The Future of Mission-Critical LTE Communications


A Recap from IWCE LTE Forum Chicago

Earlier last month, a group of technology professionals, public safety agencies, and enterprise and government representatives gathered in Chicago at the IWCE Critical LTE Communications Forum. The conference explored the challenges and solutions for mapping the transition from voice-centric land mobile radio (LMR) to mission-critical multimedia LTE network solutions.

The key themes of the conference centered on the transition from LMR to LTE, and what technology solutions are needed for mission-critical LTE.

The Transition from LMR to LTE: As mission-critical communication needs evolve from being voice-centric to including multimedia data, including group chats and video applications, there is a need for more sophisticated and reliable LTE networks. An ecosystem of players is gathering to create the solutions and applications for enterprise, government and public safety organizations to transition to LTE networks that provide secure, reliable voice, data and multimedia for emergency services and other mission-critical events.

Technology Solutions for Mission-Critical LTE: Device-to-device communications, focusing on mission-critical data, video and Push-To-Talk (PTT) applications, requires high levels of interoperability and collaboration across multiple industries and groups. From operators to device manufacturers to solutions providers, the ecosystem requires interoperable standards and open solutions for mission-critical LTE to become a reality. And it’s a big opportunity – for example, there are currently more than 3.5 million PTT users who will need to migrate over to mission-critical LTE in a seamless, reliable transition.

During the forum, Kyocera participated in a panel with several key partners who are collaborating to bring the mission-critical LTE ecosystem together. We spoke about Kyocera rugged mobile devices and how they are built to survive harsh environments, drops, water spills and hazardous conditions, all with a lower total cost of ownership. Kyocera phones deliver the features needed for critical communications, from security, to 810G and IP68 certification for protection against dust, water, shock, vibration, extreme temperatures and more, to dedicated PTT buttons, long-lasting batteries and dual front-facing speakers for noisy conditions.

Our partners and co-panelists who are helping to navigate the shift to mission-critical LTE and build solutions that serve multiple verticals, from public safety, to transportation, logistics, utilities and hospitality, included:

  • ESChat: Josh Lober, President and CEO, ESChat
    ESChat (Enterprise Secure Chat) is dedicated to providing solutions for secure PTT voice, group text messaging and live location tracking & mapping. With a focus on the interoperability between communication technologies, ESChat is enabling a more seamless and secure LMR to LTE transition. The ESChat secure communication platform is compliant to the 3GPP’s mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) standards and ensures interoperability between MCPTT vendors on various mobile devices.
  • Blueforce Development: Michael Helfrich, Founder and CEO Blueforce Development Corporation.
    Blueforce Development specializes in providing products and services that enhance safety, increase operational efficiency and enable better decisions, particularly in the defense, law-enforcement and security industries. By transmitting vital, actionable information in real time, Blueforce helps ground teams in making split-second decisions. Mission-critical LTE helps overcome challenges like low visibility and information fidelity, especially when it comes to visuals, and is an important part of the solution in transmitting data quickly, reliably and securely.
  • Visual Labs: Alex Popof, Founder and CEO, Visual Labs, Inc.
    Visual Labs, which calls itself the “the body camera company that doesn’t make body cameras,” specializes in live streaming with body cameras. Solving connectivity limitations faced by traditional body camera solutions, Visual Labs utilizes mission-critical LTE to provide real-time situational awareness via live video feeds, significantly enhancing officer safety in crisis situations.

As key vertical industries, including government, military, municipalities, public safety, school districts and more, look to make the transition to mission-critical LTE, the ecosystem is coming together to support the evolution in the most seamless, secure and reliable way possible. From carrier support to handset manufacturers’ new features and capabilities to solutions providers, critical communications are being upgraded in a major way with real-time location, video, group chat and multimedia applications, as well as rugged, built-to-survive mobile devices.

