The speculation about how Long-Term Evolution is going to change or even replace land-mobile radio — or, in a broader sense, wireless communications — is missing an important point. LTE is not an either/or proposition. The public-safety communications industry must broaden its understanding of LTE to envision what this technology can do, both alone and in concert with traditional narrowband and emerging commercial solutions. The potential is virtually unlimited.

Public-safety agencies are under intense pressure to increase their presence and reduce their emergency response times while improving overall situational awareness and service quality. But most first responders’ communications are stuck in a singular construct: dispatchers describe a situation to first responders, who then describe the situation back to dispatch. LTE will make these communications actionable.

Actionable communications empower first responders with detailed data and intelligence that can tell them what is causing an incident, who is responding and what resources are available. LTE enables actionable communications — including mission-critical video, voice and data — over secure, private and prioritized mobile broadband networks.

Translating the promise of LTE into reality will require a comprehensive understanding of the needs of the public-safety user community, matched with large-scale project integration expertise and experience with modern network telecommunications technology, deployment and management.

The much-discussed national LTE network for public safety will require an environment created by open standards and three core elements:

  • Technology that maximizes the use of commercially tested equipment that meets public-safety standards, while granting the responsibility for establishing base functionality to central governance.
  • Widely dispersed real value to the user community, by giving states and large municipalities with the authority to locally implement LTE technology and appropriate applications to meet their own needs and public-safety requirements.
  • Reasonable long-term funding, supported by the federal government, which will ensure that money is spent in the most appropriate way to maintain and expand affordable coverage that meets the goals and fulfills the promise of the national network.

The question is not, “Will LTE replace LMR?” Rather, we should be focused on achieving interchangeability as the central element of this new, innovative technical architecture. With a network-centric, LTE-oriented approach, it is possible to create a rich, interactive experience for the user that takes advantage of all technical avenues and yields a host of capabilities, benefits and efficiencies across the board.

The discussion must begin right now and tactical planning must move toward creating a true, interactive network that will deliver more to public-safety users than ever before. Public safety needs every commercial wireless capability, along with the hardened reliability provided by today’s public safety narrowband systems – and the industry must provide that for them.

LTE networks are a must, but just as important, we need to build a public-safety network that gives users everything that our LMR systems have been providing, as well as everything commercial consumers are now able to do. LTE is the only technology broad enough to do it all. This is why LTE is the road to everything.  

John Vaughan, Ph.D., is vice president of Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications.

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