Fri Mar 18 14:39:03 2016
My favorite convention and conference is IWCE, which will be held next week in Las Vegas. I was supposed to participate on a few panels and attend some meetings but unfortunately a family medical emergency will keep me from attending this year. I really enjoy this show because it is large enough to attract the best exhibitors and the best of the best in attendees, and it has always been focused on, dare I say, “two-way radio,” which has now morphed into Land Mobile Radio like cellular phones have morphed into wireless broadband over time.
The list of exhibitors includes longtime supporters of the show: Motorola, Harris, JVC Kenwood, Icom, Tait, and others. There are antenna companies, mobile mount companies, and now video devices and body-worn cameras, and because FirstNet is broadband and not LMR, you will see the likes of Cisco and AT&T (a long time Public Safety supporter), PTT over LTE and 3G companies such as ESChat and Kodiak, General Dynamics, and many others that may have their eye on the FirstNet RFP. The exhibit hall is open Wednesday and Thursday and the sessions run Monday through Friday. There is something for everyone there and I have to tell you if you are involved in LMR this is the one place to go to find out more about the future of LMR, the future of FirstNet, and perhaps if they have a future together.
I will miss the event and the people I wanted to spend time with along with the side conversations that are oftentimes more important than any of the others. I will also miss the great sessions that have been planned and will be presented by experts in the many fields selected. This is truly a place to go to become fully immersed in LMR. If you are a cellular type feeling on the outside of FirstNet, why and what Public Safety wants to do with LTE, and what it is using today, there is no better venue than this to get up to speed. For more than twenty years we conducted our Wireless Data University during the CTIA shows. We “graduated” more than 10K people who came to us and were wireless voice savvy but not having a clue about data, broadband, and the implications. We gave them eight hours of training, and company after company sent their new hires to us each year to learn about what was coming next. IWCE is, to me, the broadband university of the LMR community and it will help everyone understand the differences between what LMR can and cannot do and what LTE can do today and perhaps what it might be able to do in the future.
Next, the 3GPP (the LTE standards body) has approved the standard for Mission-Critical Push-To-Talk or MCPTT over LTE and it will be included in release 13 of the LTE standard. This does not mean every LTE network in the world will suddenly support MCPTT over LTE. Each operator usually reviews each new release of LTE and picks and chooses what it wants to include in its own networks. If another standard becomes popular, it may then opt to add that or not. This can create some interesting differences between one network and another and it means FirstNet and its chosen vendor as well as any states that opt out will have to work diligently to ensure that with each new release the same options are available across the entire network. This could also create some issues for roaming on the existing commercial networks that may or may not have adopted some of the same options FirstNet has chosen. If that sounds familiar, take a look back at LMR when one vendor or another offered options not available by another in an attempt and hold its customers captive. Hopefully we will not see the same trend within FirstNet.
My final comment is one I have made before, and I have added it to the news story below that announces the approval of the standard for MCPTT. I see several issues. I have not seen the spec but if it is to work it must be as flexible as PTT over P25 and Analog LMR with all of the group, one-to-one, and one-to-many functionality. I hope it is, but besides that, declaring something like MCPTT to be mission-critical when you cannot say existing LTE networks are mission-critical seems to be addressing only one-half of the issue. Yes, it is mission-critical as long as the cell site you are closet to is up and connected to the network. However, if it goes down it doesn’t matter what you call it, MCPTT won’t work today!
The ultimate solution has to provide a hardened LTE network with fallback modes so if a cell or a group of cells is offline, the people who need to communicate can do so. Most LMR systems have what I consider to be graceful degradation, that is, there are multiple modes of operation and the final one is simplex communications (peer-to-peer for you IT folks) that provides one-to-one and one-to-many voice communications over some pretty impressive distances. So MCPTT is not MCPTT simply because a standards organization says it is. It becomes MCPTT or Public Safety Grade PTT when the network can be down, cell sites are not connected to the back-end of the network, and those in the field can still talk to each other and get their job done. I won’t believe PTT over LTE is Public Safety Grade until a police or fire chief says he or she will trust the lives of his or her officers and boots on the street to PTT over LTE, and I believe that will be many years into the future. Until then, PTT over LTE is only best-effort PTT as far as I am concerned.
I will miss seeing many of you at IWCE but I will be there in spirit!
This is the previous week’s news feature. To receive current mailings of news stories with links to articles each Friday, subscribe for FREE to Andy’s Public Safety Advocate Discovery Patterns Weekly News Summary, Click Here