FirstNet—the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) being constructed and maintained by AT&T—will provide commercial LTE voice service to subscribers immediately, with mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) functionality slated to be introduced by March 2019.

While MCPTT will be available on the FirstNet system, FirstNet officials repeatedly have stated that MCPTT only should be considered as a replacement for LMR when first responders are comfortable that the technology will perform as needed during life-and-death situations. With this in mind, FirstNet officials publicly have stated that entities should continue to invest in their LMR systems.

However, anecdotal evidence from numerous sources indicates that many elected officials at all levels of government increasingly are hesitant to commit significant capital funding to new LMR systems—frequently paid off over 10-15 years—when they do not know whether MCPTT could be a viable alternative within five years.  

Public-safety license approvals are projected to decrease by 25.6% during the past two year, but the downward trend is more dramatic on the business-industrial side, which is projected to register a drop of at least 40% since 2015.

Mark Crosby, executive director for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA)—a frequency coordinator for business-industrial licensees—said he recognizes the downward trend of frequency-application approvals has occurred since the narrowbanding “bubble” burst in mid-2014 but is not discouraged.

Crosby noted that frequency-coordination work associated with larger systems is significantly more complex than a relatively simple paperwork item—for instance, changing an emission designation, which was a common task associated with narrowbanding—even though they may appear to be similar in the FCC’s ULS database.

“I know that, from EWA’s perspective, most of the [applications today] are big projects,” Crosby said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “And a big project is multi-site, multi-frequency, [requiring a lot of] research and days of meetings on the phone to do the right thing.”

With this in mind, anyone attempting to draw conclusions about the LMR industry based solely on the ULS database statistics could result in a misleading perspective, Crosby said.

 “You can do that, but it’s really not a fair assessment of the work you’re doing, especially for bigger projects, like statewide projects,” Crosby said. “It can be deceiving. Yes, our work is down, too, but we also have larger projects—projects that can equal about 500 apps.

“[In some cases,] it’s not even a fair assessment. It’s like comparing a smart car to a bus that sleeps six. Yes, they are both vehicles, but one is significantly more substantial than the other.”

Haller agreed that both 800 MHz rebanding and narrowbanding generated additional work for frequency coordinators and others in the LMR industry that inflated the number of licensing approvals by the FCC. However, he said the projected all-time lows in approved licenses should not be dismissed by the LMR industry.

“I think it shows a decline,” Haller said. “I suppose one could analyze it some other way, but I think it certainly shows a decline.”