Panel: LTE, LMR will have to co-exist for a significant period
While public-safety officials throughout the country are anxiously anticipating the deployment of 700 MHz LTE networks, the fact remains that mission-critical LMR networks are the primary source of communications for first responders — and it will remain that way for several years to come, according to panelists participating today in an Urgent Communications webinar regarding the integration of the two disparate network technologies.
As a fourth-generation, mobile broadband technology designed for data services, LTE promises to offer throughput rates that are thousand times faster than the fastest data rates supported in P25 networks, enabling a host of useful data, query and video applications that are not possible over LMR networks. But that doesn't mean that agencies will scrap P25 networks as soon as LTE deployments occur throughout the nation, according to the panelists in today's webinar, which was sponsored by Cassidian Communications.
In fact, in some rural areas, LTE may never be a cost-effective solution compared to narrowband LMR networks, which can provide greater coverage on lower frequencies, thereby requiring fewer sites that need to be deployed and maintain, said John Powell, chairman of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) interoperability committee.
Indeed, those agencies that hope to avoid the FCC's narrowbanding deadline — now less than 20 months away — by moving mission-critical voice have "misconceptions" about the ability for LTE to provide mission-critical push-to-talk functionality that is the lifeline for first responders, mobile wireless consultant Andrew Seybold said.
Seybold said he does not believe that key features such as talkaround will be implemented in the LTE standard any time soon, because the standards bodies for the technology are driven by the needs of commercial wireless carriers that want customers to remain on their networks, not provide them ways to communicate off their networks, where they can't be billed.
But Seybold said he believes LTE can be deployed even in rural communities, if FCC rules allow for the establishment of public-partnerships with commercial providers that would be allowed to leverage unused public-safety spectrum and co-locate infrastructure with first-responder agencies. Even with the hope that Congress will allocate billions of dollars to public-safety LTE networks, such arrangements may be necessary to make deployments economically viable, Seybold said.
"When we get to rural America, I think those public/private partnerships are how we're going to get it done," he said.
Like most in the public-safety industry, none of the panelists expressed confidence about how long LMR and LTE systems will need to co-exist in the public-safety sector, but the general consensus was that it will be at least a decade. Given this, vendors with knowledge in both LMR and LTE — using the P25 ISSI interface was mentioned several times as a potential link between the disparate systems — promise to be attractive to first-responder entities for the foreseeable future.
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