The Key Takeaways from IWCE 2019
By Jeff Hipchen
For 2019, the International Wireless Communication Expo – better known as IWCE – returned to Las Vegas and featured an expansive scope of topics that included FirstNet, NG911, Spectrum Management, Critical Infrastructure Needs, the Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Cities and more.
As one would expect, FirstNet continued to dominate the agenda two years after the contract to build, maintain and operate the nationwide public-safety broadband network was awarded to AT&T. It was revealed during IWCE that more than 60% of the planned buildout of the FirstNet system is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Given the buzz within the cellular industry about 5G and CBRS, it was perhaps inevitable these topics would find their way into the discussions at IWCE. Indeed, while mission-critical features are being baked into 5G standards, it is apparent P25 LMR radios are not going to be displaced any time soon. Similarly, use cases and business cases for CBRS-enabled Private Networks are still nascent but expansive and compelling.
Although a significant focus of IWCE is on technology, services and policy for the outdoor environment, it is understood that indoor communications is essential for both public-safety personnel and the general public. After all, the majority of emergencies occur indoors, and most emergency calls are made using a mobile phone.
My roles at both RF Connect, where we have designed and deployed thousands of indoor and outdoor systems, and as president of the Safer Buildings Coalition continue to reinforce how innovation is bringing the commercial and public safety ecosystems closer together while also expanding the solutions toolkit. This was evident on the IWCE agenda and exhibit floor, and in the conversations I had during the week.
Here are the three dominant trends for the in-building market I observed at IWCE:
The FirstNet public-safety broadband network delivers mission-critical benefits that includes bandwidth and capacity to equip public-safety personnel with near real-time information. A key part of achieving the vision is through Band 14, which is high-quality LTE spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet.
It remains to be seen how FirstNet will impact codes and regulations as well as the ramifications among the stakeholders which include building owners, AT&T and perhaps the government to comply. However, the District of Columbia will begin this June to mandate in-building coverage for FirstNet in new buildings. This underscores the importance of designing network infrastructure that can flex and scale.
To-date, most indoor public-safety networks have been designed to comply with existing fire codes and traditional low-band public safety frequencies. In-building FirstNet support may be achieved in a variety of ways. Potentially, an existing cellular or public safety DAS will be upgraded with a FirstNet capacity source provided the head-end and remotes are capable of supporting Band 14. Alternatively, a Band 14 small cell overlay may be required.
An important insight often highlighted by the Safer Buildings Coalition is public safety includes not only emergency personnel but, also, the general public. Similarly, public safety is not just about communications, it is also about location. Put simply, police, fire and first responders must be able to locate victims as well as locate one another.
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new wireless indoor E911 location accuracy requirements which seeks to accurately identify the location of wireless 911 callers when the caller is indoors. Specifically, the z-axis or vertical location within the building. The ruling requires Commercial Mobile Radio Service (CMRS) providers – mobile operators, not building owners – by a certain timeframe to be able to provide 80% horizontal and vertical location accuracy. For the z-axis, the FCC has recently proposed a ± 3 meter vertical location accuracy metric. But in a dissenting vote, Commissioner Jennifer Rosenworcel challenged the FCC to strive for greater precision.
Locating first responders has traditionally been a challenge that required repeated radio check-ins and failed to provide up-to-the-minute situational awareness for incident commanders. That will change with FirstNet which pinpoints the location of public-safety personnel in real time to achieve better outcomes including perimeter checks, faster responses and improved first responder safety.
UL 2524 Standard
Published in late 2018 by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a leading safety standards certification organization, UL 2524 concerns active electronic components and products (e.g. repeater, transmitter, receiver, signal booster components, remote annunciators and operational consoles, power supply, and battery charging system components) used for in-building 2-way emergency radio communication enhancement systems.
The implication is public safety products will need to be submitted to a UL lab to be tested and certified. Of course, the standard does not retroactively impact products that have already been deployed.
The International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) code bodies have indicated they plan to adopt UL 2524 in future code standards. Pragmatically, UL 2524 will likely not impact deployments until 2020 or 2021. However, Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) will ultimately determine which code standards they will adopt and enforce. Based on discussions at IWCE, it appears AHJs are not pervasively aware of the new listing. Nonetheless, some AHJs have already begun requiring it.
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