Critical Communications LTE is a New and Challenging Market Opportunity

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Critical communications users in Europe, such as emergency services and transportation, are impatient to incorporate mobile broadband data into their daily operations. For the first time, public mobile network operators (MNOs) have the chance to provide mission critical services to this specialised market segment if they are willing to meet its demanding requirements.

Analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that public safety operators (PSOs) and their customers are evaluating options for the adoption of LTE. Dedicated, harmonised spectrum is not currently available in the region, so the opportunity falls to commercial MNOs to provide shared access to their infrastructure.

"Critical communications users are long overdue the benefits of LTE," said Frost & Sullivan Information & Communication Technologies Senior Industry Analyst Sheridan Nye. "Consumers are accustomed to receive streaming video to their smartphones. But emergency services and other agencies are frustrated by the limitations of narrowband data over their dedicated networks, which are highly resilient but designed primarily for voice."

"MNOs have an opportunity to monitise their LTE investments, directly through providing premium managed network services or via MVNOs and/or hosted evolved packet cores," adds Nye. "Further opportunities will open up for a range of market participants to provide systems integration and applications development and hosting."

A low-risk incremental alternative in the near-term is for PSOs to establish mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) for 3G/4G data. Mobile broadband enables exciting use cases such as body-worn cameras, advanced navigation and augmented reality applications. An MVNO can also function as a platform for applications innovation.

However, the sector remains cautious as public mobile networks are not yet engineered for resilience and advanced voice features that critical communications users require. The challenge for operators is to decide whether they can recoup this additional investment from what is a niche market in comparison to their consumer customer base.

Another consideration is the coexistence of LTE with dedicated networks such as terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA). PSOs continue to make substantial investments in this infrastructure, which could persist for at least another 10 years in many markets. LTE as a full replacement of TETRA and its variants will require standardisation of voice-over LTE (VoLTE) - either formally or via market acceptance of vendor solutions.

"MNOs and LTE vendors across Europe are partnering with their counterparts in the traditional professional mobile radio space to address this specialised market," noted Nye. "Operators must assure potential customers that they will make the necessary investments in LTE coverage, resilience, capacity and functionality, even outside densely populated areas."

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