Don’t be surprised if other operators try to mimic Verizon/Motorola LTE alliance
Verizon Wireless’ recently announced alliance with Motorola Solutions to offer roaming to public-safety LTE networks (along with the ability to leverage applications and even share cell sites) might just be the move that could solidify public-safety’s quest to receive the D Block 700 MHz spectrum directly — not to mention keep competitors such as T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel out of the band.
While Motorola is working with more than 200 public-safety entities to deploy LTE networks, funding issues have caused many agencies to delay construction entirely or drastically reduce the scale of their initial broadband wireless buildouts. Through the new alliance, Motorola plans to provide public-safety customers with an opportunity to leverage LTE applications across Verizon’s commercial network as a coordinated supplement to a private LTE network, or as a roaming partner when the private network is not available.
Verizon Wireless, along with AT&T Mobility, has been in favor of giving the D Block spectrum directly to public safety instead of the FCC re-auctioning the spectrum to commercial carriers that in turn would give public-safety users priority access. Sprint and T-Mobile — which don’t hold any 700 MHz spectrum — argue that they can build out a nationwide network much faster and allow public safety to take advantage of it.
The argument for a D Block re-auction has been that public safety could capitalize on the significant investments commercial networks have made in advanced wireless technology. Moreover, without the auction, the FCC estimates that network construction costs for a public-safety-only network would reach nearly $50 billion during the next 10 years.
But Verizon’s and Motorola’s move take those arguments away. Public safety would leverage what Verizon is doing in LTE, an arena in which it has a significant head start over all other commercial operators. Moreover, the Verizon network would serve as a backfill for dead LTE areas on public-safety networks. Even LTE devices likely would be cheaper under the Verizon/Motorola arrangement because they will incorporate both the D Block and Verizon’s C Block frequencies. Since the FCC has not mandated LTE interoperability yet, public safety was in jeopardy of becoming an island because operators were unlikely to include those frequencies in their devices.
Of course, while Verizon’s move appears to benefit public safety, it seems to be driven more by competitive interests. So, it won’t be surprising if other operators like AT&T — which likely doesn’t want to miss out on any potential roaming with public safety — develop a similar alliance with another vendor keen on breaking into the public-safety infrastructure market. Nor would it be a shock if Sprint and T-Mobile proposed an arrangement that would be palatable to public safety, as they continue their quest to gain the D Block spectrum.
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For more information on LTE, attend these sessions at IWCE in Las Vegas, March 7-11, 2011.