A Sign of the Revolution to Come in Public Safety Communications

Have you heard of Zello? It’s a free app that provides push-to-talk and one-to-many communications capability over a smart phone. Protestors in Ukraine and Venezuela have been using it to coordinate their actions. Push-to-talk and one-to many-communications are also the kind of functionality that first responders use every day on traditional land mobile radio (LMR) systems and they are key capabilities first responders need to transition from LMR to a broadband network for voice traffic. I wouldn’t claim Zello is the voice over LTE solution for public safety. There are a myriad of issues (access to the Internet in emergency situations, power, is it rugged enough?, etc.) that need to be dealt with and any solution like this needs extensive testing but it does show enormous potential. As Clayton Christensen pointed out in the Innovators Dilemma, industry leaders are often upended by cheaper and less robust alternatives. The solution that once seemed impractical improves bit by bit until it becomes a viable and much cheaper alternative.

Zello is an example of how extensive a revolution public safety, and all communications in general, are in for. WhatsApp, which provides a free way to text message, just sold to Facebook for $19 billion because 450 million people and counting around the world use it instead of their carriers. They also just announced that they will offer a voice service.

Old business models will be upended. Providers of traditionally expensive and/or proprietary equipment/solutions (land mobile radio, the major carriers, dispatch console manufacturers, and countless others) are going to see their business models challenged. Over the next generation we will see a complete revolution in public safety communications that will vastly increase capability and significantly lower cost. I can’t wait.