Datacasting public safety information via PBS signal

Datacasting pilot transmits public safety video via PBS signal

During an emergency, first responders must coordinate on the fly by communicating voice, data and video information as fast as possible. That can be difficult because land mobile radio networks that are intended for voice communication do not have the capacity to transmit large amounts of data. And commercial cellular networks can become overloaded or fail completely, as the network becomes saturated in an emergency by public safety agencies and the general public, leaving responders competing for the same network resources when trying to transmit critical information, especially bandwidth-intensive video.

In hopes of breaking that bottleneck, the Department of Homeland Security’ s First Responders Group is now testing datacasting -- a method for transmitting encrypted live video and data over existing public television broadcasting bandwidth to a targeted audience -- as a way to improve data sharing and interoperability with minimal cost and effort. 

Datacasting works by reallocating a portion of the public broadcasting networks’ spectrum for transmitting video, data files and other critical incident information to first responders anywhere within the TV signal coverage area. In addition, it lets first responders and agencies to send encrypted video and data through the digital television signal that is invisible to the general public.

Once the hardware is set up at the television station to broadcast information by datacast, data recipients use a receiver connected to their computer to receive the information being broadcast from the PBS station. Datacast’s software allows the owners of the video and data to target individual receivers -- users or a group -- to receive the video, files and notifications being transmitted.

DHS has already conducted datacasting pilots in Houston and Chicago and is looking for another pilot city for 2016.

About the Author

Derek Major is a former reporter for GCN.

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