Urgent Matters

Is your existing public-safety LMR network your last?


According to one expert, public-safety-grade LTE is going to supplant traditional first-responder communications a lot sooner than many people think.

For all of the attention focused on FirstNet, first-responder LTE on 700 MHz broadband spectrum dedicated to public safety is in the earliest stages of infancy. There are pilots and other networks that could be ready soon, but the only operational network is located in Harris County, Texas.

Meanwhile, mission-critical voice is the lifeblood of first-responder communications, and the voice offered via the LTE standard is commercial grade, lacking many of the features that public safety has deemed necessary in a mission-critical setting.

Given these factors and others, conventional wisdom is that public-safety LMR communications will not be replaced by LTE any time soon. A few have argued that such a transition never will happen, while others have speculated time periods that are as short as 3 years or as much as 50 years.

Count Mike Bostic—a 34-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who now serves as Raytheon’s director of customer advocacy for public safety and security—among those who believe first-responder communications will move quickly to LTE. In fact, he says the movement has started already.

“The revolution has already begun,” Bostic said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “The LMR people are trying to push for a slow evolution, but that’s just a business strategy—it’s not based on reality.”

According to Bostic, the reality is that most agencies are starting to use cell phones instead of LMR handsets on a very frequent basis, although they realize they may have to turn to the LMR system when a cellular system gets too busy.

 “When command staff wants to talk to an incident commander, they don’t use the land-mobile-radio system, they call them on their cell phones, so they can have conversation … or have a conference call,” Bostic said. “They can do all kinds of things you can’t do on an LMR system; plus, you have all of the capability that you have on your computer on your smartphone.

“So, when I hear people say that it’s going to be a very slow evolution, they’re not watching what’s actually happening in the marketplace. It’s already happening. So now, the push is—as you see in both the military space and the public-safety space—that they all want iPads, iPhones, Android phones and Android tablets to replace these big, hardened, bulky radios that only do push to talk. So the revolution is going to happen.”

Assuming FirstNet delivers the public-safety-grade reliability to its system, as promised, the argument to moving to LTE becomes more compelling, Bostic said. Also compelling are the economic realities of public-safety entities supported by budget-strapped entities that simply cannot afford to build and maintain a new LMR system, especially when the current LMR system is still functioning well.

“We do a lot of work in the LMR space, but we also recognize that the future is LTE,” Bostic said. “And, to tell anyone not to buy into the future is ludicrous; it’s not even logical. They’re already buying in, by the way that they actually operate.

“Will they always keep LMR? I don’t think so. I think, over time, LMR will eventually go the way of every other old technology. It has served its purpose for 40-60-80 years, because there were no other options. Well, now there are other options.”

For entities that have an LMR system that may be 20-30 years old, there may be no choice but to replace it with another LMR system, because FirstNet LTE may not be available in a given location for some time and a proven mission-critical voice system is necessary, Bostic said. However, if an entity believes it can operate with its existing LMR system for a few more years, it should not jump to a new LMR system prematurely, because he believes the transition to LTE will happen in 3-5 years.

“Unless you absolutely have to get rid of your LMR system, what’s the hurry?” Bostic said. “LTE is coming much sooner than you think.”

This is not a new sentiment.  But Bostic is one of the few who has been willing to say it for the record. The fact that he works for a company that still has a large LMR footprint--and that he spent more than three decades on the job in one of America's most dangerous cities--gives his bold proclamation a lot of weight.

Discuss this Blog Entry 21

Radio Randy (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

LTE is fine for those in big cities or surrounded by miles of flat, non-forested ground. However, there are millions and millions of acres of rural landscape that will never see a cell tower, because of a minimal customer base.
LMR systems still remain the most effective option for centers that have to dispatch multiple resources to wildland fires. In addition, direct, unit-to-unit communications will have to remain available for initial attack on these incidents and that is just not viable with a trunked 700/800 MHz radio and no infrastructure to support it.
I may be proven wrong some day, but it probably won't be in my lifetime.

Mike (not verified)
on Apr 17, 2013

I agree that LTE for Public Safety DATA is the way to go and strive for. Currently the public safety agencies spend millions each year with the carriers to supply them with high speed BroadBand to the vehicle or Subscriber units.

