When Dr. Walt Magnussen’s granddaughter fell out of a second-story window, it wasn’t just first responders who saved her life; it was the technology at their disposal.
The emergency medical technicians had the ability to triage information on the way to the scene, gathering background information en route. As soon as they got there, they already understood the situation and could quickly decide to take the granddaughter to a major trauma center instead of a local hospital, even bypassing the emergency room.
“It was that kind of communications capability that allowed them to respond properly — and to notify the hospital about what was going on — that helped save her life,” says Magnussen, Director, of the Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center at Texas A&M University.
It’s this type of constant, seamless communication and information sharing Magnussen works to evaluate and further every day in his role. Working in tandem with Verizon, Magnussen and his team at ITEC focus on discovering the art of the possible for 5G. This work involves researching how the expanded capabilities of the fifth-generation mobile network — including improved speed, low latency and high bandwidth — can transform the ways first responders operate.
To that end, Magnussen and the ITEC lab are evaluating novel ways of gathering and delivering information across the public safety landscape, enhancing situational awareness and decision-making and more.
“A lot of it comes down to improving interoperability,” he says. “Everybody — but especially in public safety — has built siloed networks for the last several decades. But now, with the nature of the way things are going, not only is public safety needing to communicate, collaborate and interoperate with a lot of other public safety sectors, but it's getting to the point that we need to enable interoperability between the public safety sector and other sectors, like energy or transportation.”
That level of collaboration requires a robust network with the capabilities 5G can provide. But fully leveraging f5G also requires a new way of thinking and working with that network. And that’s why Magnussen has partnered with the nation’s largest wireless provider to help vet the technology.
“There are so many aspects to 5G, but at the end of the day, this is an enabling technology,” he says. “And when an enabling technology comes about you have to figure out what you’re going to do with it and what it means for your sector.”
A 5G-Enabled Future
So, what can 5G do for the world of public safety? A lot, according to Magnussen.
For instance, envision a future where police are heavily instrumented, not just with body cameras, but with tools that can help to monitor their vital signs or enhance situational awareness. A plethora of tools exists already that can help enhance situational awareness and provide first responders with the information they need to make better decisions or stay out of harm’s way, including augmented reality or wearables. “Your imagination is really the limit,” Magnussen says.
The first step to making this vision possible, however, is understanding exactly what 5G can deliver. 5G networks offer several key advantages over 4G — and while most people think of faster service, Magnussen stresses speed is just the start.
“5G is much faster, but if that was the only differentiator from 4G, all the investment it takes to make it possible wouldn’t really be worth it,” he says. Infrastructure changes to the 5G network deliver ultra-low latency, which can reduce the response time to enable things like connected cars, which need to communicate in an instant, Magnussen adds.
Another element of this fast response time is 5G’s ability to enable mobile edge compute, which reduces the need for the signal to “go all the way back to the core,” by placing the cloud right next to the cell node, Magnussen says.
“If you’ve got two vehicles trying to interface with each other, that signal doesn't have to go back to San Jose to be able to get a decision made, that's made with edge cloud system that's sitting right there at the cell site,” Magnussen explains.
And as the number of connected objects grow — body cameras, connected cars, street cameras — 5G is architected to support an expanded Internet of Things ecosystem. Moreover, network slicing capabilities allow agencies to divide the network and give each application what it needs most, Magnussen notes.
“If what a device needs is ultimately the highest level of security, I put it in a secure slice,” he says. “If really what it needs is massively fast throughput and a lot of download, I go ahead and put it in that slice. So instead of having to optimize the entire network, I can now optimize different parts of the network for each application.”
But as with most technologies, operations need to be considered, too. The largest change, according to Magnussen, will involve figuring out how to share information securely
“For the last 20 to 30 years, we’ve been relying on silos to protect our information,” he says. “Now, we need to share information across silos and that requires that we figure out how to keep the bad guys out while breaking the silos down.”
The good news is Magnussen and his team are already looking into several proofs of concept to securely improve interoperability. But a change in mindset and culture are needed to cement those changes
There are technologies and capabilities that haven’t been conceived yet that will be major game-changers, Magnussen says,
“We need people to start thinking outside of the box," he says. Stop thinking, ‘this is how we do things’ and start thinking about the challenges you encounter, how can 5G help you solve those? That’s why it’s great to have companies like Verizon pushing the envelope. They know how much more efficient the technology is and they want to help make it a reality.”
Learn more about how Verizon is working to deliver on the promise of 5G in public safety.