public safety leaders acknowledge that limitation and maintain the current Land Mobile Radio (LMR) networks for voice communications.
Some government officials have concluded that they can abandon their LMR networks for LTE PSBN. This is not currently possible and won't be for several years. Money must be spent to maintain LMR for mission critical voice operation in public safety.