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Some Old Tech is Better Tech

May 24, 2013

Yea, I’m about to do a, “Get off my lawn!” post.  Deal with it.  There’s been a push to adopt LTE or one of the other newer broadband formats for emergency use.  The current emergency spectrums use fair amount of bandwidth lower in the spectrum, to ensure that they can meet the range requirements without infrastructure to support.  That bandwidth could be put to “better uses” in the modern mobile communications world… that’s a way of saying that governments want to auction off the spectrum.  But what do the emergency services think of that?  From The Register:

Most emergency services use TETRA, or one of its predecessors, which offers robust voice communications and a feature list of things that LTE is lacking. But those networks can’t cope with significant quantities of data so there’s great interest in getting LTE up to speed as a replacement.

LTE is great for over-the-air broadband but lacks four features considered crucial if anyone is going to take it seriously as a mission-critical technology, which are due to be added to the standard over the next half decade.

The most obvious shortfall in LTE is the lack of voice. There is a standard for it but today’s users are shunted into 3G as soon as a voice call is made (or not, on EE’s UK network where users routinely complain that using 4G results in them missing voice calls). For police, ambulance and suchlike voice is still the killer feature, and they’d like to speak to everyone at once too.

Other features like direct routing, traffic prioritization, and the like are equally important.  If you’ve ever been in an emergency area, you know that the phone networks quickly saturate.  Heck, go to Las Vegas during a big convention and try to make a phone call.  No go.  Imagine the likes of the recent Boston attack with emergency services having to fight for access to a swamped system.

There’s a constant fight to find bandwidth in today’s busy airwaves that can be used to support commercial traffic.  I’m all for being able to reuse that spectrum for emergencies, but I do believe that there are some pathways that need to stay proprietary for emergency users.  Of course, if we let the government decide, they’ll mostly mess it up.  Thankfully, there’s already one available, and I hope the emergency services don’t get pushed off so that we can all make another buck.

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