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At the end of 2022, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) laid down the gauntlet on improving 911 reliability by issuing an order [FCC 22-88]...
Hidden beneath the buzz of 5G wireless network rollouts was the FCC auction of a band of spectrum that could spur a wave of private wireless network construction. With a host of use cases, from addressing urban dead zones to factory automation and connected campuses, private wireless operators and integrators are hard at work to figure out the many network deployments, operational configurations and requirements.
Absent from these industry standards and rollout guides are references to ensuring emergency communications. The vision of private wireless was mostly a data network. But as soon as a private wireless owner or operator allows for voice services, they will need to comply with the FCC’s rules requiring access to 911. With just one voice call, the private wireless operator becomes, in essence, a regulated carrier.
The Rise of Private Wireless
The FCC auction of mid-band (aka 3.5 GHz) spectrum included a range of frequencies mostly used by the U.S. Navy and fixed satellite services. Dubbed the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS, this bandwidth will allow mobile and cable network operators to fill in some of the coverage or performance gaps in their existing networks, as well as supplement their plans for fixed-wireless networking (perhaps as a replacement for traditional Wi-Fi).
CBRS will also enable businesses and other organizations to own and operate their own wireless networks within a confined area. Given the expected performance and reliability of such controlled networks, private wireless should enable greater industrial automation, as well as connectivity for “augmented” workers.
Private LTE and 5G networks are expected to grow at upwards of 50% per year between now and 2030, representing somewhere between 10,000 to 40,000 installations, according to analysts. With $4.5 billion spent on the CBRS auction, and billions more expected to be spent on hardware and software in the coming years, private wireless appears poised to become yet another entry on the public safety class-of-service list.
Designing Private Wireless for the Way People Expect to Communicate
Like any federally licensed spectrum, private wireless operators should follow FCC mandates for emergency communications, including call location, routing, and a caller’s ability to dial 911 directly (without a prefix, per Kari’s Law) from any network-connected device. As with E911 Regulations for enterprise multi-line telephone systems (MLTS), private wireless operators (depending on the use cases and services provided) will also need to ensure that first responders have access to a connected worker’s dispatchable location.
Be it for voice and/or data, owning a private wireless network will likely feel more like operating a public mobile network than an enterprise or VoIP network. Private networks will be more integral to the operations of an enterprise. People will become more conjoined with the infrastructure. Calling these networks “private” does not change the expectations of how people will want to communicate.
911 & Worker Safety Cannot Be an Afterthought
Private network design must keep critical communications in mind. We have examples across the information and communications technology space where tacking on safety and security at the end of an infrastructure deployment leads to unintended consequences, most notably in cybersecurity.
Many organizations have struggled with securing their networks and data; it is not core to their business, and they may not have the resources and skillsets to manage it properly. Unfortunately, the default was to reach out to cyber specialists at the end of their process, only to learn that trying to rewrite code and protocols was overly complicated and expensive, added instabilities, and delayed rollouts.
For private wireless network installations, treating public safety as an afterthought might have similar consequences. Like cybersecurity, failure can lead to preventable disruption to the business. On the other hand, incorporating safety early in the design can be a competitive advantage, particularly when recruiting and retaining a high-performing workforce. Besides the legal and regulatory implications, connected workers expect and value knowing that whenever and from wherever they call 911 for help, they will be able to reach a first responder.
Getting Started with Private Wireless for Enterprises
Intrado can assist you in the design stage by mapping out known network and deployment challenges to ensure proper emergency communications are available when they are needed now or down the road.
In our whitepaper, Private Wireless for Enterprises: Managing Complexity, Location and & Reporting Requirements, you can get detailed information on key considerations:
Network architecture complexity
Location accuracy for routing and dispatch of emergency services
Information management and reporting requirements
It also has an Emergency Communications Readiness Checklist to provide guidance and help avoid network and deployment challenges.
Private wireless presents an opportunity to adapt mobile network technologies to fill connectivity gaps in the marketplace, but with those communication opportunities come all the responsibilities associated with public safety. As valuable and integral as private networks will become to your operations and automation initiatives, 911 solutions should be as integral to your network designs and the automation of workplace safety and peace of mind.