Regional Carriers Could Play Big Role in Nationwide Public-Safety Network
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 | Comments
As the requirements and process for deploying a nationwide public-safety broadband network begin to come into focus, it’s apparent that the eventual network will depend on partnerships between public safety and the commercial mobile industry.
At its first meeting this fall, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board outlined its vision of the nationwide public-safety network, which relies heavily on terrestrial coverage by multiple operators.
While commercial carriers with a nationwide footprint are top of mind when considering likely candidates to partner with public safety to build out the Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, regional carriers shouldn’t be counted out. Lynnette Luna, senior analyst at Current Analysis, said regional cellular carriers may prove to be ideal partners for the public-safety community. They have a vested interest in increasing their coverage footprints, while potentially bringing existing rural footprints to the table that will be a key requirement for the public-safety community, she said.
“Rural operators should work to align themselves with the public-safety network because their regional networks will be key to expanding the public safety LTE network and grow demand for devices if vendors see a market for rural 700 MHz bands tied with band 14 and bands held by Verizon and AT&T,” said a Current Analysis report authored by Luna.
In the report and a recent webinar, Luna encouraged operators to begin making plans to market their network assets to FirstNet for sharing opportunities and to help agencies pull together network solutions. The report is titled “Public Safety LTE: Opportunities in the Commercial Market.”
Luna identified several key opportunities for partnerships among commercial mobile players and public safety, including backhaul. Backhaul will be a key area of opportunity because the public-safety network will require a significant amount of backhaul capacity nationwide, she said. This will create an opportunity for microwave backhaul providers, as well as operators that might be willing to share backhaul assets as well as costs.
The network also will create an opportunity for cell site and tower sharing, a scenario that could offer benefits to both commercial operators and public-safety agencies. While commercial carriers can offer cell sites and towers for collocation, public safety may be able to offer reciprocal assets like enhanced backup power, site hardening and access to existing LMR towers in remote areas, potentially giving operators a more cost-effective method for expanding into areas that would be too expensive to build on their own. Site sharing could even extend to small cells and distributed antenna systems (DAS), said Luna.
Device vendors should begin to consider eventual roaming agreements and infrastructure sharing among commercial operators and public safety that is likely to occur and should begin to develop products that support band 14.  Current Analysis encouraged vendors to begin providing thought leadership on the public-safety network, as well as forming and marketing their positions now.
“Vendors should seek out early trials with public-safety LTE deployments in order to leverage the expertise gained in specific, proactive marketing,” said the report. “Where vendors can call out specific, tangible know-how that has resulted from an LTE deployment, they stand to gain credibility and mind share.”
Opportunities may also emerge for creative cost-saving technologies, such as hosted core networks, said the report.
Current Analysis identified several key requirements for the public-safety network.
The network must be resilient and provide high availability to ensure the network functions during emergencies. Coverage will have to be greater than commercial mobile networks, including operation in remote rural areas as well as inside buildings, tunnels and stadiums. The network must provide secure transmission of data.
Voice over LTE requirements including fast call setup times and the ability to provide group calling will eventually become important, said the report.
“Different public-safety agencies will have different demands for services and network capabilities,” said the report. “Infrastructure and device vendors should be ready to play up their integration and software skills.”

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