DRDC conducts research to support Canadian Public Safety Broadband Network

May 10, 2024


When an emergency such as a natural disaster, or terrorist attack occurs, cellular networks in proximity to the incident can experience disruptions or possibly outages. Whether people are calling loved ones to ensure their safety, texting friends to tell them what’s going on, or viewing real-time video streams, the large amount of cellular activity that takes place during an emergency can congest networks. For over a decade, Defence Research and Development Canada’s (DRDC) Centre for Security Science (CSS) has conducted and continues to conduct research on a Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) that would ensure first responders maintain access to communication networks when it matters most.

Paramedic using tablet computer while riding in ambulance.

Paramedic using tablet computer while riding in ambulance.

A PSBN is a mobile communications network that is geared toward anyone with a role in supporting public safety (e.g., first responders, military, transportation workers, search and rescue). Currently, first responders in Canada communicate via push-to-talk radio because current commercial cellular networks are unreliable in emergency situations. While push-to-talk radio is effective for voice, it doesn’t support high-speed mobile broadband applications and services that are currently available on commercial networks.

“A PSBN in Canada would revolutionize the landscape for communications and information sharing among public safety workers,” says Joe Fournier, defence scientist at DRDC’s Centre for Security Science. “Putting secure broadband mobile in their hands will improve their ability to anticipate, respond to and recover from emergencies and disasters.”

A PSBN would act as a typical cellular network but would use radio frequency (RF) spectrum designated for public safety broadband use to provide reliable communications for public safety workers in emergency situations - meaning they won’t get booted off a network if cellular activity increases. It would also improve interoperability between first responders in Canada and with international partners for cross-border emergencies.

While Public Safety Canada (PS) is the lead on implementing a PSBN in Canada, DRDC is responsible for the research on technical recommendations that could support the implementation of a future network. To date, DRDC has conducted a over 13 years of research for a PSBN in Canada.

Currently, DRDC is working on the architecture of a PSBN with next generation compatibility, such as with 5G, the Internet of Things operability, and autonomous platforms.

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