Push-to-talk (PTT) has long been the foundation of mission-critical voice communications in public safety, dating right back to the earliest deployments of two-way police radio in the 1930s. While public land mobile radio (LMR) systems have evolved considerably over the decades, the core technology remains the same.

The reliance on LMR entails fundamental limitations for high-speed data transmission and interoperability between jurisdictions, as well as the cost burden of maintaining a local infrastructure of radio transmitters and repeaters. These limitations were a key driver for the creation of the First Responder Network Authority, which was tasked with establishing and maintaining an interoperable public safety broadband network.

Now, with the FirstNet network and the FirstNet Push-to-Talk service, public safety agencies are able to access reliable PTT voice services together with broadband data over a nationwide cellular network.

Unifying PTT communications on rugged devices

This unification of communication technologies is also spurring a new generation of smart devices that provide the full spectrum of cloud applications along with fully featured PTT, including open standard-based mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) services. One example is Samsung’s Galaxy XCover Pro, a ruggedized smartphone with programmable PTT and emergency response keys. Combined with accessories, such as holsters and shoulder mics, these purpose-built smartphones mirror the physical LMR experience with improved technical capabilities and superior voice quality for the public safety user.

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Smart devices are now the foundation for public safety communications. Initially, rugged LTE smartphones may be a complement to LMR, but over the next decade, they’ll eventually replace radio networks in areas where the coverage and capability with priority and preemption of available public safety broadband networks meet public safety’s communications needs.

In addition, with Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Releases 14-16, additional functionality will become available, including mission-critical push-to-data and push-to-video in addition to MCPTT (collectively, MCPTX).

With the ongoing implementation of PTT functionality over public safety broadband networks, and the expansion of coverage and capacity, it’s incumbent upon public safety agencies to consider developing migration plans to ensure redundancy and a seamless transition and successful implementation of such capabilities into agency operations.

How rugged PTT smartphones benefit public safety

This incorporation of ruggedized, PTT-capable smartphone technologies into agency operations will ensure public safety leaders are able to comprehensively support a true mobile-first environment. The ultimate goal is a fully integrated and unified broadband communications system, which provides public safety-grade reliability and universal operational access for responders throughout the course of their duties.

For leadership managing such an implementation, this is about reducing risk while providing the right tools for the mission in a way that fosters seamless operations. Agencies can reduce risk by initially having two parallel and interworking voice communications systems for their first responders, while lowering costs, extending capabilities and preparing for the future of public safety communications. With configured gateways, a MCPTX-capable rugged smartphone can integrate with your existing LMR systems, so smartphone users and LMR handset users alike can maintain their routine and emergency communications — even across networks.

The smartphone has been an integral part of the lives of first responders in their personal lives for more than a decade, paving the way for a seamless and efficient transition to using smartphones at work. Some agencies have yet to provide this capability for emergency personnel, even though there are now public safety networks that make it easy to share photos, video and other data. Experience has already demonstrated that broadband capabilities improve public safety agencies’ operational efficiency, reduce costs and improve outcomes. Our public safety professionals deserve state-of-the-art communications tools — like the Galaxy XCover Pro — that they can rely on to support their crucial duties.

10 steps to PTT integration

As with any change, however, the process must be appropriately managed. Each agency should follow a specific implementation journey to enable appropriate and efficient transition to, and implementation of, new broadband technologies. Such a journey would consist of the following stages:

  1. Current State is the status of your communications program.
  2. Assessment is where you begin to analyze the inefficiencies, the pain points and the feedback from your team on current communications.
  3. Awareness is where you start to become aware of the various options for communications changes and availability of public safety broadband networks.
  4. Education is where you further review the data, engage in field-testing and gain a greater understanding of the options.
  5. Consideration is where you compare the options, seek peer feedback and understand financial and operational impacts.
  6. Acquisition is the process utilized to acquire initial product, services and capabilities.
  7. Activation is where you engage key stakeholders in the deployment strategy within the agency.
  8. Training should be relatively minimal given personnel’s familiarity with broadband devices and networks.
  9. Expansion is the point where you expand the deployment more broadly throughout the agency.
  10. Advocacy is the phase where you actively advocate the solution both within your agency and with peers, highlighting the implementation successes and overall operational and financial efficiencies.

Public safety hasn’t always been able to take full advantage of the many technology solutions on the market, in part due to historically unreliable connectivity to the cloud. Now, with the availability of public safety broadband networks that provide priority, preemption and encryption, agencies can finally leverage many of the benefits of cloud-connected platforms that other industries have been benefiting from for years.

With the addition of true MCPTT capabilities running on rugged smartphones and an ever-growing suite of technology solutions for cloud-aided dispatch and situational awareness platforms, public safety agencies are finally in position, both practically and financially, to take advantage of what the communications ecosystem now offers and lead the way in mobile-first operations. Public safety needs and wants reliable and rugged LTE smartphones to support their daily operations. These tools are critical, and first responders’ communications will validate that they are mission critical when they use them in real-world operations and have built up confidence and experience with them.

Choosing the right smartphone for your agency isn’t always easy — but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Learn more about Samsung’s other innovative public safety solutions, software and products, or get more expert tech tips in our free public safety roadmap for successful MCPTT implementation, authored by the Public Safety Network.

TJ Kennedy

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TJ Kennedy

TJ Kennedy is a co-founder and principal at the Public Safety Network, and has spent over 25 years in wireless technology and public safety. Prior to the Public Safety Network, TJ was the president of the First Responder Network Authority, known as FirstNet, an independent government authority charged with creating the first ever financially self-sustaining broadband nationwide network for public safety. TJ received his BS from the University of Utah and an MBA from Johns Hopkins University.

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