Why LTE Has to Be the long-term choice for nationwide broadband PMR in Europe
I’ve recently come back from IIR’s first PMR Summit in Barcelona. Overall I thought it was an excellent event in terms of content and general discussion. OK, perhaps a little light in terms of PMR users attending, but it was the inaugural event, and I really do think the PMR industry needs a technology neutral event in Europe. The TETRA World Congress has worked very well for the last decade or so and will continue to do so, but with DMR, dPMR, NXDN, Tetrapol, LTE and even some P25, all having a place in mission critical/business critical communications in Europe, this technology neutral event is well overdue. So thank you IIR.
One thing that did surprise me a little about the general discussion was how often I heard WiMAX lumped with LTE in terms of a possible solution for mission critical comms’ long term mobile broadband solution. My feeling is that an LTE-based solution is really the only option in the long term for this industry.
I did see a presentation at the show of an impressive looking WiMAX-based solution being used by the Zaragoza police. And if I was urgently looking for a solution to roll out right now to meet an immediate need and I could get my hands on 3.4-3.6GHz band frequency, WiMAX would be high on my list of possible solutions. The technology is becoming mature, and 3.4-3.6 GHz spectrum is much easier to come by than 400MHz or 700MHz. In fact in some countries regulators have struggled to off-load 3.4-3.6GHz bands. Until it’s possible to acquire 400/700 MHz frequency for a private mission critical communication system in Europe, then I can see a lot of logic in this route. Although I’m guessing there is a number of cell-size, in-building coverage and mobility/cell handover issues that have to be carefully worked through when rolling out a 3.4-3.6 GHz solution in this application, particularly in countries where restrictions exist on cell hand over in networks in these bands.
However, if the industry is looking for a harmonised solution to service the long term, nationwide mobile broadband needs of the mission critical communication users in Europe, I think private LTE has to be the choice.
For a start, in the US the decision has already been made for nationwide broadband and LTE was the choice. PMR and LTE equipment suppliers are going to be developing solutions to address the private mission critical LTE market in the US. It makes little sense to develop an alternative long term solution based on any other technology for Europe. We’ve been here before with the industry developing region-centric solutions, do we really want to do that again?
Secondly, in ten years’ time there will be hundreds of millions of users of LTE in the commercial cellular world, in 15 years’ time perhaps over a billion. Mobile WiMAX on the other hand will only have tens of millions. So if you really want to take as much advantage of volumes of scale as possible, LTE will offer much more opportunity. OK, I realise there will be differences between commercial LTE offerings and those that will be used by the mission critical industry, but there will still be a great deal the PMR industry can lean on. A billion cellular LTE baseband chips being produced per year will surely offer some cost saving advantages to the PMR industry if using the same technology, even if the RF is at a different frequency.
Finally, the ecosystem around LTE in terms of IC suppliers, infrastructure suppliers, device suppliers, operators, application developers, etc. etc. will become huge as commercial LTE moves into the main stream. The PMR industry can really take advantage of this in order to reduce costs in developing mission critical private solutions. I’m not saying there isn’t a strong ecosystem around WiMAX, there certainly is, just that the LTE one will be larger and with more heavyweight players.
As I say, WiMAX does have its place and can offer the industry a great immediate solution to its broadband needs, something LTE cannot yet do, but when we’re talking about a long term harmonised solution across Europe’s national public safety networks, my view is LTE holds the upper hand. All that needs to be done is to locate a common frequency band and a tonne of cash. Mmm. Perhaps don’t hold your breath.
IMS Research will be examining some of these issues in its upcoming report, Broadband PMR/LMR – World – 2011, please contact me if you’d like to know more. I also presented our views on some of these issues during my keynote at the afore mentioned PMR Summit in Barcelona, if you’re interested in obtaining a copy of the slides, again please just get in contact with me.