Public safety’s mission-critical voice communications someday may be transmitted over FirstNet’s nationwide LTE system, but elected officials and government administrators should not retire land-mobile-radio (LMR) networks until first responders express confidence in the LTE-based offering, according to leading wireless consultant Andrew Seybold.

 

Unfortunately, too many government officials are jumping the gun on the capabilities of public-safety LTE as justification to not fund needed improvements to existing LMR networks, Seybold said today during an IWCE webinar sponsored by Anritsu, Avtec, ESChat and Zetron.

“The non-public-safety vision is that wireless is all about broadband—the federal government believes it, everybody believes—and, therefore, FirstNet must become the only network that public safety needs,” Seybold said. “Next-generation 911 will be all IP-based and make use of broadband, so it makes sense to use end-to-end broadband.

“Elected officials believe they no longer need to fund public-safety narrowband voice systems. I get calls about that every month.”

Elected officials can be confused by media reports, such as those associated with the passage of an LTE mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) standard in March, Seybold said.

“The problem is that what they’re hearing is from the technologists’ side, and they are not understanding that there may be a technology that’s ready, but the people who use it [first responders] may not be ready,” he said.

Seybold expressed optimism that the 3GPP—the body that oversees LTE standards development—has approved standards that are designed to address public safety’s functionality needs to meet or exceed the experience on LMR networks. However, the last of these standards was approved in March, so solutions that meet these standards are not yet commercially available, much less deployed in a real-world environment.

“So far, none of these standards are implemented in any network that I know of,” Seybold said. “Right now, we have standards and no proof of concept.”

Typically, there is an 18-month time period between the approval of an LTE standard and the commercial availability of equipment that meets that standard, Seybold said. Under that timetable, MCPTT-capable gear could be commercially available next fall.

But Seybold said that MCPTT is very different—and more complex—than typical commercial solutions, so it could take longer for manufactures to develop solutions that can be implemented. In addition, it is important that officials ensure that FirstNet provides the kind of coverage and reliability that public safety demands before considering a complete migration to LTE, he said.

“The view from public safety is that, when public safety is ready—and if public safety is ready—then they will be ready,” Seybold said.