Kyocera and BlueForce Development Corporation Collaborate to Support Affordable Mobile Counter-Terrorism Applications


One of my favorite parts of working in the mobile industry is collaborating with Kyocera’s partners to find new ways to leverage our technology and create new use cases for our rugged devices. Earlier this year, I posted a blog regarding one of Kyocera’s software partners, Blueforce Development Corporation, a company focused on providing products and services that enhance safety, increase operational efficiency and enable better decisions, primarily in the defense, law-enforcement and security industries. Blueforce’s sweet spot is delivering network-centric computing for those requiring the highest degree of security, mobility and interoperability. Blueforce is a perfect match for Kyocera because it has a customer base that operates in rugged environments, and its solution requires a mobile device that can dependably withstand these conditions without the need for a protective case.

One of the ways Kyocera differentiates its devices for potentially dangerous jobs is by certifying them to “HAZLOC” (or “Hazardous Location”) Class I Division 2 standards. Blueforce has stated that it is imperative to use a properly certified device if you work around hazardous materials – an area in which Kyocera excels. Blueforce endorsed our rugged devices – specifically Kyocera’s Brigadier, DuraForce and DuraForce XD ruggedized smartphones – for providing workers in high-risk settings peace of mind that their smartphones are certified for protection in “hazardous locations where concentrations of flammable gases, vapors or mists are not normally present in an explosive concentration (but may accidentally exist).” In addition, Blueforce has also endorsed Kyocera’s Class I, Division 2-certified devices as offering “the necessary and robust level of protection, full ruggedization and the affordability and convenience of an off-the-shelf solution from the nation’s leading wireless service providers.”

Blueforce has worked with multiple government organizations and agencies that are tapping into the technology and capabilities of today’s smartphones to turn them into cost-efficient sensors to help with counter-terrorism efforts around the globe. Given their strength, durability and ruggedness, Kyocera’s devices have been popular with Blueforce and government agencies looking to implement new technologies in the field.

For example, underground tunnels have become a huge area of concern and pose a threat to our military, law-enforcement and government operations. Kyocera’s North American headquarters are in San Diego, where cross-border tunnels used for drug and human smuggling from Mexico are regularly discovered. Given this type of risk, Blueforce was approached to develop software that could help combat these new threats and turn mobile devices into smart sensors that could withstand the harshest environments and provide dependable battery life for up to ten to twelve hours at a time. More and more government agencies are looking for cost-effective alternatives to expensive ground-sensor hardware. Blueforce has developed a software solution, tested on the Kyocera Brigadier, that turns smartphones into motion and acoustic sensors running software plug-ins for both underground and unattended sensor scenarios.

Counter-Terrorism Applications for Military Personnel

For our military personnel, a feared scenario is one in which our adversaries are smuggling humans, narcotics, and/or WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) through tunnel systems here and abroad. GPS tracking and coverage continues to present our military and other government agencies with challenges, as many technologies today will not work when they lose contact with satellite or cellular networks. This is most often seen during interior operations where operations take place inside of structures or tunnels, the latter of which often presents 100 percent GPS-denied environments.

Earlier this summer, Blueforce was asked by a Department of Defense (DoD) agency to demonstrate and evaluate a solution that used body-worn smart devices (like smartphones, tablets, and heads-up display systems) to track agents and the environments around them as they deployed in in-structure and underground environments. This entailed not only location tracking in GPS-denied environments, but also biotelemetry and multi-gas/chemical/radiological sensing. Blueforce executed the test program by using the Kyocera Brigadier in Wi-Fi mode at the mouth of a tunnel system and pushing Blueforce sensor data via low-wattage Wi-Fi through Mobile Ad-Hoc Network (MANET) radios. The Brigadier, using Blueforce Tactical, also incorporated gamma radiation and multi-gas chemical detection alongside the seismic and acoustic activity.

