5G will be the bedrock technology to fulfill the changing needs of first responders in these unprecedented times.
22 Oct 2021

Why 5G Network is Essential for First Responders

First responders’ duties and responsibilities are changing and expanding in two dimensions.

  1. The 24-hour nature of conventional media and the emergence of social media has made it easier for real-world emergencies to create secondary problems first responders have to address.
  2. Longer-term emergencies like infectious disease outbreaks and civil unrest have become a fixture in the crisis landscape.

These changing conditions require first responders do their jobs more responsively, flexibly, proactively, and collaboratively. 5G will be a bedrock technology to fulfill these needs.

What is 5G and What Can it Do?

You’ve probably heard about at least some of the benefits of the fifth generation of mobile cellular network technology (5G). First responders are already using private LTE networks in various locales around the world. Much of what media and other entities wrote about LTE/5G for first response existed before “edge computing” became a thing. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic overturned expectations from civil servants and social services.

In short, 5G will virtually eliminate all compromises from mobile connectivity in urban environments by offering a connection quality over the air that used to only be possible with wires, with no practical limit to the number of connected devices in a given area (i.e., no overloads). 5G will enable first response capabilities that were previously confined to offices or other fixed locations to reach everywhere, and a degree of support, real-time intelligence, and proactivity for field personnel not previously possible.

This technology will enable real-time alignment across an entire agency, and between agencies, and with third parties, with straightforward information access at any individual point.

5G Helps You Get Ahead

It is not enough for first responders to get to the scene of an incident and save the day. They have to worry about everything incident sends off and elicits to and from cyberspace. Hoarding. Panic buying. Telecom network overload. Resistance to medical care. Depressed social and economic activity. Civil unrest. Even violence can ensue in the media wake of an incident, emergency, or disaster, and they can linger long after the incident that set it off is resolved.

In other words, these information storms are making our problems more prominent. Once sent, they get tough to counteract. This process makes it doubly important that first responders, and the governments that employ them, do everything possible to keep them from happening in the first place, either by minimizing chaos and confusion during an emergency and its immediate aftermath or by preventing the crisis in the first place. 

Ironically, advanced communications technology, one of the major catalysts of these storms, will help authorities regain the high ground in the information wars. Compared to what the average civilian, or the average bad actor, has in their hands, the technology used by first responders to communicate and coordinate is often severely behind the curve, and governments and first responders must reset the technological balance of power. 5G has a significant role in making it easier for the first response community to get ahead of things.

5G will be the primary connecting technology for remote alternatives in first response.

5G Helps You Stay Ahead

Traditionally, we’ve tended to think about, resource, and prepare for emergencies as fast-moving discrete incidents. But first responders are increasingly expected to cope with longer-term emergencies, where staying ahead is as essential as getting ahead. During a viral outbreak, first responders must:

  1. Know what is happening
  2. Know where and what to do when confronted with a situation
  3. Find new ways to engage with citizens without relying on the usual in-person channels

5G will be the primary connecting technology for these remote alternatives.

5G Gives You An Edge

Cloud computing is where you send a request to a data center to process calculations and send answers back to the user. This technology has already revolutionized the public and private sectors. First responders have not always benefitted because the wait times involved can be problematic. In contrast, edge computing allows users to do the calculations on their terminal, thus eliminating the wait. It can also reach anywhere a 5G signal does. There is already significant value to first responders on this aspect.

5G Slicing For Dedicated Access

Never before was there a way to define and build a genuinely dedicated lane through the cellular network. 4G and previous network architectures could limit last-mile priority access, but it was best-effort traffic once it goes through the network. With network slicing, the subscribed level of service can take on several forms. A good, better SLA can be applied where end-to-end communications are provided a dedicated network path to avoid congestion, prioritize different traffic types, and have guaranteed lower latency to support applications like VR, AR, and Situational Awareness. For First Responders and their supporting agencies and companies, this will be a game-changer.

Remote Support & Contextual Display

In the future, every first responder may wear some Augmented Reality (AR) helmet or headset that will feed updates, instructions, and context-relevant information. These devices will enable more effective deployments of personnel and easy access to situationally relevant prompts at all times. Junior personnel will do their jobs more effectively. Strange buildings or underground spaces will be easier to navigate. Such devices can inform responders of medical conditions and allergies without searching or asking.

On the whole, these capabilities will boost the efficiency and the efficacy of what first responders do and minimize friction with the general public. And you won’t have to wait for an AR helmet – a mobile computer can do most of the same things. 

