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The First Responder Network is far more than just a new, more reliable means for voice communication between first responders. It’s the opportunity for that community to leverage all that the mobile network ecosystem has been delivering in terms of value to business and industry, including cellular broadband already well established in the private sector; and the vast world of the Internet of Things (IoT). By considering advances in the private IoT market, over nearly two decades, solution providers can build on existing technology that’s already running strong, adapting it for the first responder market.

Mobile Broadband Networking and IoT: What’s the Difference?

The term “mobile broadband networking” invokes images of robust gateways, portable modems, routers, and other equipment designed to transmit large volumes of data to and from locations without a wired connection. First responders might envision the broadband equipment inside their emergency vehicles, enabling a myriad of “things”—computers, tablets, and other devices—to connect to the network wirelessly.

But this is only a partial snapshot of mobile broadband networking and the IoT. Over the past few decades, the IoT has become an incredibly diverse ecosystem comprised of devices of all sizes, types, and functions. From floating sensors that detect water quality remotely to cloud-connected rat traps, IoT applications span every private and public sector and are changing the way our society functions. Well-designed applications of IoT technology increase an organization’s efficiency and provide tremendous time and cost savings benefits.

Adapting IoT for the First Responder Network

With the arrival of the First Responder Network, the public safety sector can finally harness the power of IoT technology. The new network certainly presents a fresh market opportunity, but developers would do well to tap into IoT expertise in the private sector as they create apps and devices. Some products will need to be designed specifically for first responders, integrating ideas and developments from the private sector. Other IoT products, such as wearable health monitors, can straddle the line between private use and public safety application. “For the most part, the innovation is occurring in the private sector, and what we need to do is adapt those innovations for public safety,” says FirstNet senior advisor Bill Schrier in an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

For example, Schrier cites a Massachusetts police district that’s programming an existing voice-controlled IoT device to answer questions from EMS personnel about handling specific situations. He also notes that body cams, traditionally linked to smartphones, are starting to come equipped with cellular modules so they can be independently networked. And some public safety districts are deploying fleet management systems and automatic vehicle location (AVL) to keep track of vehicle maintenance and inform drivers of the best route to an emergency.

Consumer Outlets for Devices and Apps

The creators of the First Responder Network want to motivate innovation in the private sector, creating an influx of new devices for first responders to use on the network. One way they’re opening the door is by making the First Responder Network available to individual public safety personnel. AT&T, the company selected to build the network, recently announced that first responders may sign up for the service at one of more than 5,300 retail stores across the U.S. Depending on their location and funding, some first responders aren’t provided with devices through their district, so this move makes the technology available to everyone. AT&T’s stores will also provide a consumer outlet for First Responder Network certified devices such as wearable sensors and body cams.

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