Public Safety: The New Opportunity for Mobile Smart-Phone Vendors
Ming Ho visited some mobile phone manufacturers in Taiwan. All of them gave similar input: They suffer in the downturn in the mobile communications. market, competition is strong and they are looking for new opportunities.
I recently visited some mobile phone manufacturers in Taiwan. All of them gave me similar input:
- They currently suffer in the downturn of the mobile smartphone market
- The competition is strong and their profit margin is getting slimmer and slimmer
- They are looking for new opportunities such as vertical market.
I completely agree with their market input. They have to find a new direction in order to survive. I shared some market information with them from my recent market studies, which may be a business opportunity for them. This opportunity is the mobile broadband for public safety, aka PS-LTE.
When we say public safety, we usually refer to police, firefighting, ambulance, rescue, or disaster recovery. In this special industry, the current communication technology is the Trunking Radio System (TRS) based on Land Mobile Radio (LMR). The related standards are TETRA, DMR and P25. In fact, such communication technology is not just limited to the public safety industry. It is commonly used by specific professional industries such as transportation (airport, sea port, railway, logistics), public utilities (electricity supply, gas supply, water supply) and other specific industries (oil and gas exploitation).
Some characteristics of professional TRS are:
- PTT: User experience is PTT (push to talk), a voice centric application
- Digital: Some users are still using analog systems. Most of them have moved to digital systems but are still based on circuit-switched technology
- Narrowband: Besides voice application, the users can enjoy simple text functions
- Expensive: Professional device costs over 2K USD
The user experience of the current system is bad and the users have to pay a lot of money for such communication equipment. The industry stakeholders recognize that reliable broadband communications for public safety services are necessary and vital. Therefore, they are exploring the Public Safety/Mission Critical Communications on LTE network. LTE can deliver the enriched multimedia applications demanded by Public Safety personnel and meet the needs of critical communications. In addition, LTE provides a reliable, low latency, high resilient broadband network and superior voice quality to the users. Moreover, the users can have multimedia services such as video streaming, video telephony/conference, file sharing, presence, instant message, and positioning, which facilitates emergency services. From a monetary point of view, migration of public safety communication to LTE will reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO).
With NPSTC, TCCA, ETSI, 3GPP and other organizations backing LTE, there is now a clear global consensus that LTE will be the baseline technology for the next generation of broadband public safety networks.
On the other hand, moving public safety services to LTE is not easy. Current LTE network is not ready yet, especially on the mission critical availability and security issues. Therefore, the standard defining organization such as 3GPP started to define the relevant standard for such industries from Rel 12 (most of the LTE operators are using Rel 10 today). There is an important standard called MCPTT (mission critical push to talk over LTE). MCPTT is based on IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) architecture. Basically, it is a service with the user experience, reliability and security of traditional PTT service that runs on LTE network. There are some other standards such as ProSe (proximity service), GCSE (group communication system enablers), and MBMS enhancements (multimedia broadcast multicast service), which are also being defined by 3GPP for public safety or mission critical communication. The standards keep evolving. It will take some time to replace legacy narrowband TRS equipment.
The opportunity can be for two groups of companies. One is for traditional TRS vendors. They have to migrate the existing system to broadband equipment that complies with the standards. For this group of companies, they have two options. One is to build a team to capture the knowledge and expertise for building such product. Examples are Huawei and Samsung. They are building end-to-end solutions on their own. The other option is to partner with some companies who are familiar with IP communication and IMS. The other group of companies are device/system vendors who are already in the IMS/LTE market, such as VoLTE phone vendors. They are familiar with communication over LTE. It is easier for them to penetrate this market by adjusting their current product to MCPTT compliant devices.
In fact, whenever there is a significant change of technology, it always gives opportunities to new comers. Remember 20 years ago, most of the mobile phone users were using the brands Motorola, Nokia, and Ericsson. Where are they now? This situation will always happen for industries when there is a significant technological change. It really depends whether the device/system vendors are decisive enough to catch this opportunity.