PMR’s slow progress towards broadband

LMR (licensed mobile radio) users are handling more data in their day-to-day operations. IMS Research highlights some of the key findings from its latest report, identifying the factors driving change in broadband PMR/LMR solutions

PMR’s slow progress towards broadband

End users and the demand for data

For its report The World Market for Broadband PMR/LMR solutions – 2013 Edition, IHS carried out an in-depth user survey on the opinions of LMR data users in North America and EMEA. Use of data differs by region. Across Europe, data connections are over both commercial cellular and traditional LMR networks. 

In North America, the US is currently conducting trials on the FirstNet public safety private LTE network, which will be rolled out across the country. When examining the North American market, therefore, data connections over traditional LMR, commercial and private cellular networks were expected. 

In the IHS user survey, users were questioned about which applications they use data for and about what they perceived as the biggest obstacles to increasing data use on their LMR network. 

Responses to the survey showed the most used data applications were personnel monitoring, man-down capability, remote control of devices, and the mobile office (Figure 1). When questioned about which data applications were most critical to the LMR user’s needs, the results were slightly different – and the results differed between responses from public safety users and others. Figure 2 shows these responses; for all users, man-down capability and personal monitoring remain the most critical applications. 

When questioned about the main barriers to use of new data applications, the results were not surprising. Figure 3 ranks what respondents considered the biggest obstacles to use of new data applications; ‘budget limitations’ remains the leading factor, followed by ‘not supported by LMR networks’. The third largest obstacle to new data applications being used was ‘frequency/capacity issues’. These factors are discussed further below, but these views supported the general view in the industry – that funding and spectrum tend to be the most important issues when it comes to increasing data use. 

Data use on traditional LMR networks

Data use on traditional networks is anticipated to increase steadily over the next five years. Two main factors are driving this growth. The first is the slow uptake of private cellular technologies. Issues such as spectrum and funding remain major challenges, and as a result many users are resorting to data use over their traditional LMR networks until these problems with private cellular network issues are resolved. 

Secondly, the transition to digital is gathering momentum; as a result, many more LMR users have access to data functionality over their LMR network. Figure 4 shows the installed base of analogue users vs. digital LMR users globally, and how this will change over the next five years. 

The strength of traditional LMR networks for data use is that the network technology was designed specifically with LMR/PMR users in mind. From the user survey that IHS carried out, the second largest barrier to new data applications was the fact that the LMR network may not necessarily support it; this remains one of the main problems with data use on LMR networks. 

In the age of increasing data, it is applications such as video streaming that LMR users want. A major weakness with the PMR/LMR data solutions is that the cost of a good data rate is the allocation of further spectrum. Since spectrum is already a valuable resource, this could be a main inhibitor to longer term uptake.

Despite the weaknesses mentioned with data use over traditional LMR data, the uptake of digital technology and in particular ‘Cost Optimised Digital’ technologies (such as DMR, dPMR, PDT, NXDN) is going to facilitate a huge number of new data connections over LMR networks. IHS anticipates that by the end of 2017, the installed base of LMR data users will increase to over 9.0 million connections. 

Data use on cellular networks

For LMR data users, commercial cellular networks are being used as an interim solution while the problems with private mobile broadband are resolved. Commercial cellular is useful as it delivers the capability to stream high-bandwidth applications and is available in most major metropolitan environments. 

In the user survey carried out by IHS, both the non-public safety and public safety users were using commercial cellular networks to address their data needs. For enhanced services, the available speeds of commercial networks are expected to increase significantly with 4G networks, such as commercial LTE. 

However, use of commercial cellular networks is not without its problems, as there is an important lack of control over the network. In major emergencies, mission-critical users utilising commercial networks are at the mercy of network traffic, and it is likely that there will be limited access. At these times, when mission-critical users require their broadband communications the most, commercial cellular networks are in no way ideal – particularly for public safety users. 

Nonetheless, despite some of the flaws associated with commercial cellular and the lack of control over the network, growth in data connections over commercial cellular by LMR users is predicted to grow while uptake of private LTE remains restricted. 

IHS forecasts that the installed base will increase to over 10 million at the end of 2017. However, growth will slow towards 2017 as the migration to private LTE begins. Figure 5 shows a summary of the data connections forecast to the end of 2017. 

Private LTE

Most end users acknowledge that the LMR industry will move to private LTE. However, the transition is expected to be exceptionally slow. Despite much hype about the transition to digital technology, a large majority (about 75%) of the installed base of LMR radios remain analogue. 

The transition to private LTE is projected to take many years. As previously mentioned, spectrum allocation and sufficient funding remain the two greatest challenges to uptake of private mobile broadband solutions. 

Figure 6 shows the uptake of private LTE installations globally until 2023. Much uptake in the near future will be in the United States, where the 700MHz spectrum allocation and $7bn government funding is leading the way in private LTE rollout. 

Recently, spectrum allocation for dedicated public safety private LTE networks was announced in Australia and the UAE. China is also making substantial progress towards a private LTE roll out, most likely in the 1.4 GHz spectrum. IHS understands that Europe will remain the region moving at the slowest to private LTE uptake. It is very challenging to allocate harmonised spectrum across many countries and IHS does not expect spectrum allocation until 2017 or 2018. 

The continuing Eurozone financial crisis and austerity will restrict investment in the public safety sector in the coming years. However, IHS expects that by 2020, real growth and uptake of private LTE networks in the public safety sector will be seen.


End users are now demanding increasing amounts of data and functionality from their communications. As a consequence of delayed private LTE rollouts and the analogue to digital transition, data connection over traditional LMR networks is expected to grow over the next five years. 

TEDS and P25 data are useful, but they lack the high-bandwidth functionality that cellular networks provide. Consequently, in around 2017 or 2018, as private cellular network roll outs gather momentum, it is expected that the uptake of data connections over traditional LMR networks will begin to slow slightly as users migrate to private cellular
data solutions. 

Similarly, for those LMR data users demanding high bandwidth applications now, such as video streaming, cellular networks are necessary. However, commercial networks lack the resilience for mission-critical users, and at times of emergency are likely to be most susceptible to failure or network outages – just when public safety users will need them most. 

It is expected that, as with traditional LMR, many users will make do with the commercial cellular solutions for now until spectrum and funding are available, so that users can migrate to private cellular solutions that will unite the high-bandwidth functionality of cellular with the security and resilience of traditional LMR. However, like the transition to digital, the migration to private LTE is expected to take many, many years. 

About the author: Jennifer Shortland has produced reports on the Broadband PMR/LMR Solutions market and public safety communications. For more information or how to access the report, please contact:

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

Leave a Comment