PERSPECTIVE: CBRS Can Deliver Reliable Broadband for Law Enforcement

Everyone wants high-quality, reliable broadband, but some need it more than others. One of those on the critical edge of broadband is law enforcement.

Policing has changed dramatically in recent years and one of the biggest reasons is video. The proliferation of video surveillance – monitoring security in government buildings, businesses, schools and parks – combined with the reliance on body-worn and patrol-car cameras and license-plate readers has created tremendous data stores and the need for sufficient broadband to stream and manage that data.

Law enforcement agencies have for decades relied on the P25 narrowband network, which is fine for voice but can’t meet the throughput demands of data, especially video. While cellular latency is tolerable for personal use, it’s more than frustrating for law enforcement tasked with public safety.

The need for increased bandwidth

Officers demonstrate the requirement for video every day. One needs only to watch the national news to see that law enforcement needs a visual assessment of incidents in real time and a recording for post-event analysis. While public safety has largely moved to LTE mobile broadband, they still compete with the public for signal strength on the same bandwidth. That becomes difficult during high-volume events such as large ballgames or concerts, or during disasters, when too many people are trying to connect to broadband. This kind of congestion came into focus during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, as it does with major weather events when everyone is trying to connect at the same time.

Recognizing the need for bandwidth, Congress created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) in 2012. All 50 states have signed on to FirstNet, although few have widely deployed it yet. FirstNet is a solid initiative, but in order to add value to that network or provide a back-up option, law enforcement agencies should consider the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).

What is CBRS?

Approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a public-private spectrum sharing agreement, CBRS is 150 MHz in the 3.5 GHz band. The band was used exclusively for national security for many years – especially for Navy radar – until those government users agreed to share it, on the condition that government and national security usage of the spectrum take priority. CBRS improves the wireless coverage and capacity on a large scale, making it ideal for in-building, public space and industrial IoT wireless requirements in a world where spectrum is limited, but data demand is not.

Other critical CBRS use cases for law enforcement include:

  • Secure, wide-area, high-definition video surveillance
  • Critical communications for security and operations teams
  • Remote vehicle and equipment control
  • Automated guided vehicle (AGV) connectivity
  • Mobile high-volume data transfer for imagery, video, diagnostics
  • Mobile connectivity for public safety vehicles

Benefits of CBRS 
The beauty of CBRS is it allows for the creation of private LTE networks, and in the future this 3.5GHz band is going to support 5G deployments, too. Such private networks will go a long way in creating secure, robust networks inside of buildings or large, crowded venues like stadiums and arenas, or used as part of a control center during a natural or manmade disaster.

There is no question that the demand for video in law enforcement is only going to increase. Applications such as push-to-video will allow responders on the scene to immediately share what they are seeing with the command center or emergency personnel. Machine learning already is used to sort through video and other volumes of information. We’ll see more of that and other forms of artificial intelligence utilized by law enforcement to make sense of data stores in the coming years. And, virtual reality is increasingly used for recruitment and training to allow for real-world, immersion drills on everything from school shootings to hostage negotiations.

The FCC acknowledged the possibilities CBRS can and will unleash – from improving connectivity in buildings and remote areas to allowing organizations the opportunity to run private LTE networks for the first time without relying on mobile network operators. This provides organizations total network control, stronger security and better interoperability – all required by law enforcement to effectively conduct missions. Law enforcement agencies should look at CBRS and the supporting technology as a back-up or added value to their current wireless network architecture and should do so in the near-term. It’s great to have video access and deep data stores, but law enforcement needs a network with the bandwidth and reliability to best leverage those assets. CBRS is the way to go.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

As Federal Consulting Engineer for Ruckus Networks, Meeta Gupta focuses on designing technical wired and wireless solutions for Federal Government Agencies in an effort to help them deploy next generation networks. Gupta’s technical expertise is in the areas of Wireless Networking and IP Data Networking and helping the Federal Government modernize their wired and wireless network infrastructure through industry leading technology and solutions.

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