It's no secret that 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks will be fundamentally different from today's circuit-switched, public-safety analog and digital networks. The biggest difference, of course, is that LTE is an all-IP network. But these networks also will require significantly more base stations to be deployed to get the coverage and high-speed data speeds that the technology advertises. That got me thinking about whether managed services — whereby vendors like Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) take over day-to-day operations of wireless network management — will become a trend in the public-safety LTE world.

Outsourcing network operations has been a hot trend for about two years now and is the growth driver for many major wireless vendors. The main driver for outsourcing deals among commercial mobile operators is a savings in operational expenditures.

Part of NSN's monster $7 billion deal with LTE newcomer LightSquared — which has aggressive plans to build out a nationwide LTE network using terrestrial and satellite spectrum — includes an outsourcing agreement whereby NSN manages and maintains the network. It will mark the first LTE network-management deal. In a recent interview, Sue Spradley, head of NSN's North American business, indicated that because LightSquared is using NSN's equipment and network-management services, the new network will be managed in a leaner and tighter way, which will save money.

"That is a model they are counting on," Spradley said. "Otherwise they won't be as cost-effective [given their] model of offering services cheaper." LightSquared's intention is to wholesale services to any player that wants to become and LTE operator.

Certainly, public-safety entities must use their LTE resources as cost-effectively as possible, especially as the economy continues to struggle. Managing these new networks on their own will require such entities to hire new workers with LTE know-how and experience with high-speed wireless broadband services — something that might be beyond the reach of many agencies given the current fiscal environment. Moreover, there are many other costs associated with tying a commercial technology to the needs of public safety, and with operating such networks for years to come.

Fortunately, vendors have become increasingly knowledgeable of ways to cut costs through giant outsourcing agreements such as Ericsson's deal with Sprint Nextel. Ericsson also recently won a massive deal with China Mobile to manage some 22,000 base-station sites.

I wouldn't be surprised if public-safety LTE networks will be a focus for vendors on the managed-network side. If so, managed services could be a key element in the propositions vendors bring forth to the first-responder community when bidding on contracts, since managed services now are making up a significant portion of their businesses.

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