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DC Partners With NIST to Develop Next Generation of Public Safety Wireless Communications

To achieve the goal of national interoperability, we need to deploy a single technology everywhere, and public safety has identified LTE as that technology. —Bryan Sivak, the District’s Chief Technology Officer.

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The District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) today announced that it has formed a partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program to evaluate the next generation of wireless communications for public safety agencies. The project will develop public safety requirements and test interoperability among multiple vendor systems in the District and at the NIST facility in Boulder, Colorado.

Following the advent of 3G broadband data services, public safety agencies recognized the myriad of national security benefits from wireless broadband. The Federal Communications Commission responded in 2007 by designating spectrum in the Upper 700 MHz band for a national, interoperable, public safety broadband network.

Today 3G is giving way to 4G, and national public safety associations have endorsed Long Term Evolution (LTE), a 4G technology, for the envisioned national network. As commercial carriers work to deploy 4G technologies nationwide in the coming years, public safety has an opportunity to benefit from the scale of these new commercial deployments. But to do that, public safety agencies need an independent facility to test, develop and demonstrate the capabilities of the technologies that commercial carriers are deploying and that public safety is pursuing. Engaging operators on public safety-specific requirements will open an avenue for inclusion of those requirements in commercial-scale equipment manufacturing, thus greatly reducing the cost of the interoperable national network.

“To achieve the goal of national interoperability, we need to deploy a single technology everywhere, and public safety has identified LTE as that technology,” said Bryan Sivak, the District’s Chief Technology Officer. “Without careful testing, we cannot be sure that commercial technology offered to the public meets the needs of public safety. This project is about making sure it works for public safety.”

"NIST looks forward to our partnership with OCTO, and to leverage their expertise in running their own 700 MHz public safety system" said Dereck Orr, program manager for NIST's PSCR program. "This urban environment will be excellent for first responders to test the performance of these new technologies."

“There is a critical, national need for this type of detailed, public safety-specific testing and development,” said Sivak. “Too often, public safety pays exorbitant prices for technology because it is such a small market—this is our chance to get in at the ground floor and take advantage of commercial scale.”

OCTO and NIST envision the project to include multiple vendors’ equipment, as well as the interoperability among different carriers’ networks and different vendors’ equipment, including end-user devices. Public safety practitioners nationwide (local, state and federal) will be involved in the project.