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The success of mobile broadband for public safety requires more than new technology


Mobile broadband communications is a disrupter – a positive game changer for public safety like we’ve never seen before. And that is precisely why, besides all technical discussions, its ultimate success will also depend on the human component.

Take a look at what’s happening today: Many specific features have been added to the standard, enabling new-generation public safety networks that use high-speed data transfer. These deliver a potentially rich set of reliable mission-critical services. But beyond new ways of communication between people, these mission-critical systems also offer the possibility to develop innovative services that can change the way first responders operate. Think of new tools such as drones, robots or augmented reality goggles to assist first responders in case of emergency – all with uncompromising security and resiliency.

Openness to a very diverse set of innovative services and applications that drive operational excellence – this is where the value of mobile broadband lies. However, it’s sometimes surprising to see many stakeholders focusing only on replicating existing services, predominantly voice, to broadband networks.

It is understandable that public safety workers will expect to find their familiar services continued when transferred to a broadband network. However, the full potential of these systems will require a shift in the way they incorporate them into the operational processes, and that raises the human challenge of transformation.

Here come the mobile natives

The new generation of mobile natives as first responders has a role to play in that regard: Members of this generation have a baseline of communications behaviour that can positively impact public safety communications since they have been using broadband service since they were young. Just have a look at the consumer experience of the past two decades: Extensive mobile broadband, enabled by the smartphone, has caused a social shift where voice service today is no longer the most important use case. Today it’s quite common to communicate in a totally different way at the consumer level – one that requires less voice and certainly less paper. In fact, today smartphones are more used for navigation, remote control of home equipment or even as payment tools than they are for regular voice communication. Public safety is moving down the same path, creating a similar evolution in the first responder’s world.

It’s not an exaggeration to expect that the younger generation of first responders will actually lead the evolution in mobile broadband for public safety. One could expect that  their wish is to introduce their familiar communications patterns to the new generation of professional tools. Heavy use of multimedia, for example, will augment the effectiveness of these new tools, allowing public safety workers to share much more information than before, but these advances won’t come without some challenges. 

It's reasonable to expect that digitalization of processes, and especially the introduction of mobile broadband for public safety, could generate some tension between parts of organizations: Some more conservative units, trying to keep the status quo, even with modernized communication tools, will push back on the challengers who want to make heavy use of the broadband services on their mission. Transformation will need to balance both interests, and that will not be accomplished by simply introducing another technology. 
Hence, in addition to the technical considerations, this  “human side” will require attention and coordination by management in order to support a level of adoption that will generate innovation in operational processes.

The lesson here is that while this new technology is a powerful enabler, maximizing its success will rely on people. Both must continue to evolve.

One thing for certain: A guided transformation is key if we want to see public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) at its full benefit, just like it was with Tetra/P25 before. Otherwise we’ll have a waste of effort and resources, a missed opportunity. All stakeholders in this community must commit to this transformation, addressing the human part in parallel to the technical challenges, supporting our first responders’ operating at their best level.

Visit our Public Safety web pages to see our vertical solutions and our new Industry 4.0 page to learn more about these exciting technologies!

Thomas Rehberg

About Thomas Rehberg

As the head of Nokia’s Public Safety, Airports & Airlines segments, Thomas Rehberg focuses on providing digitalization strategies and solutions for our customers. Thomas brings 30 years of experience in telecommunications and networking technologies. 

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