In today’s world where civil unrest and frequent bouts of terrorism loom as major concerns, so-called critical communications are ever-more important to those in the public sector tasked with maintaining the peace or delivering relief.
In turn, important advances in technology – including more powerful broadband connectivity and next-generation 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless networks – are playing a greater role, along with emerging social media strategies, to help the effective deployment of critical communications.
Critical communications refer to the systems adopted by professional radio users, with this article mostly focusing on front-line emergency services personnel. The number of front-line emergency service personnel who use critical communications equipment and mechanisms totals 28 million worldwide at present, and will grow to well over 30 million by 2020.
These front-line emergency services personnel consist of law enforcement; full-time and part-time fire officers; and those responsible for medical emergencies, including technicians and paramedics. Together the global emergency service sector serves a worldwide population of more than 7 billion.
New threats to counter
Emergency services personnel handle the civilian response to a wide assortment of incidents, ranging from health-related events stemming from an increasingly large ageing population, to all sorts of security threats on both the domestic and international fronts.
For instance, the growing pervasiveness in recent months of the Islamic State militant group, known as ISIL or ISIS, has placed increased pressure on homeland security in the US and UK.
In Asia, recent demonstrations in Hong Kong have become dangerously disordered, with 32,000 front-line police officers unable to effectively manage protestors across a wide area. In 2013, the Boston Marathon bombings triggered unexpected pressure on emergency services during the rapidly unfolding chaos.
To effectively cope with sundry threats and strains, front-line officers need to access the best-available equipment, technology and resources – or they risk becoming vulnerable themselves and unable to do their jobs.
In particular, law enforcement is generally viewed as a high priority. Law enforcement is typically well-defined and government led, which means that every country in the world has at least one civil or military agency responsible for governing disorder.
In comparison, emergency medical services tend to be more region-dependent. In the developed countries, emergency medical services are professional – either government led or privately owned, with a number of charitable organisations filling the gaps. But in the developing world, such as in China or Argentina, the medical service sector lacks structure and tends to be based entirely on privately owned or leased services.
For their part, fire services are the most flexible. A number of countries operate fire services on a volunteer basis to supplement a low number of professional firefighters. Some of these volunteer programmes also provide multi-sector services, coping with front-line emergency medical scenarios as well.
Technology trends in critical communications
Critical communications is a key enabler for front-line emergency services. Often considered more important than an officer’s firearm, a front-line radio system, for instance, can save lives, enabling an officer to call for backup, or letting a first-responder paramedic seek advice from a specialist doctor in a nearby hospital or dispatch centre for someone in distress.
Until now the communications provided to support front-line efforts have been sufficient and in line with population expectations. Billions of dollars to date have been spent in building privately owned networks to support operations, such as TETRA equipment in Europe, or equipment adhering to the ACPO P25 standard in the United States. While the two are very different standards, both provide secure, resilient and professional communications, although on narrow-band or low-bandwidth networks.
Increasingly, however, the proliferation of broadband capability throughout the world is opening the eyes of public safety officials, who now see the need for enhanced data systems in line with those used by the public. The surprise is that many front-line officers today do not have instant access to real-time video/CCTV imagery, video monitoring, GPS location systems or high-resolution data capture and transfer – the types of apps already available on a smartphone.
The next-generation wireless technology known as LTE – already widely available for mobile phone connections – is also becoming more likely to be deployed for future critical communications systems.
Delivering evolved media and broadband capabilities and as one of the fastest-growing commercial high-data digital technologies in the world, 4G LTE can offer front-line users the tools needed to increase their performance and safety. The enhanced applications that front-line officers can use on LTE include CCTV imagery, video access and other high-data throughput apps.
Finally, front-line police and medical services are starting to use social media to relay key strategic and tactical information to the public. During the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Boston police were able to use social media to patrol the streets and keep the local population informed on progress being made on the ground.
Never before has there been such a successful campaign where emergency services used new media and technology to fulfill tactical aims, while also coordinating safety. Many police forces around the world are now studying this example of success, looking for ways to increase their presence online via social media, as well as through increased broadband capability.