Now if you take the current platform for systems that are using 700mhz spectrum for their voice communications mixed with 800mhz spectrum they have ran out of. 2017 is only 4 1/2 years away and the 700mhz spectrum must go to TDMA at that time unless the FCC pushes the deadline back. At that with the LTE in the background you will still need your legacy 700/800Mhz P25 system or conventional systems to allow for first responder communications in the rural areas.

The FirstNet guys will figure this out and hopefully it wont be a waste of tax payers dollars.

Ok here is a spin on the whole thing, Back when Cyren Call made a push for the nextel system. Come on guys pay attention to what the hell is out their. That system was as sold as any public safety system. It was all 800mhz and to boot it was a form of Tetra. You could have had a nationwide public safety system, change out the subscriber, re configure the network and allow for some public safety features to be used. To boot the subscriber would have 700Mhz LTE built in for the data side if you still wanted to use a private LTE PS system or you would be able to have that also on the 800Mhz.

Here is the problem, Each State or Agency cant all agree and that is why you have FirstNet. Why reinvent the wheel. The cellular guys have figured it out and hell with the new LTE antennas out there you can mix the cellular and Public Safety all in the same antennas. The sites are mostly there. Partnet with the cell companies. Just a thought.

on Apr 16, 2013

I agree. There are definite drumbeats in the distance. We can hear them, but we just are not too sure who they are yet. LTE is still a bit dicey to hitch a wagon too and there is not a clear path for any alternatives to equate or improve on how on-scene / hazard zone communications can be made as reliable as some LMR tehcnologies, that are in use now. When its better, then the change will come like a firestorm.

on Apr 16, 2013

Bostic sounds like a Motorola salesman.
He says, " “When command staff wants to talk to an incident commander, they don’t use the land-mobile-radio system, they call them on their cell phones". That's all well and good - until the cell phone system is overwhelmed.
In addition, Bostic comes from Los Angeles where radio communication coverage is pretty easy, for the most part. I operate in very hilly country and I know it will take many millions to provide adequate 700 MHz coverage.
Bostic also forgets that a lot of agencies need simplex communications which are simply not available on the LTE systems.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

Been in the LMR business for 40 years. Will call it quits in about 5 or so. Perfect timing. Adios!!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

A nationwide Public Safety LTE deployment will only include the largest population centers; we would be on drugs to believe that Public Safety LTE will be deployed in the other 18,950 incorporated cities across our great country. While the largest cities in our country have become tired of P25, the rest of the country is finally moving in that direction and many are very happy with analog conventional radio systems. LMR will be around for a very long time; it’s inexpensive and works during extreme emergencies, when our First Responders need to communicate.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

A nationwide Public Safety LTE deployment will only include the largest population centers; we would be on drugs to believe that Public Safety LTE will be deployed in the other 18,950 incorporated cities across our great country. While the largest cities in our country have become tired of P25, the rest of the country is finally moving in that direction and many are very happy with analog conventional radio systems. LMR will be around for a very long time; it’s inexpensive and works during extreme emergencies, when our First Responders need to communicate.

on Apr 16, 2013

My (new) public safety radio system will see us a long time into the future, Firstnet is already talking about their pricing structure being higher than cell providers, before even settling on a technology. By the time it gets built out, the technology they decide up on will be long past - and it will fall to more funding to switch to new technology.

And then we will still end up with a system that covers less than 30% of the land in the US.

Public safety is still a cost driven expenditure. Many, even MOST of the technology and equipment out there in the hands our first responders has been brought to us by the federal government in the form of grants. At some point, that will end.

Interoperability? It is NOT going to happen with Firstnet. It simply won't with the cost already being talked about as being higher than commercial providers.

Mark my words. The true winners of the Firstnet system will be the vendors and carrier "partners". The losers will be the first responders.

And I will be looking to the future to see what new LMR system I will have in 30-40 years.

