Verizon Launches Emergency Communications Service

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Verizon Business has launched a service designed to allow police, fire departments and other emergency responders to connect to each other on the same network, whether they are using traditional radio sets, mobile phones, fixed-line phones or e-mail.

The new service, called Verizon Communications Interoperability Solution, is targeted at emergency response agencies that have had trouble talking to sister agencies using different equipment or radio frequencies. The service uses a private IP (Internet protocol) network from Verizon, plus Cisco servers and other equipment, to connect disparate communications equipment and convert them to IP traffic.

The goal is "integration of different legacy networks," while saving government agencies the money it would cost to replace old equipment, said Michael Marcellin, Verizon Business' vice president of global product marketing. "For a state to go out and fork-lift out all the systems they have today, that would be huge."

Customers can also deploy the service over other IP networks, and Verizon will test those networks to make sure they will work, Marcellin said.

The Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks and later disasters demonstrated the need for interoperable emergency communications. Some of the police and fire departments responding to the terrorist attacks in New York could not communicate with each other.

Since then, the U.S. Congress and Federal Communications Commission have worked on getting emergency response agencies more radio spectrum as a way to set up new wireless networks. But a band of spectrum designated for a shared emergency response and commercial network failed to sell during an FCC auction that ended in March. That spectrum received just one bid, and it was about a third of the minimum selling price set by the FCC.

The FCC is now looking at ways to re-auction that public safety spectrum.

The Verizon service provides emergency response agencies another option for interoperable communications, Verizon officials said. Other companies, including Rivada Networks, have also offered services targeting emergency communications.

Verizon's service has a couple of advantages over some competitors, Marcellin said. The service allows emergency response agencies to keep their existing systems, and it runs over a private network, not the public Internet. The private network allows Verizon to deliver a "resilient and robust" service, he added.

In addition, the service allows emergency response agencies to set up local networks ahead of time or dynamically, Marcellin said. The service is "really a pretty flexible platform," he added. It uses devices and applications from Cisco's IP Interoperability and Communications System, including a Linux-based server designed with security in mind.

The state of West Virginia has already signed on with the Verizon service. The service "solves a long-standing critical need" for the state, Jimmy Gianato, director of West Virginia's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said in a Verizon news release.

The Verizon service is available immediately, and will be customized for each customer, Marcellin said. A typical deployment, not including IP networking would be about US$200,000, but the price could vary significantly based on a customer's needs, Verizon said.

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