Better LTE than never – the case for 4G public safety

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third-party contributors to submit analysis on a key topic affecting the telco industry. In this article Ingo Flömer, Director of Product Management at Cobham Wireless, discusses how LTE technology will empower emergency services and public safety providers.

Plans to upgrade the UK’s TETRA public safety network have been under scrutiny of late, and concerns have been raised over how best to manage the migration from an established public safety standard to LTE. What has become apparent, both in the UK and other markets pursuing similar initiatives such as the US and Germany, is the need for a robust and reliable coverage enhancement that provides effective indoor and outdoor coverage for next generation public safety communications.

Current networks are only capable of providing core voice and data services, and are unable to fill public safety users’ demands for significantly higher data speeds to support the provision of contextual incident information. LTE networks are crucial to providing this capability, but significant investment is required to ensure necessary levels of coverage and resilience are met.

First responder agencies were traditionally the primary users of wireless services and the drivers of the industry’s development, but in recent years it has been cellular companies who have taken the initiative in mobile tech innovation. Current public safety systems run on TETRA, which despite delivering a highly resilient mission critical voice service is not capable of carrying large amounts of data. This is in contrast to commercial mobile networks, where a mixture of voice, data and high-quality live streaming services are already available to consumers.

The right tools for the job

LTE has the potential to completely transform public safety communications. The development of high-speed and robust data networks will allow users to make use of a range of tools and information, allowing faster and more effective responses to emergency call outs.

First responders will be able to share interactive, real-time video links of the disaster or crime scene from multiple angles, enabling faster situation analysis and improved reaction time. This will allow officers based offsite to manage human and capital resources in the most effective way possible, with access to more information than ever before. High-speed mobile data connectivity will also allow security and police services to use real-time facial recognition technology – linked to a central database – to quickly identify potentially dangerous suspects. By incorporating many of the individual technologies currently in use (such as number plate identification and geolocation) into a single multi-purpose handset, the emergency services have the opportunity to truly modernise and streamline their communications.

Traffic ahead

Understandably, public safety communications have far more specific requirements than commercial networks. The average mobile subscriber may be willing to occasionally tolerate buffering or latency when streaming video, but public safety services demand an ‘always on’ service with low-latency and high levels of redundancy. During an emergency situation, the blue light services need to be able to access data services over the LTE network in any location with no interference.

Managing network capacity has also become a key issue, and there are concerns that emergencies in densely populated urban areas may lead to ‘mobile blackouts’. Civic planners in mainland Europe have argued that at times of high network usage both the emergency services and individuals using the network for personal use will be unable to communicate over the data network. This is particularly problematic in times of emergency when network usage will be high. It also poses problems for public safety systems at large sporting or music events and in densely populated urban areas, when the network is being pushed to its limit by individuals uploading and downloading rich media.

The ‘First Net’ (First Responder Network Authority) scheme in the US hopes to avoid any potential coverage or capacity problem by creating a mobile broadband network for emergency services on specifically allocated spectrum. This represents a considerably larger investment into specific network infrastructure, and a hugely challenging logistical task. Regardless of US happenings, the UK decision to run over current networks adds to the concern that LTE is not extensive or resilient enough for first responders to rely on, particularly in remote regions.

Missing a trick

Providing public safety systems for densely populated areas is not an easy task, but with the correct in-built coverage installations in place, entire city centres, stadium complexes and music venues can be equipped for any scenario. The cellular enhancement systems deployed at the London 2012 Olympics and the World Cup in Brazil enabled widespread, indoor and outdoor use of data intensive communications, technology that can be replicated on a larger scale to support the UK’s LTE network infrastructure.

No one would expect the emergency services to rely on 4G data connections in Britain’s rural areas (at least until coverage is up to scratch), and the transition will have to be a calculated migration from TETRA to LTE, until the latter is robust enough to go it alone. This makes it all the more important to choose a provider with experience in providing both TETRA and cellular enhancement technology to manage the transition.