NY Radio (not verified)
on Apr 17, 2013

Again, another well feed industry blow hard just chomping at the bit to get his next big fat public contract pay check. So here is where this all falls apart. We (the public safety community) have been using cell phones for over 15 years, there is nothing new about that. However, there is a stark difference as to when a phone conversation needs to take place and an officer is chasing down a suspect or a fire fighter is making entry into a burning building that they will rely on the "big, hardened, bulky radios that only do push to talk" to effectively communicate with other first responders. This guy Bostic is completely delusional if he thinks that will ever be replaced in a front line application. The fire fighter in full gear is not going to whip out his android platform LTE smart phone to talk during a fire!

Now, lets pick apart the next big BS line that is being pushed with this LTE firstnet garbage.

"According to Bostic, the reality is that most agencies are starting to use cell phones instead of LMR handsets on a very frequent basis, although they realize they may have to turn to the LMR system when a cellular system gets too busy.

Uh, OK. So in one breath we are saying that LMR is the main stay, trusted old standby that works. And it seems to me that the cellular folks are already doing a pretty good job of building out their LTE networks. So here is a novel idea. Invest a fraction of the money slated for the "doomed" first net system into hardening already built cellular networks and prioritize any public safety users. Wow, amazing Less Money = same end result!

And wait for it..... The truly non-essential (non emergency) traffic that will be passed on such an LTE system can do just fine on the commercial cellular networks (such as still pictures, video, gps, crime & DMV data) and leave critical voice alone on the LMR systems.

After all, the most basic form of communication if spoken word, and without that big, hardened, bulky radios that only do push to talk, we as public safety personnel are all doomed.

Gee, isn't it funny that at the end of the road that basically the first net system will essentially be built out with the help of big cellular companies.

Mr. Bostic, please go crawl back under the rock to which you emerged from and take your android phone with you.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 17, 2013

While I agree that replacing LMR with LTE is a realistic goal, the network has to have the coverage, reliability, and availability required by public safety before that transition can even be attempted. Also, it is absolutely imperative that a standards based method for Mission Critical Voice over LTE be adopted. Otherwise, we will end up with a bunch of apps that have varying degrees of performance and a huge interoperability mess which would result in someone getting hurt. Many PS folks use cell phones as a secondary means of communicating but how would that have worked in Boston a couple of days ago when the cellular networks needed to be shut down immediately to avert a potential disaster. There are lots of things to consider and the vast majority of those things are people and policy issues. Will the technology and network eventually be there to replace LMR? I believe so and I believe it won't take 50 years but there are MANY things that need to happen before we can put our critical operations on LTE.

jb (not verified)
on May 2, 2013

Well, the cell service in Boston was NOT shut down. It was just flat overloaded, as always happens when anything of any consequence happens. Everyone decides they need to call someone. All at once.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 17, 2013

Several others have responded regarding the ability for Firstnet to work in rural areas and this would be a pipe dream! Another pointed out that there are no towers and never will be a commercial tower available in some areas in this country. The cost of providing 100% coverage with a terrestrial system is too high and will never happen.
And the cost of the on going operation and maintenance of this system will also take a toll on local agencies that are already struggling with budget restrictions and some even having to make hard decisions on what to cut.
Large urban areas will benefit but those in the rural market will have to continue with their reliable LMR systems.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 17, 2013

For all of the volunteers in rural areas who today do not use cellular data plans for mobile data applications because of the cost and use only LMR to communicate on scene and with their dispatch center, how can Firstnet even think that they can construct something affordable for agencies that today cannot afford to use cellular networks? Without major subsidies (coming from where?) the vast majority of US agencies will not be able to swing a budget to use Firstnet.

Use some of the $7 billion to negotiate with existing carriers, harden their facilities, add some buildout in non-covered areas, and pay them off for priority services and we are there. Don't create another expensive bureaucracy that we cannot afford.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 17, 2013

LTE is another high cost low performance pie in the sky as is P-25. Too many people watching Jack Bauer on tv show 24. The just isn't enough money available that can make this happen. Given terrain, coastal restrictions, mountain restrictions and desert terrain. It may be possible to operate in those geographical areas but no one will put up the money to make it happen. I don't know where this guy comes from but cellular is NOT the normal comm device for first responders. There have been many talks with cellular providers to harden their sites against disasters as we do in public safety comm and they refuse. To build out hardened LTE sites with the geographical issues of California alone would not work. Probably not in my lifetime, don't hold your breath.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 17, 2013

Maybe we should educate our 'superiors' on what LTE would take.
Let's see what NPSTC says about cell phones. Check http://www.npstc.org/index.jsp and the article titled "Why can't public safety just use cell phones?"

resham (not verified)
on Apr 18, 2013

Bostic works for Ratheon and he needs to pitch Ratheons LTE system and equipment, plain and simple.

