With the growing sophistication and increased level of security threats, the need for better situational awareness and closer cross-agency collaborations has become ever more pressing. Accordingly, public safety agencies are evolving their mission-critical communications infrastructure toward the highly efficient, flexible capabilities of internet protocol (IP) to enhance first responder effectiveness and safety. The bedrock for this evolution is a new, converged backhaul network architecture grounded in Internet Protocol/Multiprotocol Label Switching (IP/MPLS) atop packet microwave and optical transport infrastructure.
The demands are high. Public safety agencies looking to evolve to IP/MPLS require a mission-critical communications network that meets a set of stringent requirements (see Figure 1). It must be reliable and resilient in order to ensure uninterrupted communications even in the face of severe storms, floods, terrorism and other types of unexpected emergencies. To provide effective response, enhanced situational awareness becomes essential. Consequently, the new network also needs to have flexible service convergence to adopt new applications, including fourth-generation wireless technology of Long Term Evolution (LTE) that can offer increased channel capacity and improved spectrum efficiency, and network scalability to accommodate growing video and data traffic. To protect communications investment, it also must be fully interoperable with existing land mobile radio systems and applications such as simulcast, and be ready to evolve as necessary.
Like its time-division multiplexing-based predecessor, an IP/MPLS-based backhaul network offers constant, reliable and secure communications to connect first responders with one another, the dispatch center and the data center, ensuring that all public safety personnel are connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Although legacy backhaul networks are typically based on a traditional access-aggregation-core ring architecture, the packet-based paradigm of IP-MPLS backhaul allows flexible deployment of interconnected rings. This multi-ring topology, coupled with dynamic IP/MPLS, can restore traffic at synchronous optical networking (SONET) speed using fast re-route capability when one node or link in the ring goes down. Moreover, during multi-fault scenarios, which are not uncommon during natural disasters, it can rapidly reestablish critical communications with a secondary label switched path with remaining network connectivity. Therefore, a multi-ring IP/MPLS network allows better availability and resiliency, with much less chance of one incident — a storm or other disaster — disrupting critical communications. Combining SONET-speed restoration and multi-fault resiliency with other protection mechanisms — including pseudowire and control hardware redundancies, nonstop routing and services, deterministic QoS, microwave link adaptive modulation and 1+1 protection switching — critical traffic will be preserved even under inclement conditions.
Flexibility and Scalability
An integral element for enhancing situational awareness is broadband communications that give first responders and dispatch center personnel a 360-degree perspective on any event with high-definition video, drones and other rich data applications such as geographic information systems. A new Long Term Evoluton (LTE) high-speed wireless data radio system is central to this broadband infrastructure. In addition, public safety agencies can deploy advanced applications such as high-definition closed-circuit television and sensors to gather greater quantities of data for advanced analytics such as gunshot detection and facial recognition, allowing them to act more effectively.
The key for supporting all of these features is the convergence flexibility provided by IP/MPLS backhaul. The use of IP/MPLS virtual private network services can accommodate all public safety applications with complete segregation and security (encryption can be enabled with ease for sensitive applications) over the same network, resulting in improved network operational efficiency when compared with the paradigm of disparate networks. This paradigm is commonly known as network segmentation. Furthermore, the support of IP virtual private network and service-aware statefull firewall in the IP/MPLS platform also facilitates controlled, secure communications between different agencies for closer collaborations. Additionally, other government agencies and operations will be able to attain budget savings by using the spare capacity. With highly customizable classification policy, deterministic multiclass QoS in IP/MPLS treats all traffic with the appropriate priority and ensures no performance degradation for critical applications in a properly designed network.
Complementing the virtual private network and QoS capabilities is network scalability. As video and data traffic grow, the backhaul network capacity needs to be able to scale up. An IP/MPLS platform with integrated microwave awareness and wavelength-division multiplexing networking support, together with a unified network services platform, simplifies the process of deploying additional microwave channels or optical Ethernet links. The unified network services platform facilitates network and services management across IP/MPLS, optical and microwave domains, attaining optimal operational efficiencies and agility.
As governments worldwide continue to face budget constraints, they need to invest prudently with a long-term horizon. Ultimately, IP/MPLS backhaul will offer public safety agencies of today the migration capability to gracefully bridge the past to the future with full interoperability with critical legacy applications in use today, full network scalability to 10 Gbps, and even 100 Gbps link coupled with wavelength-division multiplexing optics when necessary, and software-defined networking to prepare for future capabilities requirement such as insight-driven automation and optimization. Accordingly, public safety agencies can continue to use current life-critical applications such as land mobile radio system and simulcast without disruptions and can adopt new technologies with no constraints. This approach protects agencies’ overall communications investment and offers an evolvable foundation for more advanced (e.g., LTE) public safety communications capabilities.
Public safety is in the middle of momentous changes. The familiar land mobile radio in every police car, on every fire engine and in every ambulance will eventually give way to a new generation of ruggedized devices that look like smartphones and tablets. Critical data and video will play an expanding role, alongside critical voice, in first responders’ services. The backhaul network that ties everything together must work even harder and stretch beyond today’s capabilities. This is creating the need for a new approach to continue delivering life-critical communications, whether that be voice, video or data. With converged IP/MPLS backhaul, government agencies at all levels around the world are ready to strengthen public safety, increase operational efficiency, improve collaboration among jurisdictions and agencies at all levels, and augment city services — all while benefiting from an efficient, future-ready platform for future network expansion, ready to embrace emerging applications to address new communications needs.
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Fai Lam is marketing director for IP/optical networks at Nokia.