Apps Have Changed Our Lives, Will They Change Public Safety?

“The world is being re-shaped by the convergence of social, mobile, cloud, big data, community and other powerful forces. The combination of these technologies unlocks an incredible opportunity to connect everything together in a new way and is dramatically transforming the way we live and work.” –Mark Benioff There is no denying that cellular data networks and devices have revolutionized the way that the average American citizen communicates, works, socializes, navigates, and lives.  It’s hard to believe that the iPhone has only been around since 2007, not even 10 years, and yet iPhones and the apps we use on them are now an integral part of daily life for many people.  My iPhone has replaced many functions/devices in my life, including my alarm clock, my planner/scheduler, my “To Do” notebook, any kind of physical maps, and in some cases even my computer since I can read/write emails, schedule meetings, and even check Facebook or read the New York Times directly from my phone.   What facilitates all of this change is not necessarily the network or device itself, but rather the applications that we download onto the device.  The commercial application market has absolutely exploded since the launch of the “smartphone” and continues to be a booming ecosystem where app developers are continuously creating the latest “can’t live without” app.  As evidence, consider that Facebook purchased Instagram, a popular photo editing/sharing app, for $1 billion.  That’s a billion, with a ‘B’.

It stands to reason that creating an LTE broadband network for public safety will have similar results on the way public safety operates and/or uses data and applications. Apps2 Indeed, a major impetus for the creation of FirstNet and the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) has been to provide first responders with increased access to data and devices capable of running next-generation applications. The possibilities are endless when imagining the potential devices and apps that public safety could use.

With FirstNet making some serious progress, we’re seeing a renewed focus on application development specific to public safety.  In May 2014, the Department of Homeland Security facilitated a “Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Hackathon” sponsored by AT&T, Google, Intel, and Apperian.  Over $25,000 in prize money was awarded, and application developers were able to collaborate face to face with the public safety community.

Although the market for public safety-specific apps is small and fragmented today, the imminent deployment of a 10x10 MHz LTE network will incentivize many app developers to take another look at this unique market space.  After all, public safety won’t be using apps to check out the new restaurant around the corner, they’ll be using them as essential and mission critical tools to do their job.

It will be interesting to see how FirstNet deploys and manages apps on the FirstNet network and what approach it will take to something akin to an “app store” and what new, innovative tools will be created in light of public safety’s soon-to-be drastically increased data capabilities.

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