Verizon turns to Motorola Solutions for second MCPTT offering with video, interoperability option
Verizon this week announced Group First Response, the carrier’s second mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) offering and the first one that leverages Motorola Solutions’ Kodiak MCPTT platform that includes 3GPP-compliant MCVideo and the ability to interoperate with LMR systems via the Critical Connect solution.
Nick Nilan, Verizon’s director of public-safety product development, said that public-safety customers have expressed considerable interest in MCPTT, and Group First Response marks Verizon’s second MCPTT announcement after the carrier unveiled its Push-to-Responder offering in October.
“We’ve seen good adoption over the years on our PTT and PTT+ platform that we’ve built, and that’s been great,” Nilan said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “But we’ve always had that request of, ‘It needs to operate more like my radio systems. It needs to operate with the reliability that I expect from my radio platforms’—and the reliability that they expect from a Verizon network.
“Being able to combine what 3GPP has enabled with mission-critical push to talk into these offerings that we’ve brought to market this fall is something that we’re incredibly excited about and pretty proud of. To be able to bring two solutions to meet the needs of this entire market.”
Group First Response utilizes Release 10 of the Kodiak carrier-integrated PTT platform that is designed to meet the 3GPP Release 15 standard for MCPTT and is being trialed in the United Kingdom’s Emergency Services Network (ESN), which is supposed to replace the Airwave TETRA service in the UK, according to Verizon and Motorola Solutions.
Nilan said that Group First Response is able to support talkgroups with as many as 3,000 users and is backward-compatible with Verizon’s PTT+ offering that also is based on the Kodiak platform.
In addition to MCPTT, Verizon’s Group First Response also supports the 3GPP standards for MCData and MCVideo, with the latter capability being something that is not immediately available in the Push-to-Responder offering that uses technology from Ericsson.
“Motorola Solutions has been serving public safety agencies for more than 90 years and has a long history of innovation in push-to-talk communications,” John Zidar, Motorola Solutions’ senior vice president for global enterprise and channels, said in a prepared statement. “We are proud to bring new insight, awareness and efficiency to first responders with the only broadband PTT platform compliant with all three 3GPP standards: MCPTT, MCData and MCVideo, and the only streaming video service compliant with the MCVideo standard.
Also notable is the fact that Verizon’s Group First Response is designed to work with devices that utilize both the Android and iOS operating systems, according to Nilan. Previously, all MCPTT-capable devices have run only on the Android platform.
“It does include iOS and Android devices,” Nilan said. “That will be our first offering for iOS customers, and we’re really excited about that. We’ve been putting that through a lot of testing to make sure it works and that it works as well as it does on Android
“We know that many police departments across the country use iOS, so that was a critical add for us. Because no one wants to add a service just on part of their users—the ones using Android—so this was a big win to get that included.”
Verizon’s list of approved iOS devices for Group First Response includes the iPhone 11, iPhone XS, iPhone XR and iPhone SE. Android products on the list are manufactured by Motorola, Samsung, Kyocera, Sonim and Google.
Although some iOS devices will be capable of connecting to MCPTT, Nilan acknowledged that all of these iOS devices currently can be accessed only through a “soft button” in an app on the device, as no iOS devices have a dedicated hardware button that can be programmed to initiate a push-to-talk call.
Nilan said that this “soft button” issue also extends to many of the approved Android devices.
“We are working with a number of different manufacturers of accessories of how do we lean into accessories that can replicate those buttons,” Nilan said. “But as of right now, we’re focused on delivering a digital application that will allow for that interface.”
Until those accessories are available, Nilan said the best MCPTT performance will be realized on devices with dedicated hardware push-to-talk buttons, such as Motorola Solutions’ LEX L11 and the APX NEXT P25 radio that also supports LTE connectivity.
“The best experience that they’re going to get is on the Motorola devices that we’ve launched so far—the LEX 11 and the APX NEXT,” Nilan said. “Those have the integrated push-to-talk button, that radio-like interface that has the accessories available, so that’s going to be the best experience that you can get. But we want to make sure that it works on whatever [device] that official is carrying.”
Motorola Solutions provided further details about the user experience on its product in a statement provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
“The user experience with APX NEXT remains ASTRO 25, even as it automatically switches between P25 LMR and LTE transport technologies,” according to the Motorola Solutions statement. “The LEX L11 and other purpose-built LTE devices provide the best experience for a Group First Response user, because they typically provide superior audio performance, are designed to work in harsh environments and provide dedicated buttons for MCPTT features such as emergency calling.
“The LEX L11 offers an advantage over many other purpose-built devices, because it reduces distortion, cancels background noise and suppresses feedback caused from other devices in close proximity. It also optimizes audio quality, even when holstered.”
Subscribers to Verizon’s Group First Response will be able to interoperate with LMR users through Motorola Solutions’ cloud-based Critical Connect platform, which is purchased separately from the MCPTT service.
“Critical Connect is sold directly by Motorola Solutions as a SaaS offering with the land mobile radio customer determining the configuration that allows them to connect to one or many land mobile radio systems and/or Verizon’s Group First Response and/or PTT+ Group Command customers,” according to a Motorola Solutions statement. “Verizon customers contact Motorola Solutions to get Critical Connect, and we work with them to determine how best to provision the service.”
Nilan said that the retail price of Group First Response is $27.50 per month per line for government customers and $35 per month for non-government customer, although it is subject to negotiation for groups. As a point of comparison, Verizon’s PTT+ offering costs $5 per month for both groups.
“If an agency would ask me, any of your critical users that you would give an LMR radio to really should be considered for Group First Response,” Nilan said. “That’s because they’re going to get the best experience on the network.
“If you have office users or non-mission-critical users, then getting them onto PTT+ certainly makes a lot of sense. What we’re focused on is making sure that PTT+ is still the best solution in the market for non-mission-critical users, which ends of being a lot of secondary responders—our tow-truck drivers, our road-clearing crews, our water agencies, our important government customers or even enterprise customers, if we think about construction, health care and others that still need that immediate communication, but the service isn’t mission-critical for them.”
Nilan noted that Group First Response does not include a capability to provide direct-mode communications, such as Proximity Services (ProSe), but “that’s really where we’re looking to go in the future.”
Nilan described the components of Group First Response as “mission-critical services that need to work” and “the future of public-safety communications over cellular,” but Verizon does not consider Group First Response to be a replacement for LMR as the primary voice communications for public safety.
“I see it as an augmentation to LMR,” Nilan said. “I think that’s an important distinction, because not everyone can get an LMR radio, and LMR only works to certain geographical capabilities. This allows more users to get access to LMR-like—or, in some cases, more robust—feature sets, but the fundamental reliability and control that agencies and cities get from LMR is going to continue for the foreseeable future.
“What we want to do is make sure that the integration between LTE and LMR continues to improve and get better. I think this is another good step in that direction … User adoption is going to tell us how customers really are using it, but that’s how we’re positioning it. We think it will be successful.”
Motorola Solutions expressed a similar sentiment in a statement on the subject provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
“MCPTT is a complement to, not a replacement for, LMR,” according to the Motorola Solutions statement. “It provides PTT communication for users traveling outside LMR coverage, extends PTT to non-mission-critical users who don’t carry radios and supports field access to high-bandwidth videos, images and other data that can help first responders respond effectively to increasingly complex incidents.”