Edge AI

City streets full of self-driving cars represent the future of edge AI. Benefits before that time will most likely include automated emergency response functions, such as traffic rerouting, public announcement giving, and deployment of surveillance and medical supply drones. By automating these functions, personnel will be free to focus on what machines can’t do, like saving lives.

Enhanced Cybersecurity

Pervasive edge computing might sound insecure, but it increases the digital security of your remote technological footprint, something very much needed as governments and first response agencies increasingly become targets of cyberattacks. In short, edge computing minimizes the possibility of human error (still a leading contributor in most cybersecurity breaches) at the level of an individual device while enabling the same level of online security that used to only be available at HQ to blanket your footprint.

Smart City Capabilities

First response infrastructure is the logical starting point for any city’s smart city transformation. Once a city’s ability to resolve emergencies is brought into the 21st century, its ability to address other areas relevant to the quality of life, such as pollution and emission reduction, energy consumption, noise levels, etc., gets that much easier.

Unified Communications & Collaboration (UCC)

It’s the dream of any city administrator to have an emergency response command structure where you can:

  1. Access the view of any camera, or the feed of any sensor
  2. Talk to any first responder
  3. Share information between any point and any other point in the system
  4. Initiate and supervise corrective actions

But real life is rarely like this, and the primary reason why is technological incompatibility. A city’s infrastructure is comprised of different technologies bought by various departments at other times. And it’s not shared quickly nor easily accessed from remote locations. 5G can be the mobile technology that bridges these gaps.

Perhaps nowhere is this aforementioned technological compatibility more apparent than it is with Push-To-Talk (PTT) communications. Suppose the police, paramedics, and fire department all want to talk to each other at the scene of an emergency. In that case, personnel might need to carry multiple walkie-talkies, and hopefully, each has a fresh battery. This current-day reality of having numerous radios/devices on desperate networks will one day come to an end by converging all mission-critical services within the 5G cloud.

But 5G can eliminate this bloat and clutter by bringing communications down to a single device. Since it will be using the same technology that civilians are using, coordination with media, witnesses, and other third parties will be much easier. 5G provides the opportunity to nip potential miscommunications and the storms they create in the bud.

5G enables medical expertise to reach beyond the physical presence of a medical expert.

Remote Healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for vastly improved remote healthcare capabilities in two aspects.

  1. Lockdowns prevent people from coming to hospitals and clinics for non-communicable but no less lethal ailments. They must be contacted and addressed in other ways.
  2. During a disease outbreak, the importance of remotely determining which people require in-person care and which do not, and minimizing false positives, becomes critical.

5G enables medical expertise to reach beyond the physical presence of a medical expert. Healthcare workers can do testing and preliminary diagnoses remotely or even automatically. Medical professionals can do patient consultations, psychotherapy, and pain amelioration sessions in VR. These things represent an excellent way to reduce healthcare costs and improve outcomes, emergency or not.

How Do We Get There From Here?

Of course, talking about the wonders of the future is easy. Getting there is more challenging. But to get there, we must get started. At present, first responders are at a technological disadvantage compared to pretty much any & all relevant third parties. And if 5G isn’t already deployed in your jurisdiction yet, it soon will be, so if you don’t start working to close that gap now, it’ll widen.

What If You’re Already Using Private LTE?

Private LTE can continue to do what you’ve been asking it to do (unified comms, modest edge computing capabilities) just fine for the foreseeable future. However, it’s not something you would want to use for augmented reality or automated drone control. And if your organization is already comfortable, technologically, with using LTE, 5G will only require a modest learning investment and learning curve.

Do You Need A 5G Rugged Computer Now?

If 5G hasn’t arrived in your jurisdiction yet, a 5G device purchase might seem hard to justify, but a rugged computer is built for a service life of 5-7 years, so its 5G capabilities likely won’t sit idle for long. And there’s a good chance that this purchase will be your first Augmented Reality device, and you won’t want the 5G module connecting that AR to be in some other device. This will only waste power and create another device for you to carry, and device bloat is what 5G is meant to avoid.

Learn more about what Getac has available.

Randy Pfeifer is Getac’s Wireless Strategist where he delivered one of the first public safety certified solutions. He has over 25 years in the wireless industry, spanning from public and private spectrums including WiFi, NFC, laser, cellular, CBRS and LiFi.

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