LTE poised to become communication standard of first responders

The Long-Term Evaluation (LTE) communication standard is well on the road to being the main communication protocol for emergency services and first responders.

“Previously all first responders and public safety communications were based on narrowband networks,” ABI Research Analyst in Strategic Technology and Consulting Services Lian Jye Su said. “As wireless telecommunication slowly migrates to LTE and 5G in the future, LTE's broadband network offers much higher speed data at a high data downlink speed as well as a global standardized ecosystem.”

LTE also provides first responders with greater ability to work in disaster zones thanks to improved range and device-to-device communication capabilities.

“ABI Research expects more public safety capabilities will be standardized in the upcoming 3GPP Release 13 and beyond, which will include push-to-talk, group calling and indoor positioning. Further enhancements of these features will be expected in future 3GPP releases,” Lian Jye Su said.

ABI Research announced last month the results of a study suggesting that LTE continues to gain popularity in the emergency response sector. Further, ABI predicts that South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S. would be the first to implement this technology for emergency services as those countries already have the technology commercially available.

And with the ability to stream crime scene video, use in telemedicine for diagnosis and the real-time data analytic capabilities LTE provides being embraced by first responders, it can change the way those responders do their jobs in a crisis.

“Imagine a disaster scene, where video streaming is utilized to assist in search and rescue as well as real time monitoring. Communication between the on-site responders and the command center can include videos and high resolution images that promote more accurate and educated decision makings,” Lian Jye Su said.

However, implementation of this standard can’t happen overnight. Due to the small size of the current market for these technologies, devices optimized for use by first responders remain expensive. The LTE standard itself also needs revision to accommodate use by first responders including greater standardization.

“All hardware vendors, wireless network operators as well as regulators need to work tightly to introduce standardized and developed features and services into first responder and public safety LTE,” Lian Jye Su said. “Government and wireless operators must actively communicate to explore the potential collaboration between public safety agencies and private wireless network operators in the adoption of LTE.”

ABI projects the number of subscriptions to LTE in general will reach 11 million globally by 2020 and the industry to be worth approximately $5.1 billion, which makes the adoption of the service by public safety more likely as infrastructure already exists to make use of LTE’s advantages. But there is little pressure for change in these places as older first responder networks do exist.

“The USA's FirstNet, as well as the government of U.K. and South Korea are the pioneers of LTE adoption, but we foresee more adoptions coming in beyond 2017,” Lian Jye Su said. “However it is the emerging markets, with relative few legacy public safety networks, which will become the growth driver for first responder and public safety LTE adoption.”

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