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Crystal ball for mission-critical voice over LTE timeline certainly not crystal clear

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“When will LTE be a viable option for mission-critical voice for my first responders?” may well be the most vexing question regarding public-safety communications today, but a variety of factors have conspired to make it difficult for decision makers to estimate an accurate timeline today.

“When will LTE be a viable option for mission-critical voice for my first responders?”

This may well be the most vexing question regarding public-safety communications in this generation, because the answer promises to have a significant impact on multiple strategic and funding decisions that are being faced by government entities.

“I would be on an island somewhere that I owned, if I could answer questions like that, because I’m sure I could get everybody in this room to pay me a lot of money to answer it,” Andrew Thiessen, division chief for the Institute of Telecommunications Sciences (ITS), said during a session last week at the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) stakeholders conference.

And the stakes are high for decision makers, whether they are elected officials, government staffers, private consultants or industry vendors. Those who get the answer wrong may face considerable criticism for wasting scarce government resources and could find themselves looking for new jobs. Those who get the answer correct can earn the title of “visionary” and never-ending thanks for using taxpayer money in the most efficient way possible.

There are a lot of unknowns to be contemplated by those making this decision, but here are some of the key parameters that most in the industry seem to agree on:

FirstNet officials have said any transition to mission-critical voice over LTE will happen when public-safety users are comfortable with the functionality. Hopefully, this is true to a large extent, but it is somewhat naïve to believe that first-responder entities will get to make the decision in a vacuum. There will be considerable input from elected officials that would rather pay for communications via a single network like FirstNet, instead of paying for data and voice on separate networks.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

JB (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2014

I find this article to be counterproductive. I don't believe for a second that true mission-critical, public safety grade voice will show up over LTE that quick. They're just now starting to think about consumer grade voice! (There is no actual protocol yet.) And when I say consumer grade, think about how bad your cell phone sounds. You normally cannot recognize even familiar voices currently. And all the drop-outs/breakups/echos/etc. No, I think we are talking about 2018 before they really find a format that works, and 2020 before you start seeing equipment available that actually works. (Yes, we're just now in the last year or so starting to see P25 radios that actually sound almost as good as what we've been used to in analog. Sorta.) "High-definition"? Please. Outside of FM broadcast, a decent analog FM LMR radio is far and away the best sounding voice radio transmission medium out there.
It would be a HUGE mistake for local governments and public safety to ignore their LMR systems with the thought that there will be acceptable voice available within LTE, and LTE systems that use it available, within the next 10 years. If you are a local government, and your LMR system is more than 10 years old, you need to replace it with new equipment now! Don't wait for this 'magic' LTE stuff to show up in time, because it won't And what you see now is no better than your crummy cell phone. Because that's all it is.

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Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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