Public-Safety LTE Deployments Accelerate Slowly
Tuesday, April 01, 2014 | Comments

The successful proliferation of commercial Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks has spurred the public-safety community to consider it a solution for their mobile broadband needs. Public-safety agencies have traditionally relied on LMR systems, such Project 25 (P25) and TETRA, to fulfill their mission-critical voice communications needs. Although LMR systems support basic data capabilities as well, their speeds are no match for commercial mobile broadband standards such as LTE.

Considering LTE’s thriving ecosystem, spectrum flexibility and performance metrics, many public-safety organizations already recognize LTE as the de-facto standard for mobile broadband. However, it is important to note that the transition to LTE will be one of the most complex technical changes the public-safety communications industry will witness and will present challenges, particularly in the context of global standardization.

Because LTE was originally conceived for use in commercial networks, it does not meet the availability and resiliency requirements for public-safety operations. Several standardization bodies including the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) are now working toward hardening LTE to meet the resilience requirements of the public-safety community, such as group communications and infrastructure-independent device-to-device communications.

However, a lack of finalized LTE standards for public safety has not hampered early deployments of the technology primarily targeted for multimedia applications such as video surveillance, particularly in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific region.

The Qatar Ministry of Interior (MOI) was one of the first public-safety entities to commercially award a public-safety LTE network contract in the Middle East and uses 800 MHz spectrum. Awarded to Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN), the first phase of the network went live in 2012 with 24 sites in Doha. The network is primarily used for multimedia and video transmissions from incident locations to the ministry’s command center.

Neighboring Oman is evaluating proposals to deploy a nationwide public-safety LTE rollout to provide first responders with multimedia applications and enhance situational awareness. Both the Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also trialing LTE for their security forces.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Zhengzhou Metro is deploying a Huawei-supplied LTE network that will deliver real-time video feeds from train-mounted video surveillance systems to control rooms for public-safety purposes. In addition, the solution will enable connectivity for the metro’s passenger information services (PIS) and support the communications-based train control (CBTC) railway signaling system onboard trains. There are also future plans of introducing voice and additional services.

Progress on the U.S. nationwide public-safety broadband network, First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), is also gaining momentum. The Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS) recently approved a $175 million contract with Motorola Solutions to construct a 231-site public-safety LTE network that is scheduled to be completed by August 2015.

In Europe, extensive trials are underway with the German and French armed forces. Because of the lack of dedicated public-safety spectrum allocation and funding within Europe, proposals are underway for alternative models of public-safety LTE deployment. Rather than deploying their own private LTE infrastructure, many agencies are considering proposals to deploy a limited LTE infrastructure footprint and share resources with commercial partners or wholly use resources from commercial LTE networks.

While the latter is more relevant in the case of lack of dedicated spectrum, the former is a lucrative option for reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) for a private LTE deployment. SNS Research estimates that a large nationwide deployment such as FirstNet in the United States can save up to 40 percent in the TCO over 10 years by opting for a public-private partnership, rather than a private-only investment. Eyeing the opportunity to play a major role, many commercial mobile network operators (MNOs) have begun initiatives to harden their networks and tailor features for public-safety needs.

While many may opt for sharing resources with commercial networks, SNS Research estimates that global investments on private LTE infrastructure will continue to increase, following a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 60 percent between 2014 and 2020. By 2020, the installed base of private public-safety LTE eNodeBs will reach nearly 155,000, serving an estimated 4 million private public-safety LTE subscribers worldwide.

James Bennett is a directing analyst at SNS Research, a market intelligence and consultancy firm, where he also leads the research consultancy practice for the wireless communications industry. Bennett received his master of business administration (MBA) degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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