Southern Linc Suspends iDEN Service, Continues Transition to Mission-Critical LTE
Monday, April 22, 2019 | Comments

Southern Linc suspended service on thousands of iDEN phones during March as the regional carrier transitions its network to Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. Not all of the network elements were turned off, the company said.

When all sites are turned off, new software will be pushed to more than 1,000 LTE cell sites across the carrier’s four-state footprint, allowing the LTE CriticalLinc network to use the full spectrum available to the network. Southern Linc is deploying LTE on its 800 MHz spectrum, also used for iDEN services.

"The spectrum that Southern Linc is licensed for is presently divided between the iDEN network and the LTE network," said Alan McIntyre, Southern Linc's engineering director. "Roughly two-thirds of the spectrum view is used for iDEN, and one-third is used for LTE, so once we're able to turn iDEN down and go all in with LTE, we can use all of that spectrum for LTE. The capacity of the LTE network will then more than double, and that means additional capacity for more data applications."

The carrier said the dedicated spectrum will deliver benefits to both existing and new LTE users. Although users will likely experience no disruption in service, performance improvements may or may not be initially evident.

"We've had a foot in two camps for the past four years or so, maintaining both the iDEN network and the LTE network," said McIntyre. "When we shut down the iDEN network completely, 100 percent of our focus will shift to maintaining and optimizing the new LTE network. From an ongoing networking, operational, maintenance and service perspective, we'll be laser-focused on LTE."

The shift to an all-LTE network will also allow for a single-focus network optimization and performance improvement.

"We placed LTE test equipment in all of our site technicians' trucks, and we have a team that’s dedicated toward optimization as well," McIntyre said. "Our test equipment collects data as our teams drive around the service area. We use tools that analyze the data so that we can make software changes to the network to help improve performance in a given area. A lot of optimization happens through the lens of a user's experience, so we're trying to optimize to greatly reduce dropped calls, any kind of garbled audio and any issues that really impact somebody's use of our LTE services."

Southern Linc is deploying Sonim Technologies’ XP5s and XP8 mobile devices on the LTE network, and said the rugged smartphones are the best options for running CriticalLinc's mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) service. However, workers using other carriers can get the Linc PTT app to communicate with CriticalLinc users via PTT.

Last year, Southern Linc said the network will use Motorola Solutions WAVE 7000 platform for MCPTT service. Southern Linc said it is the first U.S. carrier to offer this public-sector-grade PTT service on a public LTE network.

In addition, the Panasonic Toughbook and Getac F110 tablet are being field tested on CriticalLinc.

"The fact that we have customers in the field using these devices is big news," said Connie Stinnett, senior market sales executive. "Now that we have our new mission-critical LTE network that can be depended on for critical data, we're starting to see more doors opening for customers to integrate with some of the best tools and resources on the market today."

The Toughbook and Getac devices are being tested with the Huntsville (Alabama) Police Department. The devices are tested using Southern Linc's LTE subscriber identity module (SIM) card within the devices, allowing personnel to accomplish all their work using the CriticalLinc network.

"The testing is going very well," said Stinnett. "We're expecting several hundred units in this installation once testing is complete. We expect to see even more integration and opportunities utilizing the new LTE network in the months to come."

The carrier originally planned to launch its first LTE services in 2016. Several public-safety agencies have contracted to use the network.

More details on the transition are here.

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