Cover: Broadband Communications Prioritization and Interoperability Guidance for Law Enforcement

Broadband Communications Prioritization and Interoperability Guidance for Law Enforcement

Critical Considerations in the Transition to the Public Safety Broadband Network

Published Aug 23, 2022

by Bob Harrison, James Dimarogonas, Jarrett Catlin, Richard H. Donohue, Thomas Goughnour, John S. Hollywood, Jason Mastbaum, Kristin Van Abel, Jay Balagna

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Research Questions

  1. What is the current state of public safety broadband, and what broadband options and opportunities are available, or emerging, for law enforcement?
  2. What are the issues of governance, funding, costs, and barriers to implementation that come with maintaining, acquiring, and transitioning to the NPSBN or a competing broadband platform?

In 2018, law enforcement agencies gained access to a federally funded and managed, interoperable first responder broadband communications network, the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), known as FirstNet. FirstNet was supposed to result in simple solutions for agencies seeking interoperability. For various reasons, this has not happened. Every law enforcement and first responder agency has legacy systems and equipment for mobile broadband uses and is faced with a complex set of decisions about its broadband communications infrastructure. Several competitors to FirstNet have emerged and are competing for a share of the public safety broadband market, causing confusion for end users. In addition, to make decisions regarding broadband communications systems, many agencies need assistance to understand the technical differences between various options.

To address the dizzying array of providers, capabilities, and options for the future, RAND researchers developed practical knowledge to inform agencies about available broadband options and opportunities, governance issues, funding options, costs, and barriers to implementation. This report is intended to help law enforcement executives, their staff, and their city or county communications technology providers chart a course forward that optimizes the systems they have now while better integrating technologies for enhanced interoperability.

Key Findings

  • There are many device options and service providers available and many systems that make up a public safety network.
  • Governance is needed to establish clear lines of authority and priorities for investment.
  • Agencies have multiple options for funding communications technologies, including information technology budgets, police or municipal annual or operating budgets, grants, and private donations.
  • Budgeting for broadband communications covers many costs, including software apps, connections between apps and databases, mobile device management systems, mobile application management systems, bridging to land mobile radio networks, training, and personnel.
  • One critical aspect of reliability is a system's ability to interoperate smoothly with other systems.
  • FirstNet seeks to be "public safety grade" and should be able to survive various threats. However, there is no standardized definition of this term.
  • Agencies might already know the most likely threats to their broadband infrastructure. Any system employed for public safety broadband communications should be oriented to survive both these and novel threats.
  • Broadband technology has been evolving rapidly — and so have new devices, sensors, and applications that need ever more bandwidth.
  • It is important that agencies acquire broadband communications systems in ways that allow for relatively easy and inexpensive upgrading.
  • Although agencies traditionally manage broadband contracting, equipment, and deployment individually, a better option might be a joint-powers agreement, a consortium dedicated to communications capabilities.
  • The outcomes of the coverage modeling strongly suggest that the idea that LTE (Long-Term Evolution)/5G will displace LMR in the near future is not supported by the evidence.

Research conducted by

This research was supported by the National Institute of Justice and conducted in the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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