Traditional voice communications via Land
Mobile Radio (LMR) will continue to be the
bedrock mode of communications for first
responders (fire, police, EMTs and utilities).
LMR is popular among first responders
because, as private dedicated networks, the
coverage and reliability of LMR meets the
standards for mission critical communications.
It’s what first responders are comfortable
using and accustomed to relying on. LMR’s
limitations are also its strengths: it is relegated
to primarily voice communications with very
limited integration of data or multimedia into
the first responder workflow.
However, still images and video, as well as the purpose-built
applications that bring new levels of capability to end users,
can benefit first responders greatly. Because LMR cannot
effectively transmit images or video, it is currently being
supplemented for non-emergency communications by
commercial broadband technologies.
In essence, first responders across the globe are at a major
inflection point in mission critical communications. While some
departments are already sprinting towards LTE, the shift from
LMR to LTE will take many years, and thus will require a
carefully planned migration. This will be made easier by
converged technologies that enable end users to leverage both
LMR and LTE.
It is helpful to think of this inflection point in two stages. In the
first stage, where we are today, there is a heavy reliance on LMR
with LTE only as a complement to the baseline voice capability.
The second stage will be the inverse, in which LTE will be the
primary service, with LMR as a backup. The most likely scenario
is that the transition to the second stage will happen slowly at
first. But once confidence in LTE builds, adequate coverage in
urban and rural areas is achieved, and applications and LTE-capable devices become more compelling to organizations, the
transition will occur quickly.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONVERGENCE
The best way to approach future communication procurements
is to think in terms of converged networks, devices and
applications. Convergence means that services are delivered
to the user in the same way, and with the same features and
operation, regardless of the network that delivers the services.
For example, traditional LMR Push-To-Talk (PTT) voice service
includes prioritization, encryption, emergency declarations and
talk-group patching (allowing different groups to talk to each
other). A converged PTT network would deliver these same
services to broadband users, with the same level of encryption/
decryption and with no loss of end-to-end emergency
declarations and prioritization. All of these PTT features should
be built on standards-based voice coding, encryption, and
messaging formats to ensure that Public Safety can interoperate
on a vendor-agnostic basis.
The same also holds for converged devices, which should
support a mix of services across LMR, commercial LTE and
private LTE networks. Notably, the market is now seeing
excellent converged devices for first responders, which provide
LMR Project 25 (P25) and LTE capabilities. Digital Mobile Radio
(DMR) and LTE converged devices are particularly compelling
for utilities organizations.
An example of converged technology available today is the
Tait Unified Vehicle platform which provides a vehicle area
network that combines LMR (DMR or P25) and broadband
connectivity with an on-board edge computing and application
platform. Other converged devices earning praise from end users
are the Harris XL-185P and XL-200P; the latter is the industry’s
first converged multiband LTE and full-spectrum LMR in a
“IN ESSENCE, FIRST
ACROSS THE GLOBE
ARE AT A MAJOR
IN MISSION CRITICAL