Also I'm confident that Ratheons version of LTE will somehow be just enough incompatible with Motorola's or Harris's or Tait's LTE, especially after each manufacturer designs their own proprietary features which will undoubtedly lock other vendors ou.

We hear all of these salesmen pitching LTE telling us how we need to switch to public safety LTE and that the LTE vendors will be able to provide low cost handsets which they base this assumption on the prices of cellular handsets.

What none of these yellow tie, plaid shirt ex used car salesmen are telling anyone is that the only reason that cellular phones (really radios BTW) are so cheap is because the cell companies subsidize low prices which areo based on having millions of users which public safety never will have.

LTE is going to cost more per handset than everyone is telling us, maybe at first with DHS grants thrown in, (Mine and your tax dollars) the prices may initially look attractive but once the DHS dollars run out the price of a LTE radio is going to make the users scream ripoff.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 16, 2013

I agree. Follow the money.

It's funny (& sad) that for the last many years, P25 is/was the end-all, be-all savior of the PS realm. Not so much all of a sudden.

Does anyone really believe that cellular will provide the benefits that those billions of tax dollars pushed into P25 did not?

When the givernment funding/grants run out for this next debacle, like it did for P25, who is going to foot the bill for the all the equip repairs/upgrades/replacements that you got the city, county or state locked into?

Does anyone realize just how quickly a cellphone is obsoleted? I can't buy a simple belt clip for a less than 2 yr old phone now unless I resort to the internet.

How easy is it to break a display on a smartphone? If that goes, the unit is virtually useless. If ya break a display on a portable, it still works & you can still get "someone's" attention.

I guess it's pretty neat to get a picture on a smartphone...as long as you have coverage & the system isn't overloaded & the backhaul is still working & there's power available for all of that equipment.


Do yourselves, we taxpayors & the people that need to rely on these meager tools a favor. Stop being sold a bill of goods for the next "whiz bang" techology that promises the world & can't deliver.

All you do is make life that much more difficult & expensive for a few "gimmicks" that really don't add value for the people that must use & pay for it.

bob (not verified)
on Oct 3, 2013

Your ignorance of what goes into a LTE system is astounding. None of the companies you mention actually do an end-to-end LTE system. At most they do some User Equipment and some of the RAN. None of them manufacture the EPC components or the mobile backhaul.

The air interface of a LTE is already standardized so no amount of vendor influence can flub it up.

Get your facts right before you start throwing accusations.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 6, 2013

Bostic is the only one with enough balls to state the inevitable to the LMR good old boys club. Fess up to the reality that P-25 has been and continues to be a major disaster in and of itself wasting billions in taxpayer dollars. Its time to take the blinders off and get serious about moving on.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 16, 2013

P25 techology in itself is not a disaster.
It's primarily just C4FM for now.
Works fine, last long time.

The real disasters stem from implimentation, "bean counters" & vendors / manufacturers who "Muntz" their system engineer's best efforts to provide the same coverage at 700/800 as the customer's vhf/uhf system did at a more palletable price for the taxpayor.

Ya' gets what ya' pays for....if you're that lucky.

Norm (not verified)
on Sep 24, 2013

LTE is just another in a long list of "end all, be all" solutions designed primarily to benefit the hawkers of technology "solutions". The fact is that there isn't enough spectrum to accomodate this fantasy wish list as we are discovering in other spaces in the spectrum. The other thing is that at one time cellular technologies were regarded by Public Safety as non-mission critical for a variety of reasons, system overloads, unexpected service outages, insufficient generator run time, no back-up power, and the ubiquitous "moron on the back-hoe" that digs up the 2500 pair or destroys the fiber run.

I have just one question; what makes Public Safety think that any of those problems will magically disappear with LTE?

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.


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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