The Dichotomy of Technology

The Dichotomy of Technology

Working for Avaya, I get to see lots of technology and innovation based around communications enablement. While the bulk of that technology is designed to enable day-to-day business communications and unified user communications, some of that technology is focused on public safety-related products.

For the most part, these technologies can be segmented into three primary silos, or buckets.

The first silo is the originating network used to generate emergency communications from people in need of help. The second is the backbone network that carries the originating traffic to its destination. Finally, the third is around the public safety network that answers those calls for assistance.

For as long as emergency communications have existed, a dichotomy (or potentially a trichotomy of technology) has existed, as the pendulum of innovation swings back and forth. Each side of the equation–the public safety answering point and user–is advancing, but never at the same time, and certainly not at the same speed. Therefore, the best possible result for a common end-to-end technology is usually yesterday’s news, creating a technology gap that can be frustrating to both sides. In the enterprise, the core and the edge move more uniformly together.

Before telephones existed, most communities relied on the town crier to walk the streets delivering relevant news and information. While it may have been effective for the people it reached, its ability to scale and expand was limited by the lack of technology for communications and transportation.

When Alexander Graham Bell called out for help in his lab when he spilled acid on himself, Watson heard him over the prototype telephone, but that was a closed network, with no connectivity to the outside world.

After telephones had been invented, and were deployed widely to citizens and police departments, a person in need of help needed to know the location of where they were, the number of the agency they needed to call, as well as what was wrong.

In 1968, 911 was invented and quickly rolled out to many areas. While the access problem was solved (as calls were now delivered to public safety through a single, universal three-digit number that would be valid everywhere), public safety still had no idea who called, or from where.

As the pendulum swung forward, enhanced 911 provided emergency personnel with the billing address of record information for a phone number, however, the rapidly expanding cellular industry now allowed telephones to become more mobile.

But that swing quickly reached its apex, as no technology existed for the cellular device to report its location to public safety, let alone the network, as GPS technology was still in its infancy.

As desktop computing platform power became more affordable, a surge in technology and applications occurred that allowed public safety to automate their systems and processes on the backend, becoming more efficient and “connected.”

Advances in the cellular network added GPS functionality, but that information was only relevant to the actual cellular providers, who would in turn provide that information to the appropriate 911 call-taker regardless of where they are.

Desktop computing investments led to computers that were portable, luggable, and finally notebook-sized, allowing for easy transport.

The third player in this trifecta, the network, had been neglected since nearly day one. In the world of today’s high-speed Internet backbone, and speeds to individuals rivaling what some developing countries may have had 10 years ago, public safety has fallen into the trap of two intelligent nodes adjacent to each other, with no communication path, or one that would handle the new data types and formats available on today’s smart devices.

Building the next-generation 911 network. Where do you start?

As we get closer to delivering the next-generation 911 network for tomorrow, many network engineers and architects ponder where to start building.

This question is not as difficult as it may seem. The answer is to start wherever you can. The answer is to continue wherever you can. The answer is to complete whatever you can.

Why? Because the network–when it is ready for next-generation 911–will be able to accept and terminate next-generation 911 calls. But that can’t happen until all of the pieces are ready. Because of this, the challenge becomes establishing an operational point where you can utilize technology to deliver the services that you require today, but will allow you an easy migration into the emergency services IP network, and NG 911.

While many will be content to sit back and watch the pendulum swing from side to side, Avaya believes we have the technology, the network, and the thought leadership to orchestrate an end-to-end solution that has the required resiliency, redundancy, and uptime for this mission critical, life-saving initiative.

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911

Read my other AVAYA CONNECTED Blogs

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he provides the strategic roadmap and direction of Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, and co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the EU, where he provides insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.

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