In 2018, law enforcement agencies gained access to a national, interoperable first responder broadband communications network that was supposed to result in simple solutions for interoperability. For various reasons, this has not happened. In this report, RAND researchers present practical knowledge to inform agencies about available broadband options and opportunities, governance issues, funding options, costs, and barriers to implementation.
Broadband Communications Prioritization and Interoperability Guidance for Law Enforcement
Critical Considerations in the Transition to the Public Safety Broadband Network
- What is the current state of public safety broadband, and what broadband options and opportunities are available, or emerging, for law enforcement?
- 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.
- 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.
Table of Contents
Understanding Core Communications Technologies
Governance and Operational Requirements
Funding and Acquisition
Broadband Communications Costs for Law Enforcement Agencies
Barriers and Issues
Conclusions and Key Takeaways
Current and Emerging Broadband Technologies
Full Results of Coverage Modeling