Changing the Public Safety LTE Landscape with Drones and Mobile Edge Computing

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1Q 2017 | IN-4454

Public safety LTE deployments are growing in momentum. To date, South Korea, Qatar, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are starting to deploy public safety LTE. Mobile network operators are also starting to seriously consider LTE for mission-critical communication, as it is starting to present a strong business case. ABI Research believes that with the deployment of low latency architecture and network analytical features, operators can do much more with their existing LTE networks.

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Drones Are to Play a Big Role in Public Safety LTE


Even as traditional public safety communication protocols, such as TETRA and P25, continue to grow, LTE is expected to play a larger role in the public safety sector. In 3GPP Release 13, several public safety features are introduced, including mission-critical push-to-talk (PTT), isolated E-UTRAN operation, and extended proximity services that feature indoor positioning. In Release 14 and on, more enhancements are expected to be introduced, such as mission-critical push-to-video, latency reduction, and location services. LTE provides public safety agencies with plenty of bandwidth to use various applications, such as real-time video surveillance, indoor positioning and drones, and will enhance their emergency response capabilities.

In February 2017, Nokia demonstrated the use of drones in mission-critical assignments. During the demonstration, drones streamed video and other sensor data from the disaster site to the command center, and the inputs were monitored and analyzed to provide an accurate picture of the disaster sites, providing first responders richer information and ultimately led to better responder strategies. The LTE connectivity between the disaster sites and command center was powered by Nokia’s Ultra Compact Network, a highly portable and ruggedized LTE basestation solution. Nokia also demonstrated its mobile edge computing and data analytics platform for first responders.

Mobile Edge Computing Vendors to Benefit from Public Saftey LTE Deployment


Public safety LTE is widely regarded as the future of current narrowband mission-critical communication networks. The drone and mobile edge computing showcase is another demonstration of the benefits of a public safety LTE network, as well as Nokia’s expertise and experience in the public safety domain. Canada, Qatar, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States began the migration of legacy public safety network to LTE, and were aided by major network infrastructure vendors, such as Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei. Australia, Belgium, Finland, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan are several countries who are likely to follow suit.

The broadband nature of public safety LTE allows video-streaming, real-time analytics, better audio quality, and richer content. Mobile edge computing in LTE also enables ultra-low latency and remote control, meaning drones, connected vehicles, and robots can be remotely controlled to assist in disaster relief services. In September 2016, the New York Police Department used bomb robots to disarm explosive devices. By moving Internet data servers closer to the edge, LTE connectivity and mobile edge computing will enable a much wider area of control and quicker response time, while reducing the risks faced by first responders significantly. A detailed discussion on mobile edge computing can be found in the recently published ABI Research report, Edge Computing in Telco Networks.

New Service Areas with Mission-Critical LTE Capabilities


As mobile network operators continue to explore new opportunities in new verticals, mission-critical communication networks with LTE, which encompass public safety LTE and private LTE networks, are becoming key verticals for operators to expand into. Due to stringent regulatory requirements, operators are required to deploy wide LTE coverage with robust network infrastructure. This allows first responder agencies and enterprises to leverage on the network infrastructure and introduce their own LTE networks. At the same time, mission-critical network as a service (NaaS) is likely to drive the adoption of other ancillary technologies, including the aforementioned mobile edge computing, big data analytics platform, and environmental and security sensors. Verizon Enterprise, for example, introduced a secure cloud offering that can be utilized by public safety agencies, providing secure, private Internet connection that features consumption-based bandwidth, on-demand resources, application performance, and multiple classes of service and usage-based billing models.

Once the latency of an LTE network is reduced, new forms of service offerings can take place. Drone as a service (DaaS) or robot as a service (RaaS) can be another domain that operators can get into. At the moment, many operators are actively looking at deploying drones in different application areas. In the U.S., AT&T launched National Drone Program, using drones to inspect cell towers and measure network performance at venues and locations across the country. The testing was expanded into public safety, as the operator conducted its first test-flights drones equipped with LTE radios in February 2017. The operator is also working with NASA on drone traffic management and cybersecurity. 


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