About The 5G Public Safety Applications Discussion Panel
It is reasonably certain that the opportunities and challenges of the connection between IoT and 5G implementation within the public safety realm will be driven by the initiatives of connected “smart cities”.
As more information is collected and shared within municipalities, situational awareness also increases, and public safety agencies will make more informed decisions in how they respond.
To gain a clearer picture of how 5G Network coverage will impact the public safety sector and expand the capabilities, we reached out to a panel of experts. Comprised of public safety sector professionals, analysts, and advisors, our respondents provided us with in-depth and insightful information on how 5G will impact future public safety efforts.
Our 5G Public Safety panel includes Carlos Tobar, Manager of Emergency Systems, City of Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, Wayne Black, Chief Technical Officer at Freedom Products at Astronics Test Systems, and Tim O’Brien, Director of Strategic Development, Public Safety at Bird RF.
The Complete Gap Wireless 5G Report.
The complete report contains the following expert panel discussions: 5G Healthy & Safety, 5G Testing, 5G Coverage, 5G & IoT, and 5G Public Safety Applications.
While many believe 5g will accelerate some of the changes triggered by 4G implementation, Carlos Tobar, Manager for City of Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, believes 5G will go even further, including an expansion of IoT functionality and improved public sector operations.
“I believe 5G will enable faster adoption of IoT, due to the reduced infrastructure costs (and challenges) with fibre and other physical networks,” says Tobar. “The ability to have a camera in more locations and with the continuous improvement of AI, the ability to detect crime, traffic collision, or other events that require public safety response will be possible.”
Tim O’Brien, Director of Strategic Development, Public Safety Bird RF, also sees an expansion of public safety services made possible through the interlay of IoT and 5G. He says this will include devices capable of tracking public safety personnel and sensors to detect officer down scenarios automatically. O’Brien says that 5G will also allow for the creation of more “smart buildings” outfitted with sensors for smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide location identification.
“While LTE provided IoT capabilities,” he says, “5G greatly expands on these capabilities by supporting more than an order of magnitude more devices per square mile, providing much more efficient spectrum usage, as well as using up to 90% less energy.”
“The promise of high speed and low latency offered by 5G will spark the creation of innovative IoT devices that can drastically change the way public safety officials operate and respond to emergencies,” anticipates Wayne Black, Chief Technical Officer for Freedom Products at Astronics Test Systems.
Of course, in addition to the many improvements 5G will enable regarding the interplay between IoT and public safety, there are still risks and challenges to ponder. Tobar points to cybersecurity, privacy, information storage, and governance as areas that will require oversight and scrutiny. Tobar is also cautious about the speed at which these public safety enhancements will be implemented.
“The challenge right now is that the public safety sector is small compared to the consumer market,” he says. “There has not been as much focus on public safety, and thus the evolution of tools and applications has not always been seen.”
How will 5G affect the way public safety communicates in the future?
The hope is that 5G networks will provide a data movement system that will enable innovation “in ways that have yet to be imagined,” says Black.
“More than just mission-critical, push-to-talk, 5G opens the path to collecting, integrating, processing, and distributing information from hundreds to thousands of sensors in real-time.”
Black uses a situation awareness room as an example of what he foresees. “The command and control team in a situation awareness room will be able to ‘see’ everything that every responder on the ground can see via high-definition, body-worn cameras,” he explains. “Responders on the ground will be able to ‘see’ through buildings or walls or in the dark via augmented reality, heads up displays, where the augmented views come from a merge of data from all the IoT sensors in the area. ‘Virtual’ responders will be joining the response team on the ground via robots or drones, resulting in improved response coordination in every situation.
For Tobar, these advancements face some challenges, mainly because there has not been as much focus on public safety, which has sometimes stifled the evolution of tools and applications. For example, Tobar points to PSAPs across the country that are currently preparing to transition to next-generation infrastructure (NG9-1-1), facilitating the transmission of multimedia (i.e., video, text, etc.…) from the public to public safety dispatch centers.
“5G won’t accelerate this transition, but rather facilitate the collection and analysis of information by PSAPs (both through IoT devices and public shared) to develop better-informed decisions and responses,” he explains.
