The readers always write: Mission-critical voice
Public-safety entities that recently narrowbanded their LMR system will not build a new LMR system in 15 years, because they will have switched their mission-critical voice communications to an LTE network by that time.
That’s the opinion of almost two-thirds of the 120 readers responding to a recent poll question that we posted for our readers on UC’s web site, with 45 voters believing that entities will make the transition to LTE when their LMR systems reach end of life and another 33 voters saying that the transition would happen before the current LMR systems reach end of life.
Of the 42 voters that believe these public-safety entities will build new LMR systems, 26 indicated that they believe mission-critical voice communications always will run over LMR, while 16 voted that a transition to broadband eventually will happen, but will take several decades.
Exactly what this means is open to interpretation, of course. This is an unscientific poll—all of our polls are—and there is no way to determine the background of those who take the time to vote. But the results are interesting, because most of our readership traditionally has come from an LMR background.
Given this, the fact that a significant majority of the voters indicated their belief that LMR will be supplanted by LTE for mission-critical voice within 15 is somewhat surprising, even though it is becoming obvious that development within the LTE standard is moving very quickly.
Some commenters said they believe LMR will remain the long-term medium for mission-critical voice, citing both political and technical reasons—and they were much more detailed and outspoken than those commenters supporting the voting majority.
“The probability of having to migrate to another LMR system is high, regardless of what happens with LTE,” according to one commenter. “This is because the LMR vendors have a powerful lobby that can ram in place new technologies to keep LMR sales going and federal dollars flowing.”
As for the technical issues, another commenter said that “LMR systems are proven and reliable if properly designed, implemented and administered. LTE systems are low powered, too easy to jam, take way more infrastructure to provide equivalent radio coverage, the subscriber gear is mostly consumer grade, the LTE sites are mostly not hardened and / or not maintained by the operators themselves.
“At this stage, LTE is too vulnerable and too young to risk the lives of those who protect. … Proceed with caution.”
This sentiment was echoed by another commenter.
“No LTE system will ever cover 100% of the need for LMR. … Satellite coverage may well cover wilderness areas, [but] they won’t cover mine shafts, caves, underground parking areas, etc. … Also, LTE will still be dependent on a network, which will be subject to outages. Subscriber devices may well end up as a hybrid between LTE and LMR, to meet these challenges.”
One commenter took exception to the coverage argument.
“Note to self: Stay out of abandoned mine shafts, since LTE will not provide coverage (BTW, neither will LMR).”
Two commenters said the migration of mission-critical voice to LTE—and beyond—is only natural.
“LMR (and all technology) progresses, changes,” one commenter stated. “LTE will replace LMR and something else will come along to replace LTE. Luddites have no place in public safety.”
Another commenter wrote, “The same people who were forced to narrowband will wait till the last possible moment to move to LTE. It’s the nature of the beast. But, by the time that happens, we will be moving far beyond LTE.”
Does this poll result contradict the opinions of many long-time public-safety communications representatives, such as Harlin McEwen, who has written that LMR will be used for mission-critical voice for at least the next 4-5 years? Not at all, in my opinion. After all, the poll question addresses a 15-year time period, while McEwen noted only a five-year span.
As McEwen and others have noted, there’s little question that mission-critical voice for public safety likely will be transmitted via LMR for the next five years. Public-safety entities needing to upgrade or build new LMR networks within this time period likely will opt to spent their money on LMR, because LTE mission-critical voice may not exist as an option or will be a “bleeding-edge” technology, which is something that first responders historically have not been comfortable using when lives are on the line.
Less clear is what government entities should do if they project that their mission-critical LMR system will need to be replaced beyond that five-year window. By then, the LTE landscape could look completely different, depending on what happens with FirstNet, the 3GPP committee that controls the LTE standard, Congressional actions on key items such as the T-Band, and other factors.
While many people have theories about what will happen, the fact is that no one really knows right now when a transition to mission-critical voice over LTE could occur. But, at Urgent Communications, we will continue to monitor progress closely on all of the various fronts and communicate it to our readers to help provide them with the information needed to make the best decisions possible on this important issue in the future .