During disasters or emergencies, communications is key. The ability for first responders to communicate with each other and the public and for citizens to communicate with each other and first responders can mean the difference between life and death.
The topic is of such importance that the FCC recently established a working group of its Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) to address disaster response and recovery. The working group is charged with recommending measures that can be taken to improve the resiliency of broadband infrastructure before a disaster occurs, as well as actions that can be taken to more quickly restore broadband infrastructure following a disaster. In addition, the Disaster Response and Recovery Working Group is working to develop best practices for coordination among wireless providers, backhaul providers and power companies during and after a disaster.
During a disaster, the wireless industry is faced with challenges ranging from damage to physical infrastructure, overwhelming traffic volume, security concerns and interoperability issues. Throughout the years, the industry has developed a variety of deployable solutions to meet some of these concerns, including Cellsites On Wheels (COWs), Cellsites on Light Trucks (COLTs), self-contained deployable LTE solutions, drones and more. Virtual Network Communications, for example, has developed a backpack LTE solution that can be carried into an emergency response zone and switch on to fully functional in just a few minutes, providing crucial connectivity when and where it is needed most.
Keith Kaczmarek, Vice President of InPhase Wireless, who consults with Virtual Network Communications, will discuss sustainable networks in disaster response during a panel at Connectivity Expo. To preview that panel, Kaczmarek provided insights into the communications challenges associated with disasters and how the wireless industry can prepare for emergencies.
What is driving the focus on disaster response in the communications infrastructure industry?
We have so many examples where fixed infrastructure can’t be hardened to withstand the forces of mother nature – fires, flood, hurricanes. We all rely on communications. First responders, utilities and those that support them (tow trucks, private ambulances, etc.) all need to communicate to coordinate their responses to the situation; citizens need to communicate out (via 911, social media, etc.) to obtain help and/or provide situational awareness to responders; and through the use of broadcast communications systems we have the ability to provide targeted mass communications to provide direction to those in an impacted area.
What are some of the communications challenges we face in the United States during emergencies?
Every situation is different. Traditional public safety “push-to-talk” networks are built with high levels of redundancy, so they are usually up, but more and more public safety is relying on FirstNet or other wireless operator networks to meet their broadband needs. Wireless networks are built to support the peak traffic load in non-emergency daily use, but with an emergency, that wireless traffic volume generally exceeds the capacity of those networks. Prioritization of users and critical communications helps minimize the impact but does not fully meet the needs of all users.
How can the wireless industry best prepare for emergencies?
Wireless operators need to be prepared with a large tool box of solutions. Cell sites on trailers and other temporary solutions help to mitigate the problem when they are finally deployed in hours or days. To meet immediate needs, “Rapid Deployable” solutions need to be available. These include backpacks that support a complete LTE network (from core to radio) that can be carried into the impacted area, complete LTE network drones that can be flown into the impacted area and complete LTE network boxes that can be mounted on the side of a vehicle, a building or any fixed/mobile structure. To really be ready to provide support they need to be located in the field – at a command center, command vehicle or any location where they can be quick acquired.
Who buys deployable network solutions? Local first responder agencies? Federal agencies? Municipalities? Wireless carriers?
All of the above, in cooperation with the wireless carrier, because it will, in most cases, be their network frequencies. There is also an option to use the CBRS frequency band that will allow operations without coordinating with the wireless carrier.
Are there applications other than disaster response where these solutions are useful?
They are being deployed by the military. They will also support private networks that an enterprise might decide to deploy to meet their specific use case. For example, a work crew in a remote area could stand up a temporary network to support their work group.
How can the wireless infrastructure industry best use deployable solutions in the field?
Integrate them into their standard operating procedures for emergencies and other rapid and temporary deployment challenges.
Don’t miss Kaczmarek’s panel “Sustainable Networks: Opportunities for Disaster Response” at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, May 22 at Connectivity Expo. The panel is part of the Towers and Macro Sites 2.0 education track, which will also feature sessions focused on distributed energy and energy storage, 5G spectrum, blockchain, and mergers and acquisitions.
Visit www.connectivityexpo.com for the full list of speakers, keynotes, exhibitors and sessions.
Keith Kaczmarek has more than 30 years wireless telecommunications experience. His consulting practice, inPhase Wireless, supports early-stage companies bringing new wireless technologies to market. Keith is a recognized expert and speaker at national wireless industry conferences on public safety and advanced wireless technologies. As a member of the Wireless Industry Association’s HetNet Forum, Keith participates on the HetNet Innovation Technology Council.
Keith previously held prominent business, technology and operations leadership roles at Intrado, Powerwave, Cyren Call, FiberTower, inOvate Communications Group, Teligent, Nextel, AirTouch, PrimeCo and GTE. Keith was a co-founder of Cyren Call Communications, focused on supporting public safety in the creation of a nationwide public safety broadband network. He was a general partner at two private equity funds: inOvate Communications Group focused on early-stage wireless companies and Public Safety Ventures focused on wireless for public safety networks and critical infrastructure markets. Keith is a Radio Club of America Fellow, holds an MBA degree, a M.S. in Electrical Engineering and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois.
Also published on Medium.