Worldwide Public-Safety LTE Network Delays
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 | Comments

Rolling out a nationwide public-safety broadband network is difficult and uncharted territory. The three countries that are likely the furthest along in developing Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks for public-safety agencies have one thing in common — they are delayed.

The United Kingdom has pushed back the transition from its current TETRA narrowband voice network to EE’s commercial LTE network by at least nine months. A U.K. official said the transition is now scheduled to begin in mid-June to July 2018. With a 27-month transition, the full transition would end in September 2020 as opposed to the previously planned end-2019 shutdown of Airwave, the TETRA network.

As with projects of this magnitude, there are many moving parts and one particular glitch for the U.K. government came to light earlier this month. The U.K. Home Office received information that Vodafone plans to switch off Airwave from 31 March, 2020, spurring a U.K. Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting on the topic with Home Office officials. In South Korea, the government selected two operators for public-safety LTE pilots in three areas of the country in October 2015. After the trials, the country planned to launch a nationwide dedicated public-safety LTE network by 2017.

A South Korea official confirmed that date won’t be met, and the South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance and National Audit Office are reviewing the nationwide deployment plan. A final decision is expected in April.

In the United States, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) released a request for proposals (RFP) for a nationwide public-safety broadband network last year. The contract was expected to be awarded in November 2016, but FirstNet delayed the award. One company that bid on the contract but was excluded from the process protested the procurement, tying up the contract in the U.S. courts. A contract award, which is necessary before the project can move forward, likely won’t be concluded before March.

Most industry officials expected delays with these various networks. They are the first of their kind in the world and paving the way for others. In the meantime, narrowband voice professional mobile (PMR) systems will continue doing what they have done for decades — providing mission-critical communications in life-and-death situations. Even when the LTE networks move forward, it will be years before users will be comfortable completely transitioning to broadband networks.

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