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APCO Conference & Expo: One Big Sandbox

By Mike Collado
August 21st, 2012

Exhibit Floor at APCO

Remember the Reese’s commercial? “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate; you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”

It’s no revelation that when it comes to communications networks, the public safety and commercial cellular worlds have a tradition of territorialism and, well, mutual mistrust.

“I don’t want those guys messing around with my network.”

We heard this from both camps during our conversations at the APCO International 78th Annual Conference & Expo, set against the beautiful and crisp backdrop of Minneapolis.

The proverbial “gotcha” from the commercial, of course, was that combining peanut butter and chocolate turned out to be a good thing.

Public safety is about ensuring communications. It’s one big sandbox and the participants must coexist.

Through the efforts of FirstNet and other initiatives such as the Safer Building Coalition – not to mention the evangelizing being done by many of the participants we met this week – the two sides are nudging toward one another.


One of the key objectives of FirstNet is to ensure effective emergency communication. During the “Partnership Opportunities with Commercial Wireless Providers” session, Don Brittingham of Verizon nailed it when he said that only way to accomplish this mission is through a partnership between public safety and the WSPs.

(For a great wrap-up of this session, see Donny Jackson’s coverage in Urgent Communications)

Imagine there’s a building fire. The first responder needs to have radio coverage, right? But what about the person stranded on the 15th floor that needs to communicate to the first responders that he needs help?

The appointment of the FirstNet board, which includes leadership from both the public safety and commercial cellular worlds, is an important step in aligning the stakeholders and setting the direction of this $7B initiative to deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network (PSBN).

In-Building and Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS)

A common point of failure in public safety or commercial cellular communications is inside of large buildings. Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are proven and widely-used platforms for delivering commercial wireless coverage. But DAS manufacturers and integrators who design and deploy these networks are increasingly also supporting public safety on the network.

That’s evident from the attendance of DAS integrators including Connectivity Wireless and CSI at APCO.

The agenda also included a panel – the “In-Building Technology Update”. SOLiD’s Seth Buechley joined Minfei Leng at Bird Technologies Group and Greg Glenn of TriPower who argued against the traditional approach of installing separate, parallel in-building networks: one for commercial cellular and the other for public safety. Instead, Greg Glenn believes that a system that converges both public safety and commercial cellular signals is a preferred method of eliminating potential RF interference when compared to two systems.

Based upon the number of heads that were both nodding in agreement and disagreement during the panel, the public safety and commercial cellular industries need more forums for debate and education as well as programs designed to solve the common problem of public safety communication.

FirstNet, panels at industry events and other field-level initiatives all work together to help achieve the core mission of public safety communications.

Safer Buildings Coalition

One of  those initiatives being advanced is the Safer Building Coalition (SOLiD is a founding member).

This organization is calling upon the public safety and commercial cellular industries to support public safety communications using DAS.

One element is policy. Specifically, the creation of a framework that includes fire codes that require new commercial cellular DAS deployments to also accommodate public safety radio frequencies.

Another is certification standards for anyone who installs and inspects a DAS that supports both public safety and commercial cellular service. Having a set of standards works toward addressing the blame game and other concerns of public safety and commercial cellular field engineers. After all, both sides are seeking the same thing – public safety communications.

Did you attend APCO? Tell us what resonated with you.

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