LTE in critical communications: where we are today
While the benefits of LTE are widely acknowledged, there remain some issues associated with the deployment of private LTE solutions in the critical communications market.
Budget is a major stumbling block. Publically available LTE networks are operated centrally by mobile network operators, so the use of LTE in the public safety market would require network leasing and some recurring fees should public safety wish to follow this route.
However, and as is widely debated, commercial networks today do not conform to the very resilient public safety standards provided by TETRA or P25 and as such private LTE networks, like FirstNet in the US, will become more prominent.
Harmonised spectrum or just having any designated spectrum is also a key barrier. LTE spectrum development is not yet worldwide in this case, with only pockets of critical communications agencies trialling LTE use at present.
All the same, IHS projects stronger migration to LTE in the next few years. Already in the US in 2012, the FCC allocated two sets of 10MHz broadband spectrum for the use of emergency service communications in the country. The government also set aside $7 billion of capital spending in 2012 to bolster efforts in this area.
Meanwhile, in China, there are plans to roll out Chinese standard LTE for high-end government and business users. According to existing IHS research, millions of dollars in revenue for LTE deployments in China are being generated.
By 2016, LTE base stations (eNodeBs) for dedicated critical communications use will generate $1 billion in revenue, growing to $1.7 billion worldwide by 2018.
As a result of this increased LTE penetration, a shift will start to be seen in how front-line emergency services work.
The efficiencies and operational capabilities achieved by obtaining access to advanced information and higher data throughput potential mean that emergency services will be able to respond more quickly to dangerous situations, achieve more rapid coordination in grave moments of crisis, and deliver critical first-line support when lives are at stake.
Despite the common issues of budget and spectrum hampering LTE development in this sector, LTE has provided a route forward toward greater technological efficiencies in the critical communications market.
IHS projects that by 2020, LTE will be considered by both the developed and developing regions as a key technology to be adopted for public safety and security use. Ultimately, LTE has the potential to dramatically change the way that front-line offers interact and operate effectively against new security threats, increasing both public safety levels and the safety of our emergency service personnel.
LTE is poised to be a vital technology for emergency services and other critical organisations in the US and China. Moreover, a number of trial networks are springing up around the world, pointing to continued bright prospects ahead for the technology in the critical communications arena.
Critical Communications - LTE Facts:
IHS’s fourth edition of its Critical Communications Broadband report on the future of licensed mobile radios (LMR) and personal mobile radios (PMR) user-data needs and moves to privatise LTE, projects the total installed base and shipments of private LTE devices, as well as eNodeBs.
Global revenue from private LTE installations for professional mobile radio users will surpass $1billion – a major milestone for the evolution of PMR users using advanced data.
China and North America are projected to have the major share of installations until 2017, with pockets of success in Europe, the Middle East-Africa (MEA) and Latin America. For the EU, the World Radio Conference in 2015 will be pivotal in deciding the future road map for the region.
ZTE, Huawei, Motorola, Harris Corp., Nokia Networks, Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Airbus D&S are just some of the companies projected to lead the evolution to broadband data for PMR users.
LMR/PMR users will also service their data needs by using traditional LMR networks as well as publicly available networks, with some enhancements expected through Push-to-Talk over Cellular (PTToC) services. Revenue from eNodeBs is projected to be worth more than $1.7 billion by 2018.
- Key Facts (current as of 2014)
• 35% of the world’s population interacts online
• 6 billion hours of video is watched on YouTube every month
• More than 1 billion members are on Facebook
• 28 million front-line emergency services personnel can be found worldwide:
- 16.5 million in law enforcement personnel
- 10.0 million fire personnel
- 1.7 million emergency medical technicians
- Nearly 2.0 million police cars
- Nearly 500,000 fire engines
- 252,000 ambulances in 2014
Current public safety technologies: TETRA, P25, TETRAPOL, DMR, PDT, NXDN
Future public safety technologies: LTE (99%), WiMaX (1%)
About the author
Thomas Lynch is the associate director for critical communications at IHS. For more information, refer to the Critical Communications research area of the Industrial, Security & Medical service of IHS Technology.