A recent report emerged from Urgent Communications, which described the chances of Long Term Evolution (LTE (News - Alert)) broadband taking over for Land Mobile Radio (LMR) voice systems in the next three to five years in largely unfavorable terms. Though perhaps pessimistic about the speed of technological advancement, the report does have one good point to it: a note of redundancy is to be desired in systems that must operate regardless of condition.
The Urgent Communications report looks back at over 50 years of development and product rollouts within the field of law enforcement and public safety, including different frequencies and other developments up to the release of digital radio, and noted a common thread in all the releases: the new releases never really appear in isolation. A degree of redundancy has always been preserved within the overall system such that new rollouts are used alongside old, proven standards such that, should one go down temporarily, the other remains to be drawn upon to keep the overall system operational.
This appears to be the case as FirstNet, the LTE-based network for public safety representatives, goes into effect, and the Urgent Communications report indicates that such an arrangement—in which FirstNet is a supplement to LMR, instead of its replacement—will go on for years.
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In the near future, however, that may no longer be the case. While indeed FirstNet will be an also-ran for at least a little while, the former development cycle comprising years of cooperation may not be in play much longer. A recent report from TechNavio projects that the market for LTE in public safety around the globe will grow at a CAGR of 18.6 percent through 2016, which means a fair number of early adopters.
Further, there's more impetus for LTE to become the new system of choice, thanks to new offerings in the field that can really only be supported through LTE. New FCC rules have emerged that clearly detail how VoLTE must offer E911 access as of January 18, and providers are also given clear impetus to handle emergency calls within the system. This includes a variety of new measures for handsets, particularly in terms of location accuracy—within 50 meters for 67 percent of calls and within 150 meters for 80 percent—and puts a lot of responsibility on carriers to provide these services.
Indeed, the switch from LMR to LTE will not be immediate, as the Urgent Communications report suggests. The two systems will clearly run side by side for some time, as weaknesses in the LTE system are found and addressed. But by the same token, this is clearly a different technological release, and the pace of development is proving to be much more rapid than those in the past. The proving period of LTE may well only take a year, with LMR being kept on hand strictly as a backup for when something goes wrong with the LTE network. In places where the LTE network is currently lacking, however, it may take longer.
A little redundancy in most any system is seldom a bad thing. Call it backup, call it insurance, call it whatever, but maintaining emergency systems—especially for emergency service providers—is certainly a good idea. But to suggest that LTE won't be the tool of choice, if not potentially the only tool used except in case of breakdown, for another three to five years is perhaps underestimating the pace of technology a bit. LTE's rollout is rapidly approaching, and the adoption rates will also likely prove just as rapid.
Edited by Blaise McNamee