“With respect to the front line, there currently is a lack of 5G PTT devices that are rated for use in fire environments,” he continues. “5G devices and MCPTT (along with other advancements) will first be developed for and adopted by medical and law enforcement. Until that time, fire departments will need to continue to rely on older legacy radio systems (e.g., P25, DMR, Tetra, … ) for communications.
“That said, there are various manufacturer initiatives that have combined legacy systems and cellular within their devices to improve functionality and tools.”
Tim remains optimistic about the promise of 5G in the public safety sector. “While public safety will continue to rely primarily on LMR systems for voice communications for years to come, 5G gives promise to greatly augment public safety communications by enabling low latency – real-time high bandwidth applications,” he says.
“While LTE enabled high-resolution mobile video, the high latencies of the networks typically prevented true real-time performance,” he continues. “However, 5G NR brings with it the possibility for low network latencies (<10ms) that can enable public safety communications applications such as bi-directional real-time heads up displays to aid collaboration between front line first responders and other public safety personnel, keeping everyone up-to-date with the latest pertinent information including live video feeds and venue floor plans for navigation. Additionally, in the next release of 5G NR (Rel 17), there will be expanded support for sidelink (SL) communication allowing communication between first responders without connection to a base station by each individual first responder.”
Tobar agrees that from a high-level view, the capabilities of 5G and the potential impact it could have on public safety communities are excellent.
“That said, it is up to the vendors and manufacturers to really understand the need of the various public safety entities,” he counters. “With that comes the education of both public and users alike.”
“5G comes with a lot of misconceptions and misinformation being fed by the internet and other media,” says Tobar. “Education needs to start now to help ease the adoption of additional sensors and other connected devices as well as the use of mm-wave for 5G devices.”
“Also, additional thought needs to be given to the impacts (including unintended impacts) from the increased sensors and sharing of data. This will help with the current struggle of 5G hype versus reality.”
How can 5G improve 911 and first responders?
The capabilities of 5G when applied to public safety are impressive. Ultimately, the result will be real-time situational awareness, first responders. This will allow first responders to be better prepared to handle the emergency as it unfolds. 5G can throttle up or throttle down bandwidth as needed, so first responders only pay for what is used. Black even anticipates the use of remote-controlled drones to assess outdoor situations or deliver emergency support equipment to a remote site.
As Black explains, with higher frequency operational bands and many more access points, 5G user-devices will quickly provide an accurate 3D position of a caller. The caller will be able to send a live video directly to 911 to describe the issue. “If the caller is in a public area, the 911 operator will be able to access IoT devices near the caller’s location to obtain quick access of security footage, temperature data, and floor plans of a building where an emergency is taking place,” says Black. “This gives the ability to identify potential threats and victims before responders enter, as well as the ability to open, close, or lock doors.”
While 5G will expand the capabilities of existing 911 call centers, that expansion won’t be easy. “There will need to be a technology overhaul and training to handle and coordinate the new streams of information that 5G can support,” warns Black.
How can 5G help surveillance to prevent acts of terrorism?
“Preventing acts of terrorism is a very challenging problem,” admits Black. “Terrorism can happen in an almost infinite number of ways, and public safety can only watch a limited number of paths.”
“To truly prevent an act of terrorism, you must know who, when, and where it is going to happen before it happens. 5G can be a part of the toolset used in the collection of information needed to identify and locate potential terrorists.”
O’Brien believes one way to do this is by expanding mobile video bandwidth and support for real-time monitoring both through IoT devices such as fixed cameras and mobile body and dash cameras. “Situational awareness and ability to act with the most up to date information can be a game-changer,” he says.
“With increased sensors, there will be increased data available for sharing among public safety agencies,” adds Tobar. “Although this is a scary thought in terms of ‘big brother’ watching, it can significantly improve public safety and security.”
“For example, for facial recognition to be truly useful at finding a suspected terrorist, the technology must be deployed not only at airports but at every available entry location,” elaborates Black. “This can only become possible with a high number of low-cost IoT surveillance devices deployed to collect identification information. These devices would then feed the data to a cloud facial recognition system that determines possible matches and alerts the local port authorities before the identified individual has left the location.”
