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5G and the Effect on the Fire Service

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Today, 5G, like so many new technologies, begins its roll out in major metropolitan areas based on a business case of need and volume of subscribers. Sonim Technologies, which is a manufacturer of phones for use in rugged environments, is keying its product development on 5G-enabled devices. MITRE Engenuity, which is a technology foundation that collaborates with the private sector on challenges that demand a public-interest solution, including next-generation communications, announced the creation of a 5G “Open Generation Consortium” to bring together government and industry “to drive radical collaboration and breakthrough 5G innovation,” including in the United States. The consortium will explore various public safety and business use cases and will work with public safety stakeholders to test various applications.

Generally speaking, 5G is expected to provide lightning-fast speed for data uploads and downloads. The fire service, like other verticals in business, is becoming more and more dependent on data, and 5G will have numerous effects. Multiple references indicate that the difference to 5G from 4G will far exceed the speed that was experienced in the transition to 4G from 3G, and the transition to 4G technology truly enhanced mobile broadband and video streaming.

Presently, most of the country operates on a 4G LTE network on almost all wireless carriers. However, when it comes to 5G, there are varying factors that determine download/upload speeds. The difference in 5G is affected by transmitters that were upgraded; the spectrum that’s used; the amount of spectrum that’s used; the bandwidth allocation for each connection; the 5G device that’s connected; the data modem that’s in the device; data-compression techniques; the channel width when connected to the network; and the actual demand at any given time. In short, the speed of 5G is complex, and as the combination of factors that are listed above change, so does the speed. Estimates on the speed of 5G vary between 400 Mbps to 1.5 Gbps, depending on the factors. A number of reports peg today’s average download speed over 4G LTE is 35 Mbps.

What it means to us

To understand the progress forward, it’s important to take a look back on the previous levels of communications over the wireless carrier networks.

  • 1G provided analog voice (wireless phone calls)
  • 2G transitioned to digital voice and text messaging
  • 3G evolved into the start of mobile data
  • 4G enables mobile broadband (new apps, video streaming and simultaneous operations)

5G’s popularity is based on the belief that it not only will provide faster performance but that it also will perform with less latency and will operate at a much higher degree of reliability. The combination of these factors will expand into almost every industry, including the fire service.

When it comes to fire station and fire service automation, 5G will be a game changer. 5G will dramatically increase data transfer and will enable a comprehensive new connectivity between responders, fire apparatus and fire stations. Imagine connectivity that monitors health biometrics of firefighters, z-axis (elevation) location of lost firefighters in buildings and EMS patient biometrics, including interfacing directly with medical centers. The effect on the fire service also will include automation of fire station operations (doors/systems), automated detection and cleansing of carcinogens/viruses, and apparatus connectivity with navigation applications, such as Waze, and with other vehicles, to warn of an approaching emergency vehicle and to redirect nonemergency vehicular traffic.

Once 5G is fully implemented, and with enhanced apparatus technology, it’s conceivable to design autonomous fire response vehicles that will deploy 5G technology. The 5G technology will maintain appropriate control and speed of apparatus and to detect and avoid pedestrians, vehicles and obstacles. Sensors might be on apparatus to alert firefighters and dispatch to the presence of hazardous substances on arrival at an emergency scene, such as a traffic accident or a chemical plant.

What to do now?

Although visions of faster download speeds and a multitude of applications might be dancing in everyone’s head, the full realization of 5G will take some time. It isn’t advisable to rush and make huge investments in 5G devices without understanding what is available and how, in fact, devices can deliver performance through speed and meaningful fire service/EMS applications. The most important thing that departments can do today is to become familiar with 5G, understand 5G capabilities in your respective community and to explore the 5G devices that are available. It would be wise to work with your wireless carrier to experiment with the 5G network, devices and applications in comparison with the 4G LTE networks. Challenge the assertions of 5G performance and value until you are satisfied that the time is right for your department to invest.

Lastly, when interfacing mission-critical systems and communications with 5G, be certain to address the security of the devices and systems to ensure reliability and to prevent hostile takeover by others who would wish to disrupt operations and/or do harm to responders and civilians. Be sure to take advantage of your department’s information-technology personnel. You want to seek their assistance for help to protect against cyber and denial-of-service attacks and to prevent system hacking.

5G combined with other technologies, applications and integrations into other smart systems most certainly will continue to enhance the abilities of firefighters and medics to save lives and property. Additionally, 5G must be pressed by the fire service to enhance the safety of firefighters when engaged in activities while serving their community.