Is your existing public-safety LMR network your last?
For all of the attention focused on FirstNet, first-responder LTE on 700 MHz broadband spectrum dedicated to public safety is in the earliest stages of infancy. There are pilots and other networks that could be ready soon, but the only operational network is located in Harris County, Texas.
Meanwhile, mission-critical voice is the lifeblood of first-responder communications, and the voice offered via the LTE standard is commercial grade, lacking many of the features that public safety has deemed necessary in a mission-critical setting.
Given these factors and others, conventional wisdom is that public-safety LMR communications will not be replaced by LTE any time soon. A few have argued that such a transition never will happen, while others have speculated time periods that are as short as 3 years or as much as 50 years.
Count Mike Bostic—a 34-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who now serves as Raytheon’s director of customer advocacy for public safety and security—among those who believe first-responder communications will move quickly to LTE. In fact, he says the movement has started already.
“The revolution has already begun,” Bostic said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “The LMR people are trying to push for a slow evolution, but that’s just a business strategy—it’s not based on reality.”
According to Bostic, the reality is that most agencies are starting to use cell phones instead of LMR handsets on a very frequent basis, although they realize they may have to turn to the LMR system when a cellular system gets too busy.
“When command staff wants to talk to an incident commander, they don’t use the land-mobile-radio system, they call them on their cell phones, so they can have conversation … or have a conference call,” Bostic said. “They can do all kinds of things you can’t do on an LMR system; plus, you have all of the capability that you have on your computer on your smartphone.
“So, when I hear people say that it’s going to be a very slow evolution, they’re not watching what’s actually happening in the marketplace. It’s already happening. So now, the push is—as you see in both the military space and the public-safety space—that they all want iPads, iPhones, Android phones and Android tablets to replace these big, hardened, bulky radios that only do push to talk. So the revolution is going to happen.”
Assuming FirstNet delivers the public-safety-grade reliability to its system, as promised, the argument to moving to LTE becomes more compelling, Bostic said. Also compelling are the economic realities of public-safety entities supported by budget-strapped entities that simply cannot afford to build and maintain a new LMR system, especially when the current LMR system is still functioning well.
“We do a lot of work in the LMR space, but we also recognize that the future is LTE,” Bostic said. “And, to tell anyone not to buy into the future is ludicrous; it’s not even logical. They’re already buying in, by the way that they actually operate.
“Will they always keep LMR? I don’t think so. I think, over time, LMR will eventually go the way of every other old technology. It has served its purpose for 40-60-80 years, because there were no other options. Well, now there are other options.”
For entities that have an LMR system that may be 20-30 years old, there may be no choice but to replace it with another LMR system, because FirstNet LTE may not be available in a given location for some time and a proven mission-critical voice system is necessary, Bostic said. However, if an entity believes it can operate with its existing LMR system for a few more years, it should not jump to a new LMR system prematurely, because he believes the transition to LTE will happen in 3-5 years.
“Unless you absolutely have to get rid of your LMR system, what’s the hurry?” Bostic said. “LTE is coming much sooner than you think.”
This is not a new sentiment. But Bostic is one of the few who has been willing to say it for the record. The fact that he works for a company that still has a large LMR footprint–and that he spent more than three decades on the job in one of America's most dangerous cities–gives his bold proclamation a lot of weight.