It started as a public safety network. In 1999, the State of Pennsylvania partnered with communications provider Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) on a consolidated public safety radio system for all state radio users. From there, as highlighted in a recent paper, “State of Pennsylvania: A Network for the Long Haul,” the network and the state’s partnership with Alcatel-Lucent has expanded. It now includes:
- A more robust network
- Priority trafficking
- Video and multimedia
- An ambitious project to bring affordable broadband to the state’s many rural residents
The first major upgrade of the state’s network came in 2008, when the Pennsylvania Office of Public Safety Radio Services (OPRS), which had been running the microwave-based consolidated radio network, wanted to improve resiliency in times of emergency.
“We had a very reliable network in place originally,” said the Jim Parcels, director of systems management for OPRS, in a recent video. “But in the event of a loss of a link on our backbone, the alternative routing and restoral process was fairly manual and somewhat time consuming. For a public safety network, that was a bit worrisome,” he added.
OPRS again looked to Alcatel-Lucent, which helped the State implement multi-protocol label switching (MPLS), which makes the network more efficient by managing and prioritizing network traffic. If a portion of the network went down, it would now automatically reroute traffic to another part of the network without compromising the system or requiring a worker to manually visit the troubled part of the network.
The upgrade to MPLS had other benefits, too: It cut costs by dynamically allocating bandwidth instead of allocating a set amount for each of the State’s applications.
With the newfound control, OPRS also decided to use part of a federal grant to implement aviation video that gives it the ability to stream live video to an incident commander via a camera on a helicopter to visually monitor areas during emergencies. It was successfully tested during the G20 Summit in 2009, Alcatel-Lucent said in the paper.
As can be seen in a recent video, the Pennsylvania State Police are using the network in their police patrols now, too, another type of public safety usage.
“They used to put the reports on their thumb drive and bring the thumb drive in at the end of the shift,” said Charlie Brennan, deputy secretary for public safety radio at OPRS, in the paper. “Now they just pump them up through the network.”
A $28.8 million project funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) also has Alcatel-Lucent and OPRS working on bringing affordable broadband to the many rural Pennsylvanians who currently only have broadband access at work.
Called the Middle Mile Project, Alcatel-Lucent and the State are increasing the network’s size and building additional capacity on top of the existing network that can then be leased out to providers such as AT&T (News - Alert), Verizon and Comcast, according to the paper. The network will stretch across the state.
“The state will be a middle mile provider so consumers have additional choices,” Brennan said.
In its more than 10-year history, the partnership between the State of Pennsylvania and Alcatel-Lucent has seen the network evolve from a basic public safety communication network into the backbone for a variety of services. And the network’s utility is still growing.
“We’re looking at things for our Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to measure things like how much salt they put on a roadway and the temperature of the roadway, and get that data back in real time,” said Brennan. “In the future, public safety will send fingerprints across the network, and they will identify people on the spot. It’s a big deal for our law enforcement people.”
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Edited by Peter Bernstein