In the wireless world 4G LTE has become commonplace. Just about everyone reading this has 4G in their pocket, I’ll wager. And if you don’t, you most likely still know of 4G LTE, and probably have a good reason for not having it. As of this writing Verizon Wireless claims to have covered 98% of all Americans with their 4G LTE network and AT&T is only a half-step behind. But consider that the LTE standard first became publically available just 6 years ago. And that wasn’t even in the US!
As a result of the rise of the Smartphone, LTE has been on fire since 2011. As a standard, the goal of 4G LTE was to increase the capacity and speed of wireless data networks and it has achieved just that. With 3G networks we could see throughput of up to 3.1Mbps with an average speed range between 0.5 to 1.5 Mbps. Using 4G, we can reach speeds of 2 to 12 Mbps – a maximum speed of up to 4 times that of 3G.
During this same period, the Video Coding Experts Group was at work refining its latest standards for video streaming. In May 2003 they adopted their first iteration of the H.264 video format and have been amending it ever since. The most recently accepted amendment was ratified on April 13, 2013. The goal of this H.264 project was to create a standard capable of providing good video quality at substantially lower bit rates than previous standards. In fact, the H.264 video format has a very broad application range that covers all forms of digital compressed video including low bit-rate Internet streaming applications with nearly lossless coding. With the use of H.264, bit rate savings of 50% or more are reported!
The convergence of these two evolutions is a boon to mobile communications. With 4G the “pipe” has become bigger and faster. All the while the H.264 standard reduces the amount of freight required to render good quality video. Video streams have been cut nearly in half! The results? Down range video streaming is higher quality and less cumbersome to deploy.
For First Responders of all types, the implications are many. For years we have had the benefits of on-scene video streaming like networks of traffic cameras. With 4G/H.264 we can now effectively add wireless video streaming to those networks. Body cameras can now stream video back to headquarters. Vehicle-mounted cameras can bring immediate video coverage of incidents back to Incident Command helping the IC to more effectively deploy his assets. Situational awareness is enhanced through multi-perspective views of the incident scene. Operators can stream video while over the road in real time, no longer reliant upon hard line connections like the old traffic camera model. Wireless video streaming over 4G LTE using H.264 is more versatile and utile than ever before. Overall, the improvements in LTE technology have enhanced the incident communications industry as well as increased the usage by first responder and emergency management agencies.