With advances in cellular technology, LTE is proving to be a real game changer in the critical communications space, making it increasingly important to consider a unified communications strategy. Mission critical users who want to take advantage of mobile broadband have several choices – in this lesson from the Tait Radio Academy, we’ll explore the top three.
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Commercial Public LTE
Commercial cellular providers offer the vast majority of LTE services currently available to the public and businesses, because they have the means to take on the heavy cost of building and maintaining these networks.
Because cellphones are relatively inexpensive, pocket-friendly, high-quality with attractive, user-friendly interfaces, businesses and even several critical communications users have had second thoughts about the cost and effort of operating their own communications systems.
For some it may be the right move to jump onto a commercial system. For others, however, this means giving up too much control.
The logic is simple: if you don’t own the system, you can’t control it, and if you can’t control it, you can’t absolutely rely on it. To give some examples of where issues could arise:
- Coverage – this is determined by where cellular companies see it worthwhile to provide. If you require coverage in regions that have little economic potential, you lose out.
- No prioritization – users of commercial systems share resources with everyone else. If the network is overloaded, everyone suffers the performance hit, including business and organizational users.
- Maintenance and upgrades – these are scheduled by the cellular provider, not its customers, meaning you have no control over it.
- No backup service – when a cellular network crashes, or a key site loses power, or the systems becomes otherwise unavailable, all communications stop until normal service is restored.
Private LTE is a dedicated LTE network that serves a specific enterprise, business, government agency or educational outfit, who can own and operate the system or outsource to a third-party network provider. The system is entirely separate from public commercial networks.
Private LTE enables an organization to have the benefits of LTE without losing much control. Since a private LTE system runs on its own dedicated equipment, its coverage, performance, and security are independent of public LTE services.
A major constraint on private LTE is the availability of suitable radio spectrum. In many countries existing licensed spectrum is already congested. Depending on where you are, this means that you need to wait until new LTE frequencies are allocated, need to pay a premium to buy into an existing block of spectrum, or have to wait until someone else gives up their frequencies.
Alternatives include using unlicensed spectrum, such as 5GHz with an LTE-based technology such as MulteFire. You could also use shared spectrum provided through the Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the U.S., or through the Licensed Shared Access (LSA) model being tested in Europe.
Public Safety Mobile Broadband Networks
Public Safety Mobile Broadband networks are a specific type of private LTE network – one dedicated to public safety and first responders. They are not available to other types of critical communications users and are generally government-funded.
Examples include FirstNet in the U.S., Emergency Service Network (ESN) in the United Kingdom, SafeNet in South Korea, and Australia is also in the early planning stages for a Public Safety Mobile Broadband (PSMB) network.
The aim of such systems is to provide public safety agencies something they can not get out of LMR: secure, nationwide, interoperable communications with voice and broadband data.
In the U.S., FirstNet is an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Public safety agencies such as state patrols, fire department, and federal departments sign up as subscribers to use the FirstNet system.
So what does this mean for existing public safety communications systems? If they are LTE networks, such as Los Angeles’ LA-RICS LTE system, the equipment will be transferred to FirstNet (or its non-US equivalent). If the existing network is not LTE, such as the TETRA system used by the UK Police, it will be de-commissioned and officers will need to work with a whole new technology.
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