One of the biggest movers and shakers in the Unified Critical Communications space is LTE. Although its ability to transfer huge amounts of broadband data is revolutionary, can LTE ever replace LMR? In Lesson Three of the Introduction to Unified Critical Communications course, Dr Jan Noordhof explores what exactly LTE is, the role it can play in mission critical communications, and where it sits among existing LMR technology.
LTE – particularly 4G and the newly released 5G – is proving to be a game changer in critical communications because of its extremely fast network speed, high capacity for data, and low power consumption. LTE networks are also extremely widespread, and mobile phone ownership keeps increasing as development continues and the price of the technology drops. However, the question for critical communications remains: can it replace LMR?
Will LTE Replace LMR for Critical Communications?
It may come as a surprise that the consensus among the biggest stakeholders in mission-critical LTE is that, while they anticipate LTE (and eventually 5G) to take over many of the functions of LMR, we should expect to see the continued use of LMR for many years to come. Andrew Seybold explains the situation well in his article on LMR and LTE.
One reason is that for all critical communications users (not just public safety), LMR remains the technology which is still available when others have failed. LMR was designed with a variety of failsafe options to preserve communications, even when major components of the network are damaged or become inoperable.
For example, if the core network fails in a multi-site LMR system, each individual site can switch to local standalone operation and still connect any units within range. Furthermore, if all sites are down, units can still talk to each other in direct (simplex/talkaround) mode without a network.
Public safety relies on these fallbacks, which at this stage LTE networks struggle to offer. LTE standards have been developed to address these critical concerns, but it is early days for any commercial products based on these. A great deal of real-life testing lies ahead before public safety feels totally safe with the delivered goods.
Best of Both Worlds: Unifying LMR and LTE
LMR has been battle-tested in emergency situations and combines wide-area voice coverage where no telco wants to tread, tried-and-true voice call services, ultra-reliable networks with built-in failsafe, and a better handle on interoperability than its competitors. LTE brings dazzling broadband data performance, low latency, a ready platform for the development of custom applications, and a path to the future.
With such strong advantages to both communications systems, the question is really:
‘No technology is good at everything, so why stick with just one?’
The challenge will be how to merge and manage these technologies, to unify them without compromising the benefits of either.
You can find the full lesson on “Will LTE replace LMR?” available for free at the Tait Radio Academy. The Radio Academy is a free training resource, providing foundational education on a wide range of critical communications topics. From basic radio awareness to Industrial Control Systems, there is a range of material for people in both technical and non-technical roles.
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