Will LTE Replace LMR for Critical Communications?
Tuesday, September 18, 2018 | Comments
Coverage, reliability and security are the top concerns for first responders for adopting commercial networks, according to an industry survey, and a market research executive said he doesn’t expect Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks to replace LMR for the next 10 to 15 years.

The top applications for Long Term Evolution (LTE) varied by discipline but law enforcement, firefighters and EMS all cited CAD/AVL as a top three application.

Law enforcement also cited vehicle-mounted records management systems (RMS) and in-vehicle video systems as top LTE applications, while firefighters noted hazardous materials incident management and fireground incident management software. EMS professionals said electronic patient care reporting and patient monitoring devices were top LTE applications besides CAD/AVL.

Both law enforcement and EMS officials said push to talk (PTT) over cellular will be a top application for LTE during the next five years. Law enforcement drivers for PTT on commercial networks were to provide supervisors with access to LMR communications when out of network range and to support undercover operations. EMS officials said PTT drivers included filling in LMR coverage gaps and providing supervisors with LMR communications access when out of network range.

The data is part of a survey conducted by Sierra Wireless and MissionCritical Communications magazine. The information was presented during a Sept. 18 webinar on whether LTE technology will replace LMR networks.

Jesus Gonzalez, senior analyst at IHS Markit Technology, said LTE and LMR will continue to coexist for the next 10 to 15 years. Industry consultant Andrew Seybold said the two technologies are complementary and predicted that LMR PTT will no longer be needed only when public-safety officials believe that they can trust their lives to PTT over the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

Gonzalez said LMR revenues will continue to grow at healthy rates, hitting $2.8 billion in North America in 2020. The installed base of public-safety radios in North America is predicted to be 5 million by 2021, a 14 percent increase from 2015.

“North America is one of the largest public-safety LMR markets, and the migration to digital technology by radio users has gained pace in the last couple years,” he said.

That’s not to say the public-safety LTE market won’t increase as well. IHS Markit expects public-safety LTE revenues to more than double by 2020 to reach more than $1.5 billion annually. The installed base of devices connected to public-safety LTE networks will reach 2 million units in 2021.

“Nonetheless, we consider that networks like FirstNet are an overlay system to current LMR networks, to support enhanced data requirements, rather than a new mission-critical voice replacement,” Gonzalez said.

Seybold reiterated that point, saying FirstNet was not intended to replace LMR but to augment it. Seybold noted the importance of educating politicians, policymakers and other stakeholders that funding for both networks is essential.

Ken Rehbehn, principal analyst at Critical Communications Insights, outlined several mission-critical features of LTE technology, including expanded quality of service (QoS) classes, proximity services and group communications. Mission-critical voice and video are planned features as well.

The full webinar is available on-demand here.

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