Curious about the latest developments in mission critical communications for public safety? This year’s International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) was one of the best places to see and learn about the latest communications technologies.
LTE is being adopted as the next generation wireless technology for First Responder communications globally. Initially, LTE networks were intended to augment the Land Mobile Radio (LMR) networks used by First Responders today which were primarily used for mission-critical push-to-talk services.
The LTE ecosystem has become extremely efficient at developing new technology in response to market demands. Public Safety LTE networks that are being planned for the United States (FirstNet), the UK, Canada and other parts of the world are market signals with the power to shape both the development of LTE technology and the future of public safety communications. As a result, new LTE functionality is being developed specifically for public safety. With this new functionality, it will soon be possible to carry mission-critical public safety voice services over LTE networks.
During a ‘Lunch and Learn’ session held at IWCE on March 28, 2014, a number of vendors and representatives of First Responder agencies were asked to share their views on how fast mission-critical voice over LTE will be available. Some of these views – including the views of Alcatel-Lucent – were published in a recent ‘Urgent Communications’ article ‘Mission-critical VoLTE gear could be available in 2018’.
Supporting mission-critical voice services over LTE has a number of advantages over the traditional Land Mobile Radio (LMR) technologies used today – including lower costs, higher capacity, higher voice quality, and open standards supported by a broad ecosystem of device, software and network infrastructure vendors.
The development of LTE features unique to public safety in LTE Release 12 and Release 13 – including those features needed for mission-critical voice services comparable to TETRA and Project 25 – are clear examples of the LTE ecosystem’s response to these new, broadband public safety networks. These features include device to device communications (Proximity Services), the ability to support realtime communications with large numbers of first responders in a cell simultaneously (Group Communications Service Enablers for LTE) and IP-based mission-critical push-to-talk applications (Mission Critical Push to Talk over LTE).
How quickly will the shift from traditional Land Mobile Radio technologies such as Project 25 and TETRA to mission-critical voice over LTE happen? The LTE technology is being prepared. This is but one factor, however. The key to rapid development of the technology is a clear signal from the public safety market of their demand to deploy mission-critical voice over LTE. The UK Home Office has already signaled their plan to replace the UK’s TETRA network with an LTE network. Will the US’s FirstNet and other networks be far behind?
Kenneth C. Budka,
Chief Technology Officer, Alcatel-Lucent