For reasons both altruistic and obvious, providing public safety communications solutions has been a tent-pole component of carrier business. With the state-by-state adoption of FirstNet, the government run initiative to create a dedicated LTE network for first responders built by AT&T, and subsequent interoperability initiatives by carriers like Verizon, the consistently strong public safety business line is poised for massive growth in 2018. From LTE to IoT, there is emerging technology poised to make public safety networks more agile and advanced, keeping citizens and first responder safe, while helping carriers increase revenue streams.

Temporary, immediate solutions will proliferate

Natural disasters serve as a stark reminder of the necessity of connectivity, between the public and between first responders. Yet 2017 was more poignant in this regard than most years. From Hurricanes like Maria, Irma and Jose in the Southeast to wildfires on the West Coast, 2017 certainly feels like it brought a variety of disasters.

Over the years, we’ve seen tremendous gains in the way that cell towers are able to withstand natural disaster, especially in the continental U.S. This should be recognized as an industry-wide victory, but also a stepping stone. As we’ve seen in Puerto Rico, there is room for improvement.

We’ve also seen new temporary and immediate technologies come to the forefront. Critical communications devices like Google Loon, a hot air balloon connectivity device helped provide connection to Puerto Rico across 11 miles. Moving forward, it is reasonable to expect this to be an excellent supplement to repeater-on-wheels (ROW), covering both the ground and air to provide sufficient connection during times of need.

These solutions are just the beginning. From extended battery packs that can provide tower connectivity for a few days through mobile repeaters, 2018 will see a slew of new, temporary connectivity solutions come to fruition.

FirstNet will drive public safety growth nationwide

Currently, first responders connect to each other via different frequencies and carriers depending on the state, which is sufficient for local fire stations, law enforcement and other public safety entities in the same vicinity. This approach, however, means that first responders who’ve crossed state lines to assist can be left at a communications disadvantage, relying on methods such as cell connectivity (or even land lines) to coordinate efforts. FirstNet will fundamentally change the way nationwide public safety connection will occur. Once the networks are up and running, there will reliable, blanket communication using the same network and frequencies (700 & 800 MHz). Even though some states may not opt into FirstNet prior to the end of December deadline, there is still a chance to have complete interoperability with other carriers able to build 700 & 800 MHz networks.

Understandably, building new network infrastructure for these states will lead to tremendous growth for FirstNet-compliant public safety repeaters and other forms of telecommunication hardware, but more importantly, it will ensure connectivity and coordination among first responders.

Enterprises will require smaller, cost-efficient network solutions for public safety

It’s mandatory to build a public safety network for new or upgraded buildings, which can incur unexpected costs. In recent years, we’ve seen carrier-funded telecom infrastructure like DAS, whether for public safety or just general connectivity, decrease as a result of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture. With enterprises footing the bill to install emergency networks, there will be a growing need for more affordable, user-friendly public safety systems that are easy to install and maintain without external assistance.

IoT will help improve emergency response times

In addition to a unified, nationwide public safety connection, IoT is going to spur the growth of devices that can help notify first responders of an emergency situation without human notification. Smart homes are one of the near-term developments to be aware of. Sensors that alert fire departments at certain smoke or heat levels within the home can prevent fires if someone is incapacitated or away from the premises. Another logical progression for IoT with public safety is poised to be using Fitbit wearables to alert emergency responders of failing vital signs in real time to get to the scene quicker. However, there are still challenges that remain with the accuracy of these monitors before tethering them to emergency services is a good idea.

2018 will be a major transitional year for public safety where FirstNet networks begin to be implemented, and technologies help create dynamic ways to provide connection that weren’t previously available. 

Seri Yoon is the marketing director of Advanced RF Technologies.