Part Two: Public Safety Market Snapshot – How We Got Here


Recently, we shared a Signals post discussing the public safety and service provider communications market. It’s a market that’s large, growing, and undergoing significant transformation as it adapts to new technologies. While the potential of this market is exciting, it’s important to understand why this opportunity exists – or put more simply, how we got here.

Old Systems Don’t Support What & How We Communicate Now

The biggest influence on public safety today is the near-total switch to wireless communications networks. Not long ago, using a phone meant being tied to a specific space – whether at a home, business or phone booth. Cell phones are now as ubiquitous as wallets, so when someone is experiencing an emergency, their home address is meaningless: what matters is their current, physical location. In fact, according to a recent study by the National Center of Health Statistics, only 27% of homes still had landlines at the end of 2022 and only 2% of households had landlines alone. It should be no surprise that over 80% of 911 calls made in the US come from wireless devices. This means that even if a landline is in place, it’s not the sole (or even, preferred) means of communication.

In addition to the decline of landlines, there has been an exponential increase in the number of touchpoints that can communicate on our behalf. While this means we have more ways to call for help in an emergency (including smart watches, connected cars and alarm systems), these new modes of communication create a host of new challenges for emergency communications systems to manage. For example, simply determining if an emergency exists in the first place represents a huge amount of work: it’s estimated that a staggering 94-98% of calls made from alarm systems are by accident.

Today, with calls originating from multiple devices, they are also being delivered through different connections such as VoIP and Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS). What does that mean? It means we now have to find ways to successfully identify, transfer and organize communications data, be it audio or visual, from the “front end” of a call, to an ideal end result: when the right respondent gets to the right person as fast as possible.

Emergency call volumes are also exploding. Given we have so many more ways to connect, we are connecting more often simply because we can. According to our internal analysis, 911 calls have been steadily rising over the past decade to nearly 250 million each year in the US alone. Additionally, a survey conducted by the National Emergency Number Association last year found that 83% of call center respondents experienced high call volume on a weekly basis. Aside from combatting the many technology changes at play, the sheer increase in calls is putting an even bigger strain on Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs).

Technological Advancements Have Changed the Landscape

Not only do next-generation 911 systems have to accommodate all of the different tools we use to communicate, they need to consider how the information we share has changed as well. For years, we relied on hard wire connections that could only transmit audio. Today, nearly all of our technology infrastructures rely on the cloud. This creates advantages: by deploying cloud-based services, PSAPs can move away from physical equipment that requires maintenance, space, and power, allowing them to operate more efficiently and at a lower cost. In addition, the cloud gives PSAPs the flexibility to add-on other features that can, for example, transcribe messages in real-time, prioritize and categorize emergencies, and analyze incoming data to better allocate resources. Cloud services also work with AI, which telecommunicators can use to manage workloads and improve efficiency, to filter requests by level of emergency, or help route callers to the service they require – whether police, fire or EMS. 

PSAPs are now receiving calls in different ways, from multiple devices, and ingesting all kinds of data – including voice, text, image, video and even sensor/IoT data. This can be a double-edged sword: while dispatchers have more accurate and comprehensive information than ever, this also creates more data “noise” that has to be organized and prioritized to find what’s important, even as every second matters. With the right technology in place, PSAPs can make more informed decisions, faster than ever. For example, by gathering weather and traffic data from nearby sensors and CCTVs, next-generation 911 technologies can give emergency personnel the fastest real-time route to the caller’s location. They can even go as far as accessing medical records so EMTs are better positioned to serve people on-site. 

This evolution of data and technology has the potential to make emergency response not only more accurate, but more accessible as well. For example, if a caller suffers from a disability, can’t speak or is hard of hearing, they won’t have to rely on audio cues alone. Even live recording gives callers a bridge to dispatchers if they are in a situation where it’s not possible (or even dangerous) to speak out loud.

The Public Sector Structure is Streamlining

Finally, while the broad adoption and availability of new communications technologies have created huge opportunities to transform public safety infrastructure, the way PSAPs operate has also changed. Most PSAPs today are consolidating to conserve resources, while at the same time suffering from staff shortages. In fact, the National Emergency Number Association found that 80% of 911 call centers are understaffed in a recent survey. On top of that, they also note a constant frustration with outdated technology, with 60% citing regular outages due to inefficient equipment. By implementing modern solutions – and modern technology – call centers can alleviate these pain points.

Additionally, 911 call centers are under financial pressure, putting their purchasing decisions under intense scrutiny. While the US and Canada are leading a combined initiative to upgrade public safety communications to next-generation 911 to address the issues discussed here, they haven’t established budgets to fully support this effort. That said, the importance of public safety infrastructure is universally understood. Many transitions are currently funded at the state and county level, while Congress is simultaneously seeking to usher bills forward for federal funding.

In fact, the FCC just proposed improvements for routing wireless calls to the new 988 lifeline, which is crucial for supporting people experiencing mental health crises. The proposal requires implementing georouting solutions for all wireless calls to 988, ensuring they can be directed to crisis centers closest to the caller, while at the same time allowing carriers to maintain privacy requirements given the sensitive nature of these calls.

It is exactly this kind of next-generation, end-to-end solution that Comtech already provides thanks to our long experience in the 911 market. More broadly, it speaks to the opportunity that lies ahead. At Comtech, we understand the importance of this transition, and we are in a unique position to support customers bringing public safety into the modern era. 


Forward-Looking Statements

Certain information in this blog post contains statements that are forward-looking in nature and involve certain significant risks and uncertainties. Actual results and performance could differ materially from such forward-looking information. The Company’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings identify many such risks and uncertainties. Any forward-looking information in this press release is qualified in its entirety by the risks and uncertainties described in such Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

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