Spectrum? Budget? Top 4 picks for public safety LTE networks
Spectrum and budget. Those two important topics almost always come up when a government agency starts to look at deploying a mobile broadband network for public safety. Both are scarce resources that can significantly impact the scope of a project, or slow down the deployment of a technology that agencies may badly need to effectively execute their mission.
And that is where agencies can utilize the unique advantages of 4G/LTE, today’s standard for high-speed wireless communication and the next-generation of public safety critical radio communications. LTE not only offers advanced support for the most important voice and data features, but also flexibility that fits numerous deployment models. This allows governments to more easily find solutions that will quickly give them advanced communications capability, even with spectrum and budget hurdles to overcome.
Match the model to the needs
Four of the most popular models for deploying LTE for you to consider are: 1) using an existing mobile network operator (MNO), 2) a secure mobile virtual network operator (S-MVNO), 3) a dedicated public safety network, or 4) a hybrid approach that combines dedicated public safety radio with a commercial network.
1. Mobile network operator (MNO)
In this model, the public safety agency simply contracts with an MNO to provide mobile broadband services. Public safety users and consumers share the same spectrum and network. The public safety entity pays a consistent, predictable periodic fee for network access, usually a function of some known factor, such as the number of end users, devices or usage. No network CAPEX is required. Public safety agencies using this model may want to buy their own ruggedized devices and manage them, and in most cases specific public safety applications will be their responsibility. The New York City police department uses a variation of this model, equipping officers with smartphones under contract with a commercial service provider.
2. Secure mobile virtual network operator (S-MVNO):
The mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) approach, in which a provider contracts for wholesale access to an MNO’s core network to provide specific services to customers, can be extended to support of public safety users. In this case, an MVNO obtains broadband data services via 4G access networks owned by one or several different MNOs, then provides dedicated, secure public safety applications and other key services to public safety users. United Kingdom public safety agencies will be utilizing services in this manner, relying on a commercial access network operated by the large communications provider, EE.
3. Dedicated public safety network
In this model, the government, in collaboration with the public safety agencies, finances, procures, builds and manages its own network, taking full responsibility for all of its infrastructure and services, as well as deployment, management, operation and maintenance. The extent of upfront costs depends on the scale of deployment (local, regional or national), whether the network is shared among several entities, and whether the deployment is scheduled gradually over years or within a shorter time period. An alternative scenario for this model is managed services, when network operations are outsourced to a specialized company. Qatar and Dubai have dedicated LTE networks owned and operated by their governments.
4. Hybrid model
Governmental agencies seeking maximum control, but for whom a completely dedicated public safety network is too costly to implement, will consider the hybrid model. A typical implementation of this scenario is a dedicated radio access network (RAN) serving selected areas, with commercial mobile operator networks leveraged in other locations to complement and complete the coverage. In the U.S., the nationwide public safety network, FirstNet, will rely on both dedicated and commercial access networks in this manner.
To find the best choice from among these models and their variations, it’s advisable to conduct an in-depth analysis of the situation, matching operational needs and priorities with spectrum availability and, of course, budget. Perhaps one of the key advantages of using LTE for public safety is that it leaves these options fairly open. Some models offer an evolution path toward others, enabling a fairly quick start, even when spectrum availability isn’t fully clarified – and protection of the initial investment if there’s a decision to change course going forward.
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