Benefits of LTE to public safety systems largely ignored

  • Traditional public safety wireless systems should co-exist with modern solutions such as LTE
  • Govt needs to release precious radio spectrum, called Digital Dividend, for the country’s sake

LONG Term Evolution (LTE), or what is commonly known as Fourth Generation (4G) mobile technology, is usually associated with faster mobile broadband and a better user experience for consumers, but that is not all it should be -- LTE can also have a great impact on public safety agencies, according to communications giant Motorola Solutions.

Paul Steinberg, chief technology officer for Motorola Solutions, said this is an important aspect of LTE that is not usually promoted in the media or in advertising campaigns.
Formerly known as Motorola Inc, Motorola Solutions became a new entity in 2011 and is tasked with running the government, public safety and enterprise mobility business after the Motorola spun off its mobility division to become Motorola Mobility, which was later sold to search giant Google.
Benefits of LTE to public safety systems largely ignoredSteinberg (pic) noted that with the coming of LTE to Asia Pacific, public safety agencies such as the police could begin to supplement their existing LMR (land mobile radio) systems, such as the Tetra (Terrestrial Trunk Radio) system, and take advantage of features that LTE has to offer.
“Public safety communication systems are evolving and LMR systems won’t go away [any time soon],” Steinberg told Digital News Asia on the sidelines of the company’s Vertical Solutions Marketplace 2013 exhibition last week.
“Deploying LTE as a technology, which has advantages such as being able to support software applications that are fused with LMR mobile systems, as part of an integrated solution is the future for public safety agencies.”
Steinberg said one of the strongest advantages of LMR systems like Tetra is that the technology has layers of redundancy not found in traditional cellular-based systems like LTE.
He said LMR has been designed with mission-critical usage in mind and uses lower frequency bands (around 400MHz), which means that its wireless coverage is far better than that of cellular systems. Addtionally, LMR systems can still communicate with each other even if a base station goes down due to emergencies or natural disasters.
“LMR can still communicate point-to-point with other devices [between walkie-talkies] should there be a need to, whilst the same can’t be said of cellular systems like GSM or LTE,” Steinberg said, adding that this is why a LMR system is the preferred technology for public safety agencies.
That said, Steinberg acknowledged that as technology evolves, there is a space for LMR to co-exist with broadband technologies like LTE.
One area that LTE’s would be better in is the transmission of data, where public safety agencies such as the police or the fire brigade would benefit if they had access to services such as video.
Examples of these services are the relay of video information to police during a crisis situation or the relay of information back to a command and control center for it to run automatic license plate recognition, Steinberg said.
“These are but examples of next-generation public safety technology, which improves the ability of the public safety personnel to harness better information in their vehicles and on the ground.”
Securing dedicated spectrum
As impressive as these next-generation public safety technologies may sound, the path to getting there may be easier said than done, Steinberg conceded.
The first challenge is in the form of allocating dedicated spectrum in the LTE bands for public safety use, particularly in the 700MHz spectrum range.
Widely known in industry circles as the ‘Digital Dividend,’ the 700MHz spectrum [specifically between 696MHz to 806MHz] is a coveted commodity that is being freed up as a result of the digitization of television (TV) spectrum.
The advantage of digital TV is clear because it can transmit the same number of channels analog TV can but by using 50% to 75% less spectrum, hence the term Digital Dividend – frequency bands gained by going merely going digital.
In the United States, Steinberg said the allocation of 700MHz for public safety has been done and in 3GPP terms, it’s known as Band Plus 14.
Asked if Asia has made progress on this front, Steinberg said that the region should be looking at something similar although he acknowledged that different countries in the region have their own pace of adoption.  
“Whatever the case, we advocate that countries set aside dedicated spectrum for the public safety agencies so that they would not compete with commercial LTE systems,” he said. “Also, when a crisis occurs, the loading for radio resources is very high and for public safety agencies to function properly, they would need dedicated radio resources – up to 2 x 20MHz.”
Benefits of LTE to public safety systems largely ignoredLim Boon Cheong (pic), director of business development for Motorola Solutions, Asia Pacific, noted that in Malaysia, there are ongoing discussions as to when the Digital Dividend can be claimed for mobile broadband use.
“We have the 700MHz APT (Asia Pacific Telecommunication) plan, and this is a guideline for countries in Asia, including Malaysia,” he said. “How every country will administer the plan will depend on each country's needs, and in Malaysia, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is responsible for making that decision.”
Besides the challenge of getting dedicated spectrum, Steinberg also noted that public safety agencies tend to be very careful adopters of technology because they need to know that what they invest in will really be reliable and suitable for their needs.
Lim added that the typical investment cycle for a public safety agency such as the police is about 10 years, and they would not upgrade lightly as it is considered a large investment to do so.
That said, he claimed that Motorola is in talks with local public safety agencies about next-generation public safety technology but declined to say which agency or what technology is involved.
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