The future of broadband for mobile radio
As discussed in our previous blog “Reflections on the Final Tetra World Congress. Long Live TETRA!” broadband was a hot topic at this year’s congress. Various new partnerships were announced and demonstrations of new mobile broadband technology offerings were on show.
Despite all this apparent activity from manufacturers, there still remain many hurdles to be overcome before mobile broadband is a day to day reality in many countries. For instance, despite the D block allocation in the U.S. earlier this year, spectrum availability in Europe remains at a premium. Manufacturers appear to be readying themselves to move quickly, for when the frequency allocations are finally announced that will enable broadband data rates.
In the meantime, before mobile broadband can become a reality, agencies still have two choices for mobile data – to use their traditional LMR network or a commercial cellular network. However, not all traditional LMR networks can support data communications and those that can, can only offer limited data rates, restricting the applications that can be utilised by the end user groups. On the other hand, using a commercial cellular network does provide higher rates but for mission critical data communications it is a high risk strategy. Users are at the mercy of the commercial network, particularly as in many emergency situations cellular networks get congested and fail disrupting operations. So neither option really offers an ideal standalone long term solution.
To look in further detail at the current status of the market and what the agencies are currently using for their mobile data and what they plan to do in the future, IMS Research recently conducted a survey of LMR license holders. The survey revealed some interesting information. Firstly, currently approximately 90% of agencies are using data but when this is focused to look at those using their LMR systems alone for data provision, only around 39% of agencies were using their networks for data applications such as mobile office, remote data access and image transfer.
Consequently, the survey revealed that currently the majority of agencies are utilising commercial cellular networks, supplementing their LMR solutions with devices such as smartphones, PDAs and tablets. Interestingly there was also the indication from respondents that over the next five years, the number of data users on their networks would increase significantly, with imaging and real time video applications cited as the main applications that would be taken up.
Despite this envisaged increase in LMR users using dedicated data devices over commercial cellular networks, there is the strong desire amongst LMR agencies for their own dedicated private network. However the spectrum issues already discussed, as well as other issues relating to budgets and resources present major obstacles to this happening in the shorter term.
However as the move to digital increases, we will see an increase in data over traditional LMR networks. TEDS can currently support data applications such as database access and email, so is suitable for the majority of users at the present time, however with the desire for more data hungry applications, the biggest issue facing the longer term future of TEDS is the lack of available spectrum, especially within the traditional TETRA heartland of Europe.
IMS Research forecasts that in the medium term a mixture of LMR technologies like TEDS or P25 phase 2 and public cellular networks will fulfill the needs of the majority of users. Looking to the longer term it is predicted that LTE, especially private LTE networks will develop and offer the best long term solution to this problem. However until issues related to allocation of frequencies for these networks, budget restrictions, and issues still to be resolved in relation to the technology, mean that wide-spread use of such networks is a long way off.
Deryn Evans is a market analyst for IMS Research (IHS Inc.)