One possible roadmap for the evolution of public safety communications is to eventually end up with a unified TETRA and LTE network or similar equivalent.
Iain Ivory, director, TETRA subscriber product management at Motorola Solutions (pictured) told delegates at the PMR Summit/Professional LTE event that voice will remain at the core of any public safety network.
‘The network needs to have a high availability system design with government level security and must be able to provide the capacity that meets user needs when they need them. Commercial mobile networks are not reliable enough for this,’ said Ivory.
Why unify TETRA and LTE? Ivory said that TEDS (TETRA Enhanced Data Services) is already capable of unifying voice and most data services (text, photographs etc) but it does not have the capacity to handle high bandwidth services such as video.
Outlining the benefits of a unified network, Ivory said: ‘It will provide a unified experience for end users.’ A single network for voice and data reduces costs, while other key benefits include: multi-media talk groups; resource tracking via either TETRA or LTE devices; dynamic prioritisation; increased availability; device awareness, so services can be tailored to the appropriate type of device (voice to TETRA terminals; video to a tablet); and a unified management system. For those with existing TETRA networks, the same radio sites can be used for LTE.
Speaking to Wireless after his presentation, Ivory said that gaining access to additional spectrum for broadband services is the key to eventually building a unified TETRA/LTE network in Europe. The US has opted to forge ahead with two separate networks, P25 for voice and the First Responder Network for LTE – but the government has made available 2 x 20MHz of spectrum and pledged $7bn towards the cost.
‘The use cases and drivers are the same for Europe as they are in America,’ said Ivory. ‘In this case it is business efficiency and technically the solutions are the same, but the key comes down to spectrum. I think for the benefit of everyone, the users, the operators, and the manufacturers, we really need to co-ordinate spectrum [for mission and business critical users] across Europe.’
He added that spectrum co-ordination will be critical in driving forward standardisation and creating better economies of scale for the niche public safety market that requires expensive ruggedised devices which sell in far smaller numbers than mobile phones. ‘This will help Europe to catch up with where America has got to,’ he says.
Integrating voice and data
Ivory says that in the future fully integrated voice and data rich networks will be available. But for anyone looking to deploy a new public safety network today they can invest with confidence that they are future-proofed now manufacturers like Motorola have moved to a more software-based architecture with fully IP-based platforms. This will allow them to migrate to TEDS and then LTE when they are ready to do so.
Naturally, for customers with 10-year plus TETRA networks, the migration path to broadband will require a more fundamental and costly upgrade.
The lack of availability of spectrum for a dedicated broadband public safety network remains a headache in Europe, even though, technologically speaking, there is a clear roadmap to future LTE adoption. But, as Ivory points out, other parts of the world do have spectrum available and the opportunities to invest in LTE networks are more of a near term reality.