LTE and Public Safety - Alcatel-Lucent Shows the Way

Next Generation Communications Blog

LTE and Public Safety - Alcatel-Lucent Shows the Way

By Peter Bernstein

There is nothing more “mission critical” than Private Mobile Radio (PMR). It is the way public safety organizations, transportation companies, utilities, governments, the military, and a host of commercial enterprises such as energy companies and industrial organizations, monitor crucial assets, and mobilize and respond to crises. It is also a vital piece of most large organization’s sustainability planning. Users of PMR, while diverse in terms of the market segments, share unique but common needs:

  • Highly reliable, always available secure communications
  • Ability to reach geographically dispersed mobile individuals and groups with real-time continuous, quality  communications for each individual and ad hoc group interactions that now rely more and more on the dissemination and processing of “rich” data
  • Ability to provide such capabilities in hostile and ever-changing environments
  • A growing need to have fully-featured access to the public network to reach other critical resources to improve response times and coordination     

Historically, PMRs by their design and purpose have been closed islands with limited capacity and were optimized for voice. Everyone literally felt the need for their own private network. However, increased risks, the enormity of possible emergencies, and the need for more rapid, far-reaching and highly coordinated reactions from all members of responder ecosystems has accelerated the need to upgrade or replace the aged base of analog systems. As a result, the desire and need to go digital is accelerating globally.  State-of-the-art functionality and features that digital systems provide are now organizational and societal necessities as the need to quickly and efficiently disseminate and process text and visual media (static and dynamic, in or near real time) has become paramount. Alcatel-Lucent has been moving on several fronts to help PRM users enhance their networks, enabling them to improve their efficiency and effectiveness in good times as well bad.

TETRA to the Rescue

To overcome the limitations of older technology, and eliminate the boundaries that hindered coordinated rapid response, in the late 1990s the Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) standard was first proposed and implemented primarily in Europe. TETRA is a digital trunked mobile radio standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), now in its second version. It has been adopted increasingly throughout the world by virtually every major market segment (2,000 contracts in over 100 countries). It allows equipment from multiple vendors to interoperate with each other over digital networks. Its advantages, compared to other radio systems include:

  • Better voice quality
  • Numerous communication features such as:  trunking, priority/preemption, encryption, recording, etc.
  • True multi-vendor interoperability capabilities.

Alcatel-Lucent with partner PowerTrunk, conducted a successful trial of a TETRA/LMR (Terrestrial Trunked Radio/Land Mobile Radio) network for NJ Transit, the largest statewide U.S. public transportation provider. This was the first TETRA trial in the United States. It demonstrated the multiple features and functionality of TETRA technology, as well as the strength of specialized TETRA-enabled applications. For U.S. network operators, this was important because it not only showed the improved functionality and spectrum efficiency of a TETRA network over NJ Transit’s current one, but did so at a higher data bandwidth and 6.25 KHz voice equivalency that will meet future FCC narrow-banding requirements.

However, as robust as TETRA is for operational voice communications and some data, it is by no means perfect. With the pressure on to continuously improve the quality of response and the efficiency of operations, Private Mobile Radio (PMR) network operators around the world are eager to use broaderband mobile technologies to implement more data intensive capabilities which test or exceed TETRA’s abilities. What to do?

On answer would be to pick a next generation mobile network technology and adopt it for PRM needs. However, the cost and complexity of ripping out today’s TETRA networks makes that a fool-hearty proposition, especially given the rich and growing inventory of TETRA capabilities which continue to evolve. Yet, the need for speed and reach is undeniable. This has created quite the conundrum.

Alcatel-Lucent, in recognition of the desirability of leveraging TETRA capabilities and the impressive TETRA installed base and the limitations of doing so over existing versions of broadband mobile networks has been working on for some time on data over lays for TETRA and APC025 standard networks using CDMA 1xEV-DO and WiMAX  as the overlay. And, at the TETRA World Congress in Budapest (May 24 – 27, 2011), it showed the fruits of its labors with a demonstration of TETRA communications over an LTE (Long Term Evolution) 4G technology network.

The demo consisted of a single voice and data terminal with a TETRA software client (from the supplier Rohill) communicating with other TETRA terminals, over an LTE network transporting voice (TETRA) and data. It caused significant buzz as operators saw a path to ease the adoption of LTE (no need for public safety agencies to buy expensive LTE frequencies from government) for using a hybrid LTE/TETRA solution (or LTE as an overlay of an existing TETRA network), and a path for a later smooth migration from TETRA to LTE.

It is also worth noting the joint development announcement by Alcatel-Lucent and Cassidian, an EADS Company, at the TETRA show on May 25, aimed at providing “an innovative mobile broadband solution for emergency response and security communications systems operating in the 400 MHz spectrum band. “

Emphasizing the high-bandwidth and low latency of LTE, the offering will support such critical public safety and emergency response data services as mobile video security, location-based video services and smart vehicle integration of devices and applications. This will serve to complement the current voice and data systems.

Under the joint development agreement:

  • Alcatel-Lucent will jointly integrate and validate solutions and lead marketing and sales efforts in transportation, energy and other industries.
  • Cassidian will develop radio heads and terminals specific to the needs of systems in the 400 MHz spectrum. The low frequency and high power characteristics of these radio heads will allow cost-effective coverage and wide bandwidth services. Cassidian will also lead marketing and sales efforts for the solution in the public safety and defense markets that use the 400 MHz spectrum.

All markets, whether TETRA based or leveraging the 400MHz spectrum, have a growing desire for situational awareness based on the ability to provide visualization of challenges facing responders. The TETRA/LMR, hybrid TETRA/LTE solution and Alcatel-Lucent/Cassidian joint development work, are all aimed at speeding such mission critical capabilities to market while ensuring the best products and performance is always available to operators while they can gracefully migrate to the future.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here. 

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