The unavailability of broadband spectrum is an impediment to unlocking the fully potential value of the technologies available to enhance the public safety and security.
Public safety entails the collaboration of multi stakeholders whose operations are not office-bound.

Instead they are in the field to access and exchange realtime, secure information in order to increase the efficiency in the operation.

Video surveillance, facial recognition geographic information systems have become the fundamentals in development of safety and security ICT solutions.

These applications are still largely restricted for office use as current critical communication voice-centric network cannot transfer the information to the field, where it is needed most.

Rose Moyo, wireless solutions director of Huawei Enterprise Business Group, explains that robust broadband could go a long way in supporting the efforts of ensuring safety in the cities.

Security, emergency services and disaster management lack situational awareness in the event of an incident, crime or disaster, she points out.

It’s no longer good enough to rely on – surveillance as a deterrent and use of footage as valuable evidence to make cities safer, Moyo says. “You don’t want to just record what happens and review it later – you need to be react to what is happening, in real time.”

And static surveillance doesn’t tick all the boxes anymore, either. “You need to have constant data about the movement of people – they don’t stay in one area.”

Being able to monitor incidents wherever they occur is vital, but technology needs to go further and provide identification services based on facial recognition, fingerprint recognition, licence plate recognition or other features.

“This kind of information may be gathered at the site of an incident, then analysed real-time off-site and the filed operators fed with the relevant results,” Moyo says. “This can’t happen on a narrow-band network.”

In a world where incidents and respondents are highly mobile, and there is a wealth of rich data types available of high-end analysis, it’s critical that a broadband network be made available for public safety services.

Narrow-band services are perfectly adequate for voice communications, Moyo adds, but when it comes to adding mobile multimedia it just won’t make the grade.

“The key enabler of safe cities is going to be the spectrum,” she says. “And this, in turn, is driven by the current security situation and the data that’s needed to manage it.

“At the moment, we are missing an opportunity to have much more effective policing, emergency and rescue services, and managing disasters with access to relevant realtime information.”

Data from the field – from surveillance cameras, field operators and the public, needs to be made available to control centres as it happens, where it can be analysed and the relevant information sent back to operators on the scene.

“This needs to happen instantly, so that field operators are able to make the right decisions based on the correct information relating to what is happening in the instant.

“And mobile communications, where everyone has the right information at the right time, could well translate into lives being saved.”

Apart from greatly improving safety and security services’ ability to respond to incidents, applying modern technology can help to improve citizens’ experience and save money.

Imagine the difference in a roadblock that is using facial recognition or licence plate recognition to feedback information instantly – the time savings are enormous, citizens don’t have to be unnecessarily inconvenience, and the chances of a successful outcome are improved.

“But it’s not possible using the current narrow-band technology.”

Research conducted in the UK indicates that the social benefits alone from wireless broadband in public protection and disaster recovery added up to 5-billion pounds per year.

These saving would accrue from interventions that would be avoided if better technology was employed, from increased efficiency in safety officials, and from traffic improvements.

In addition, should an incident occur, accurate location, realtime navigation, cross collaboration and effective data communication between agencies ensures timely responses, thereby minimising damages and/or fatalities.

At the same time, modern and efficient services lead to improved citizen confidence and appreciation.

Africa has embraced mobile technology. And mobile, in turn, has helped to fundamentally change the face of Africa.

Mobile operators are constantly offering more and better services which require more spectrum.

But Moyo argues that public safety mustn’t be overlooked in the scramble for spectrum. “Security is fundamentally important, so there shouldn’t be any question of competing with the public mobile operators.”

“Mobile technologies have transformed lives and enabled enormous positive impacts in Africa at various levels and facets – except in the domain of safety and security, which is crucial.”

Public safety communications are currently carried on the Tetra and DMR networks, using narrow channels in the 400MHz band.

LTE requires broader bandwidth, with a minimum of 3MHz and ideally 10MHz channels. To avoid conflict with commercial operators, engagement and collaboration is encouraged.

Frequency harmonisation with commerce operators is also going to be important for public safety broadband, Moyo adds. “If we harmonise the frequency, manufacturers can make standardised devices which will be a lot more affordable.”

So much of the new technology is available now, and could be used in African cities tomorrow.

“But the spectrum is the enabler; the key to safe cities,” Moyo says.

“We are calling for dedicated PPDR (public protection and disaster recovery) spectrum to be made available, not only in South Africa but throughout the region.”

The South Africa regulator, ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) would drive the process locally, then the regional regulator, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) would have to adopt and ratify the spectrum allocation to ensure harmonisation.

This will allow safety services throughout Africa to use cost-effective new technologies to improve their services, save lives, give citizens a better experience, and save money.

Huawei has implemented safe city technologies in Nairobi, Kenya, where dedicated broadband spectrum in the 450MH band was allocated.

Moyo points out that the allocation of lower bands, with lower frequency, increases the distance that can be covered – which is important because public safety has to be universal and cut across all economic bands.

A number of other African countries have also moved to allocate broadband spectrum for PPDR and, as a result, are well ahead of South Africa in the deployment of smart cities and safe cities.

For instance, Kenya and Mauritius are focusing on public safety, starting with systems to enable better traffic management. “They have already adopted a broadband systems based on LTE that allows for voice, video and data,” Moyo says.

Meanwhile, Ghana is trialling a number of initiatives, using broadband technology for a national network that would be available to all emergency and security resources.

“Right now, South Africa is missing an opportunity to solve some of its social and security problems – even though the technology to do so it available,” Moyo concludes.