Nascent MCPTT Market Continues to Evolve with New Players, Planned Launches
Tuesday, March 03, 2020 | Comments

With another mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) provider entering the U.S. market last month and the first commercial launches by carriers expected later this year, the market continues to be dynamic. The biggest challenges for public-safety users could be determining whether a PTT service is truly mission critical and ensuring that whatever service is selected is interoperable with other PTT technology used by surrounding agencies.

Motorola Solutions’ Kodiak PTT service has dominated the carrier-integrated segment of PTT offerings by commercial operators. However, Samsung is providing the MCPTT service for South Korea’s nationwide MCPTT network, and Ericsson recently announced its MCPTT technology will be used by Southern Linc, replacing Motorola’s WAVE 7000 technology. Most U.S. carriers have implemented Kodiak technology for PTT services, and AT&T plans to roll out a mission-critical version of that technology for FirstNet users in early 2020. AT&T is also expected to announce a second carrier-integrated MCPTT offering for FirstNet subscribers this year.

“We plan to launch MCPTT in early 2020, which will be a standards-compliant, mission-centric solution that’s being purpose built for public safety,” said an AT&T spokesperson this week. “We pulled together a team of leading technology companies to help bring the solution and its accompanying ecosystem to life.”

Motorola Solutions currently offers Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 15 standards-compliant MCPTT, mission-critical video (MCVideo) and mission-critical data (MCData) services to various carriers in the U.S. and globally, said Mary Doherty, vice president, MSSSI, North America carriers.

Rishi Bhaskar, Ericsson’s vice president of utilities and the public sector, said Ericsson’s MCPTT solution is a 3GPP Release 14-compliant carrier-integrated technology. Southern Linc announced plans for a commercial launch later this year.

“The 3GPP process outlines several standards,” Bhaskar said. “We take that long list of standards and implement features based on standards that are relevant to various geographies.”

In terms of additional carriers that plan to implement Ericsson’s MCPTT technology, Bhaskar said the company is in discussions with a handful of network operators and public-safety entities around the world, along with a number of ongoing trials.

In addition to FirstNet, Motorola Solutions said it is working with other major carriers on 3GPP-compliant MCPTT solutions for public-safety customers with first-to-be-deployed features on the Kodiak platform. Those customers include Verizon, Bell Canada, U.K. Home Office for the Emergency Services Network (ESN), Telstra in Australia, KPN in the Netherlands and SFR in France.

A Samsung spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s MCPTT plans.

A few features important to public-safety and critical communications users include direct mode, referred to as proximity services (ProSe) within Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, and multicast technology. Both Motorola and Ericsson executives cited an immature ecosystem around chipsets and devices for ProSe and the importance of LMR in the meantime.

“As the ecosystem is somewhat immature, we will deploy direct mode as the ecosystem evolves and the solution becomes highly reliable,” Ericsson’s Bhaskar said. “In the meantime we are able to support dual-mode LMR/MCPTT to meet the direct mode use case.”

“Motorola Solutions continues to assess the maturity of the ProSe ecosystem and the availability of high-powered, highly reliable broadband devices needed to support direct mode communications,” Doherty said. “Until devices with the performance public safety requires are available, Motorola Solutions will continue to offer only converged devices that support broadband services with superior LMR direct mode.”

The Southern Linc MCPTT technology from Ericsson includes another feature important for public safety: evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (eMBMS). Doherty said Motorola plans to deploy MCPTT with LTE eMBMS on Kodiak in 2020 and previously deployed the first MCPTT broadband solution with LTE eMBMS, currently live on the Southern Linc system.

But, perhaps more important than these features is the network itself. Industry analyst Andrew Seybold said in a recent article he prefers the term public safety grade PTT than mission-critical PTT. “I believe this is a much more realistic way to refer to a network designed for public safety and any feature or function that runs across a public safety grade network,” he said.

To that end, Southern Linc President and CEO Tami Barron said each site except in-building or on-building sites have fuel cells or backup generators for five to seven days of on-site power generation. Path redundancy is through microwave or last-mile fiber.

“We built this network, not just from a coverage perspective but also from a resiliency perspective with backup site generation,” Barron said.

“MCPTT is an integrated network solution; however, we cannot lose sight of the foundational enabler, and that is the mission-critical network,” Bhaskar said. “Ericsson in partnership with our customers is truly approaching mission-critical industries with an end-to-end approach from the network all the way through to the application and end device client.”

PTT interoperability is also an issue that will affect future services. In addition to Kodiak, Motorola Solutions said it offers over-the-top (OTT) MCPTT, MCVideo and MCData services hosted in the public cloud across the world. At the end of 2019, FirstNet had five OTT PTT services available to FirstNet subscribers in the FirstNet App Catalog. Those PTT offerings include Enhanced PTT (EPTT) from AT&T, ESChat from SLA, Tango Tango from the company of the same name, Orion PTT from Orion Labs and MODULO from VoiceLayer.

However, how will users incorporate any or all of these carrier-integrated or OTT platforms into their daily communications yet still communicate with other agencies during emergencies? Seybold is optimistic on that point and said OTT PTT services will help.

“OTT PTT provides interoperability with many of the departments already on FirstNet, and it can be used as an adjunct to existing network-based PTT solutions,” he said. “For example, I have both Kodiak-Motorola PTT and ESChat PTT on my current iPhone. I can switch between them as needed, and when a PTT call comes in, the phone indicates which of the two PTT solutions is active. The only disadvantage I have found in using both is that only one can be assigned to the device’s PTT button; the other has to be controlled by a screen-based PTT button. Wouldn’t it be better if Kodiak and ESChat were interoperable? Then, I would only need one application to have PTT sessions with many more agencies.”

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has conducted four Plugtests events that test and ensure interoperability among MCPTT, MCVideo and MCData suppliers. The most recent event was in September. Although FirstNet officials have not observed any of the events as other governmental agencies have, AT&T participated in a 2018 Plugtests event held in College Station, Texas.

“MCPTT over LTE and 5G is a real game changer for mission-critical communications customers,” Bhaskar said. “With the evolution of standards and the rapid pace of product development, we are progressing our industry towards a one network solution for voice, video and data.”

But with all the unknowns around MCPTT and its necessity for daily safety, reliance on broadband MCPTT technology will come slowly. In a 2020 survey of MissionCritical Communications readers, nearly half of respondents (48%) said broadband LTE/5G networks will not replace LMR for more than 20 years if ever.

“Through decades of providing group communications for mission-critical users, we have learned there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Doherty said. “Motorola Solutions offers a variety of networks, PTT options and devices, including highly reliable, secure P25 networks and broadband PTX applications, along with an array of LMR and broadband devices, so that each agency can find the right combination for its size, budget and need.”

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