Of course, using advanced technologies like facial recognition triggers additional concerns about privacy and government overreach, says Tobar.
“The unintended impact is the availability of big data becomes a target for cyber-crime (much greater than it is now). Governance of the shared data will be necessary. All levels of government will need to be involved in managing this future better,” he says.
How can 5G help improve fire prevention and firefighting?
For O’Brien, it’s the ability for real-time access that is key when it comes to the impact 5G will have on fire prevention and firefighting. He points to enhanced IoT fire sensors accurately pinpoint a fire’s location as a way to minimize property damage and loss of life. Also, enabling commanders and other public health authorities to see what the firefighters are seeing “can dramatically improve firefighting capabilities, keep first responders safer, and minimize lives lost in fires,” he says.
Black agrees that the combination of 5G coverage with IoT devices will provide firefighters with the ability to coordinate their actions and react in ways that are faster and more efficient.
“With good 5G coverage at a low cost, all building sensors used to help identify a fire (smoke, temperature, video, etc.) can be IoT devices that report to not only a local monitoring system, but also a local fire department,” he explains.
“As firefighting personnel prepares to deploy, proximity video sensors could be accessed to verify if an emergency event is occurring,” Black continues. “While on the route, 5G could allow the team commander to access temperature data and floor plans of a building where an emergency is taking place.”
Black also believes “sensor- and video-enabled robots or drones” will help firefighters identify hot spots and plan the most effective response to the fire or a rescue operation.
“Once on site, the commander sitting outside the fire scene can see exactly what all his firefighters can see at the same time from all the sensors from each firefighter stitched together,” Black explains, “the commander in charge of the operation can make critical decisions in real-time with live data.
“The firefighters themselves will be able to utilize augmented reality in their helmets for situational awareness or even the ability to ‘see in the dark’ or ‘through the smoke.’ Data sent from the firefighter’s protective equipment will provide monitoring of health and welfare of each firefighter.”
Tobar remains skeptical. “I don’t think that 5G will have a major impact on fire prevention or firefighting that 4G doesn’t already provide,” he counters. “The impact will result from the development of public safety applications. 5G does have the capability to encourage the industry to develop these tools to assist in the services fire departments provide.”
“The major improvement will be the speed at which this data is shared and the increased capacity to share large amounts of data.”
How can 5G improve public transit safety?
The current widespread development of self-driving vehicles was instigated by the desire to create safer ways of traveling. Public transit systems are also being pushed to improve safety for customers and prevent accidents. Black believes 5G can play a role in these improvements.
“On the road, smart vehicles will be able to communicate to provide situational awareness such as location, velocity, and changes in effect,” he says. “On-vehicle sensors will be able to ‘see’ road hazards ahead and make real-time decisions to stop if the driver does not.”
“Roadside sensors can provide information about traffic conditions that are fed back to public transit vehicles,” he adds, also point to video or IR sensors that could be utilized on tracks to identify hazards day or night.
“Providing faster data back to cloud systems means faster analysis of data and return of warning or action to take.”
“Public transit systems can cover huge geographic areas many times with limited points of access for public safety personnel and the potential for public safety emergencies to move throughout the system, for example when a fire or police situation takes place on a subway car” adds O’Brien.
“The ability for IoT sensors to detect and provide the exact (dynamic) location of an incident is key, as is the ability for first responders to have robust, real-time communication and information, including real-time video.”
The potential of 5G to expand the uses and capabilities of IoT for public safety is enormous. Of course, there remain issues regarding the development of public sector devices and the ubiquity of those IoT devices across different sectors, including law enforcement, firefighting, EMT, and more. As advanced wireless technologies continue to impact how public safety agencies operate, 5G will inevitably facilitate the tools and applications that will be developed and significantly enhance how those tools and applications are used to maintain and improve public safety.
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Bird is an industry leading provider of RF communications products, services, calibration, and training to the Public Safety, Cellular Communications, Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), Broadcast, Semiconductor, Military, Government and Medical markets.
Freedom offers communications analyzers for testing and maintaining Land Mobile Radio (LMR) communications systems. FCT also provides an extensive range of capabilities, including automated radio testing and alignment, coverage mapping, and interference analysis.