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Industry’s LMR loyalties remain, but rapid LTE development continues

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LMR may be the mission-critical voice technology for years to come, but many industry players are taking bold steps to ensure that they are prepared for an LTE-centric future, as well.

While FirstNet and broadband technology clearly were hot topics during the recent IWCE 2014 show, a consistent message was delivered in sessions throughout the conference program: LTE is a great technology for data, but LMR will remain the primary choice for mission-critical voice services for some time.

It’s a mantra that public-safety officials like Harlin McEwen have been stating for years, and McEwen reiterated it at this year’s IWCE. What’s being debated throughout the industry is exactly how long is the “some time” that LMR remains as the primary critical-communications voice technology. Some have argued that LMR may never go away, particularly in rural areas; meanwhile, Alcatel-Lucent’s Ken Budka noted that standards-based equipment supporting mission-critical voice over LTE (VoLTE) should be on the market in about four years.

Exactly how long it will take LTE to replace LMR—if the transition ever becomes practical—is a great conversation topic, and there are legitimate points that support almost any position you want to take on the subject. However, no one can question the fact that the LTE ecosystem is developing more rapidly than anyone imagined, and even LMR’s staunchest proponents are taking significant steps to ensure that they will be ready for a broadband-focused environment.

Now, FirstNet has $7 billion to spend and representatives of the organization have been outspoken about the need for deployable LTE equipment, so it is only natural that several vendors had deployable LTE solutions displayed on the IWCE show floor to meet the need. But many other recent broadband developments have raised more than a few eyebrows, including:

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

LMR vs LTE or both? (not verified)
on Apr 10, 2014

I personally believe that LMR will never become obsolete. I remember some years back hearing of a comment made by a sheriff in a sparsely populated county in Montana about how when all technology fails, he could still key-up his portable radio and talk to his deputy's and dispatch.

VoLTE is essential to narrowing the interoptibility gap considering that thousands of first responder agencies have to rely on raffles, bake sales, chili suppers, and so on to purchase any new equipment. VoLTE can be added to conventional two-way radios at a minimal cost or work from a inexpensive smartphone. The end result will be an affordable avenue to real seamless interopability.

Having a multi-band P25 radio in every first responders' hand is nothing more than dream. But in these post-sequester days of dwindling funding and grants, we need to embrace technology that will give us additional communications resources for the best possible price. VoLTE incorporated into our two-way units will give us just that. Just a year before Nextel signals left our planet, network capable devices were available at major retailers locations, without a service contract for the $50.00 range. These units could talk to Sprint's IP direct phones which is essentially an early form of VoLTE.

No, LMR will never 'go away', but added communications capabilities should never be ignored. Since manufactures are now in the R&D phase of these devices, Maybe we should voice our ideas as to how make VoLTE work for us.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 15, 2014

I see TVWS and solutions like Adaptrum being built this year to bring data to LMR areas. Cheaper equipment and flexible spectrum use (can use D block and TVWS at the same time)

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Donny Jackson

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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