There are very interesting developments in the mission and business critical communications space, in particular, LTE for public safety and railway communications. A great example of how LTE is gathering momentum in this industry comes from Korea, where the world’s first LTE for railways network was implemented using Nokia technology. This deployment is leveraging the same dedicated 700 MHz spectrum as the national public safety network in the country, showing how LTE helps different critical communications agencies leverage economies of scale with a common technology infrastructure.
Another good example is from Japan where Mobile Radio Center Foundation (MRC), a provider of private mobile radio services, is carrying out extensive field tests with Nokia’s compact LTE solution and push-to-talk (PTT) service over LTE. This is an important step for MRC, opening the door for future nation-wide deployment of mission-critical LTE network and services.
LTE as a technology is often compared to existing narrowband professional mobile radio (PMR) networks such as TETRA. The oldest TETRA networks were launched almost 20 years ago, so many TETRA services have been developed and optimized over the years to perfectly suit the voice communication needs of first responders. The driver for LTE-based critical communications is naturally the need to meet the growing demand for real-time video and data services. In fact, LTE technology significantly exceeds TETRA in coverage, capacity and throughput performance including advanced prioritization support while providing the same level of service availability and security.
For the critical communications industry, it is not anymore a question of choosing to be part of this development or not – it’s about planning the journey and taking the right steps at the right time. Compared to commercial networks, building public safety networks requires special focus on security and redundancy. There are interesting new revenue and business models for critical communications agencies, commercial operators, device and application vendors as well as enterprises related to network connectivity, services and especially applications.
We need to drive robust standards and open interfaces around mission-critical communication solutions to accelerate business growth and avoid unnecessary market fragmentation. How fast should the industry move then?
First responders are already today taking advantage of non-mission critical broadband applications over commercial networks to complement existing LMR services. With the most recent developments of public safety LTE technology, mission-critical services such as group communications will become available.
The pace of development and the economies of scale largely depend on investment and spectrum allocation decisions today. Globally, we can see that spectrum harmonization for broadband public protection and disaster relief (BB-PPDR) is evolving naturally around commercially healthy ecosystems such as band 28 (700 MHz) devices and infrastructure.
However, the progress in Europe is challenging as we are missing unified European wide spectrum allocated for critical communications. The Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) report 218 includes multiple frequency options, some of them without any product support or even without any standards and leaves freedom for each CEPT country to make national decisions. The consequence is the risk of a highly fragmented market. Europe would benefit from accelerated LTE adoption for critical communications as well as true economies of scale by agreeing on common spectrum approach based on a commercially available ecosystem.
There is also positive development in Europe, as representatives of different countries and national organizations are getting together under the Broadmap project to prepare a common ground for a new ecosystem that consists of applications, services, networks and devices which enable the benefits of broadband for public safety and security communities. This is a vendor agnostic procurement initiative and aims at assessing end user requirements. There are other industry initiatives as well, like SALUS for security and interoperability in next generation PPDR communication infrastructures, in which also Nokia is taking part.
While I am confident that these concrete steps are taking our industry to the right direction, I also think that there is always the possibility to move a bit faster to get the benefits earlier. In fact, Nokia recently established the Mission-Critical Communications Alliance, a forum for vendors, operators, governmental representatives and the critical communications users. We all need to work closely together to define the future of this important industry.
Read more about LTE technology capabilities in comparison with TETRA in this Nokia White Paper: “It is time for mobile broadband in critical communications”
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