June 2017: Building a case for public safety LTE

Bottom Line: LTE delivers broadband capabilities and interoperability for mission critical public safety communications. It depends on radio spectrum and network resources and adequate funding for its adoption. Public safety agencies have challenging organizational structures and decision-making processes which typically hinder PS-LTE adoption until major market triggers, such as man-made or natural disasters occur and mobile operator support is achieved. Mobile operators normally depend on other enterprise and mission critical services to support the business case for public safety.


Mobile communication networks are now at the fabric of most societies, but are prone to overload and failure during major crises, such as natural disasters. For this reason, dedicated public safety networks have been deployed, and a variety of trunked radio technologies used, including legacy analog (e.g. MPT-1327), Digital Mobile Radio (DMR), P25, Tetrapol, and TETRA. In many cases, individual public safety agencies have deployed their own private networks. These networks function adequately within the operational silos of the individual agencies, but become problematic during major events, when inter-agency communications are needed. Furthermore, since digital trunked radio technologies only support voice telephony and narrowband data services, they cannot provide the broadband connectivity need for situational awareness capabilities (e.g. smart-city video surveillance). Commonly public safety agents rely on commercial mobile networks for these broadband capabilities.

The Opportunity

The 3GPP, which is responsible for 4G-LTE standardization, is developing features specifically targeted towards business and mission critical services, such as those required for public safety, see Exhibit 1. These features include prioritized and preemptive network access to ensure that mission critical services continue to function during emergencies. They also include specific service capabilities such as Push-to-Talk (P2T) and Group Communications. Because of these capabilities, and others that will be developed in 3GPP Release 14 and 15, it is generally recognized that LTE will be the standard used for public safety in the future. Public safety LTE (PS-LTE) network equipment is provided by a variety of vendors including Huawei, Nokia, and Motorola. PS-LTE is already being used (or planned) in several countries including Australia, South Korea, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Exhibit 1: 3GPP release schedule for mission critical services
Source: 3GPP and Tolaga Research, 2017

A global forecast for PS-LTE subscriptions amongst law enforcement, fire and rescue and emergency medical services is illustrated in Exhibit 2. The forecast predicts that LTE-PS subscriptions will reach 69 million by 2030, of which 29 million will come from the Asia Pacific region. PS-LTE will see robust growth after 2022, when increased demand for broadband capabilities is anticipated, and the availability of radio spectrum and suitable funding and mobile operator support assumed.

Exhibit 2: LTE-PS subscription growth expected with public safety network upgrades
Source: Tolaga Research, 2017

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About the Author
Dr. Phil Marshall

Phil Marshall is the Chief Research Officer of Tolaga, where he leads its software architecture and development, and directs tolaga's thought leadership for the internet-of-things (iot) and mobile industry research. before founding tolaga, Dr. Marshall was an Executive at Yankee Group for nine years, and most recently led its service provider technology research globally, spanning wireless, wireline, and broadband technologies and telecommunication regulation. He serves on the Advisory Board of Strategic Venue Partners, is an Industry Advisor for Silverwood Partners – Investment Bank, and was a non-Executive Board Member of Antone Wireless, which was acquired by Westell in 2012.

Marshall has 20 years of experience in the wireless communications industry. He spent many years working in various engineering operations, software design, research and strategic planning roles in New Zealand, Mexico, Indonesia and Thailand for Verizon International (previously Bell Atlantic International Wireless) and Telecom New Zealand.

In addition, Marshall was an Electrical Engineer at BHP New Zealand Steel before he attended graduate school. He has a PhD degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, is a Senior Member of the IEEE and the Systems Dynamics Society. His technical specialty is in radio engineering and advanced system modeling, and his operational experience is primarily in communications network design, security and optimization.