“The Kyocera Brigadiers and their operators were deployed throughout a one-kilometer underground tunnel, and the combined solution performed flawlessly during this pilot test,” said Michael Helfrich, CEO of Blueforce Development Corporation. “The Brigadier also delivered noted reliability in a high-heat environment, consistently providing 10-12 hours of battery life with Blueforce Tactical running on the device nonstop. Meanwhile, other mobile devices succumbed to the heat and simply stopped operating during the testing.”

The rugged Brigadier (and its cousin, the Kyocera DuraForce) is an ideal device for hostile environments and has the most appropriate set of communications tools, environmental and power features that Blueforce has seen to date, largely because of its Class I, Division 2 Nonincendive and MIL-STD-810G certifications. During the tests, the Brigadier was able to withstand 101-103 degree heat and was in direct sunlight most of the day, while also thriving in rainstorms and heavy dust.

Blueforce’s “ugsONE” Ushers in New Capabilities for Unattended Surveillance

During the Gulf Wars, unattended ground sensors (UGSs) used by the U.S. military were highly proprietary systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars – many were priced at more than $100,000 each – and were highly fixed in their capabilities. U.S. agencies have since been interested in developing a “system of systems” approach, where a network of UGSs could be constructed on the fly from disparate sensors using inexpensive, but secure, means to move sensor data. In all cases, these “just-in-time” systems could be left behind to protect their operators because of their low cost.

Combining the capabilities of built-in smartphone accelerometer, gyroscope and microphone sensors for detecting motion, vibration and sound presents great opportunity for unattended surveillance, so Blueforce built a new Tactical plugin that monitors seismic and acoustic activity to trigger the on-board Kyocera cameras to capture imagery and send it to the nearest Blueforce user, and/or to a command and control center. The plugin is called “ugsONE” and uses the core Blueforce system to provide pre-processing and detection, awareness, and subsequent secure movement of sensor detections to quick-reaction forces and tactical operations centers.

Blueforce Development Unattended Ground Sensors (UGSs)

Users can set thresholds of motion, vibration or sound to notify the device to begin capturing still or video images. During the aforementioned DoD test and evaluation, Kyocera Brigadiers were used to construct unattended ground sensors. The ugsONE/Brigadier solution successfully detected ground robots approaching the senor locations based on seismic activity.

Recently, Blueforce had a customer that was in need of a rapidly deployable UGS system that also allowed for breach detection and stand-off surveillance. The new ugsONE plugin delivered by leveraging Brigadier’s on-board accelerometer/gyroscope, plus the microphone and cameras, to detect human motion around the sensor. Once a detection was received, mobile users as well as tactical-operations centers were able to open the microphone on the Kyocera device and “listen live.”

“Using the Kyocera Brigadier, Blueforce was able to monitor entryways to the tunnels and any nefarious tampering with the ground sensor,” said Helfrich. “After the 48-hour pilot, during which there were several storms and severe heat, the Kyocera Brigadier was left standing and still reporting, and the device had discovered and reported several perimeter breaches. It was also used to monitor other critical infrastructure data such as detecting ground robots and sending pictures back to the command center, and reading seismic activity and sound.”

The future for Blueforce and Kyocera looks very promising, potentially delivering an incredibly cost-efficient underground monitoring solution for less than $1,000 per device. Government and military agencies are spending close to $40,000 per device on similar sensor equipment today. This potential cost savings, coupled with Kyocera’s rugged hardware and Blueforce’s advanced software solutions, could change underground monitoring and sensor solutions down the road, making all of us safer and protecting the men and women who so bravely put their lives on the line to protect us. For more information on Blueforce, check out their blog or call them at 866-960-0204.

John is director of corporate communications at Kyocera. He has worked on the Kyocera team shaping its communications strategy over the past 15 years – 13 of those years in-house and two with a Kyocera agency partner. John has always had a passion for writing and began his career as a newspaper reporter at the Whittier Daily News, part of a multi-paper syndicate in Los Angeles. When not working, he and his wife can usually be found coaching, shuttling, refereeing or cheering for his three sons and their numerous plays, concerts and sports teams.