Many modern construction projects are designed with in-building coverage solutions factored in at the planning stages, as mobile broadband access has become almost as important as common utilities such as power and water. Coverage enhancement technology can also be dynamic, allowing the emergency services to allocate coverage capacity to specific areas at specific times. This facilitates a reactive and effective public safety response in the busiest of situations, without a consumer backlash. Operators can also assist in funnelling additional capacity and prioritising public safety communications in an emergency situation.

Considered innovation

The UK has taken the lead on implementing LTE in public safety communications and is fast becoming a centre of innovation in the telecoms and technology sectors, and plans to have the first police forces connected to LTE by 2016 shows real ambition. Innovation does not come without risk, but the rewards will come in the shape of a range of  interactive and integrated digital services that will enable emergency services to be better prepared and more equipped to respond effectively to emergency scenarios.


Cobham Wireless Ingo_FlomerIngo Flömer is Director of Product Management at Cobham Wireless, a global leader in the provision of advanced wireless coverage and mobile communication systems for public safety and cellular applications. Flömer is responsible for defining the company’s product management strategy and has over 20 years’ experience in telecommunication, wireless and fixed line projects.

One comment

  1. Avatar John 12/07/2015 @ 9:07 pm

    Is this not a case of hobsons’s chose?
    With only one vendor for the network and user terminals?
    My personal view is that Motorola is very experienced in this area and EE is the best network and best placed given the purchase by BT (subject to conditional approval) the issues will be the adoption of LTE+ and the standards to allow public service safety operation alongside normal customer traffic.
    Coverage is a simple case of either more base stations and the rollout of the 2.6Ghz and 800Mhz bands.
    Problems: redesign of base station antenna systems and planning permission.
    MIMO will give a reliance in both down and uplink speeds, its much faster than most adsl home broadband are right now before any changes. Every site will have LTE as the redesign for the old orange and tmobile networks require a swap out of the 2g ran and core to ecore (ip) and as this bts is both 2&4G all sites will have LTE. Speed be varied as the transmission systems are a design problem with limited speed microwave distance clearances protection leased line upgrades basically huge cost.
    Redesign of site for higher resistance to cope with issues when bad weather hits, such as microwave link and power outages, will work however if you knew that when upgrading to the new LTE bts these run from mains power not from a d.c. Battery system as the 2G and 3G is you will quickly see that in a main fail situation the LTE bts will go off the air. By the way no voice calls are handled by the LTE bts these still route via 2&3G . When phone locked to 4G it will hand over to the others when the user requests a voice call.
    This will change when VOiP comes in soon.
    Back haul transmission limitation for data through put remote area overlapping coverage site technical design all can change and overcome the current limitations, hand held radio and in mobile radios can be designed ( they do exist now) with a talk through or PMR 2 way function video both way PS-LTE does work Samsung and huawei have demonstrated this.
    So where’s the problem? All these changes have to happen soon and be funded and work before payments will be made. I see many caveats in the bids and ee can’t commit without BT PLC approval as they will be footing the bill.
    I cam see a future where blue light service can utilise all that’s best is data and applications to aid life saving and law and order. If money is saved over the current airwave spend – good. But where are the savings made? The customers of ee will benefit as a byproduct blue light traffic can have not just priority over normal users (don’t forget 999 calls can’t be blocked) they can have a user plain all to themselves.
    I work in the area of network ran and core o&m and it’s all outsourced, all networks , none have their own staff maintaining the networks , the SLA and QOS will be a challenge can outsourcing also work….?
    Well where are opex costs saved and don’t forget you only get what you pay for!
    As an end user I don’t expect my phone bill to rise to subsidise a tetra replacement.
    One last thought will all these new data streams coming into control rooms could there not be an overload and more focus on a back room function that on the bobby on the beat.
    Fire service maybe more drone tech that can alllow personal to be out of harms way as well as building plans. If they exist and they can all be in the same CAD format, somehow I doubt that.
    Medical more data flow to emergency rooms, if that does not take to many staff away from actual treatment in A&E.
    As top gear have said : ambitious but rubbish.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.