While the focus of public-safety organizations on Capitol Hill is pushing bills that would reallocate the 700 MHz D Block for first-responder broadband services, the complementary aspect of these legislative efforts is to convince Congress to provide $11 billion to $16 billion to help fund the buildout and operation of LTE networks.

Indeed, some have argued — most notably, the FCC — that securing a funding source actually is more important than the D Block spectrum, particularly in the current economic climate, where governmental entities face budget shortfalls and personnel layoffs on an annual basis. Given these circumstances, they really are not in a financial position to make multimillion-dollar investments in hardened LTE networks, especially if they have to pay to narrowband their LMR voice systems during the next couple of years.

Of the initial 21 public-safety entities granted FCC waivers to pursue 700 MHz public-safety broadband networks, most applied for federal grant funds associated with the national stimulus legislation in hopes of bridging the fiscal challenge associated with LTE. Of course, only a few were awarded grants, leaving the rest to rethink their LTE deployment strategies.

So far, the message I’ve heard from representatives of those entities whose grant applications were not accepted has been remarkably similar: it will take longer for us to deploy LTE without the federal stimulus money, but we still want to deploy LTE.

In many cases, the entities have some money available to spend on LTE — after all, a local match would have been needed if they had received broadband stimulus grants. While the complete networks envisioned in the grant applications could not be deployed with these limited funds, there is enough money to pay for some notable pilot programs or initial-phase buildouts, in terms of the LTE radio access network,

But one of the biggest hurdles for these entities to clear is paying for an LTE core network, which represents a multimillion-dollar investment. In addition, because of the mission-critical nature of public-safety communications, first-response agencies would prefer to have redundant, geographically separate LTE cores available to minimize downtime.

Traditionally, public-safety agencies have owned and operated all aspects of their LMR networks, so some contemplated a similar model in the LTE broadband arena. However, the cost of individual entities deploying their own core networks appears to be cost prohibitive and technically inefficient — after all, an LTE core is designed to support millions of commercial users, not the thousands of users that even the most urban public-safety agency would need to support.

Another factor that cannot be overlooked that LTE is a relatively new technology, so the pool of people who know how to run an LTE network is relatively small — and virtually all of them are employees of wireless carriers and vendors that can pay them more than a public-safety entity.

With all of this in mind, many 700 MHz broadband waiver recipients are considering sharing an LTE core network with other entities inside and outside of their region. To help offset the capital costs of an LTE core network, Alcatel-Lucent has said it plans to offer a hosted LTE core to public-safety entities, which would allow the first-response agencies to concentrate their upfront financial resources on building out radio-access networks. Last month, Motorola officials indicated that the vendor giant was considering a similar hosted model.

As with any deal, the devil is in the details — price is always a significant factor for public-safety entities, as well as contractual assurances regarding network control and performance. However, moving to a hosted model for the LTE may be the most practical alternative for many public-safety entities to make their wireless broadband plans a reality.

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