Lte | 2012-01-24

Safety Agencies Advised to Avoid Mobile Networks for Critical Communications

Source: The Critical Communications Review | Gert Jan Wolf editor

The creation of a Europe-wide harmonized frequency for private LTE is many years away and most agencies will continue to use public cellular networks

Public safety agencies are potentially endangering the public by using public cellular networks for mobile data communications. A new report by IMS Research highlights that U.S. and European agencies' private mobile radio networks cannot yet deliver the necessary data performance.

IMS Research questioned 260 agencies that owned private mobile radio networks in Europe and the USA, and 69 percent with private mobile radio networks for voice were also using cellular networks to address certain mobile data requirements.

"Although, in most cases, the agencies were not using cellular for mission critical data exchange, it's clear that there is a huge pent-up demand for private networks that offer high-speed mobile data," says Alex Green, senior research director, IMS Research. "The industry, as a whole, seems set on using a private version of the 4G cellular technology, LTE, to address this issue, and 51 percent of respondents agree that LTE is the best solution. However, we still forecasts it to be many years before use of such solutions becomes common place."

The first hurdle is spectrum allocation. These agencies need dedicated private spectrum in order to deploy a private LTE network. The U.S. is further ahead of Europe on this issue, with some spectrum allocated in the 700 MHz band. Furthermore, most agencies in the U.S. are focused on other FCC legislation, so called "narrowbanding", so LTE deployment is not yet a priority.

But there does appear to be political will to address these issues. Creating a national broadband network was one of the key recommendations post-9/11. President Obama discussed the construction of a national broadband LMR network in his jobs bill in 2011, and it featured in his 2011 State of the Union address. However, hurdles relating to frequency, budget, agency network priorities and technology are forecast to make the transition to LTE a long process.

"In Europe, the spectrum issues and budget issues are even more dire," Green warns. "The creation of a Europe-wide harmonized frequency for private LTE is many years away and most agencies will continue to use public cellular networks for at least the next decade. Harmonized frequency across Europe underpinned the success of other mobile technologies, such as GSM, TETRA and WCDMA, so it is crucial that regulators across Europe work together to achieve this, and quickly."