Americas Heat Up for Continent-Wide Public Safety LTE Deployments

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2Q 2017 | IN-4532

FirstNet selects AT&T to roll out Public Safety LTE on March 30 (2017). At the same time, Mexico announced its first nationwide public safety LTE contract award. Soon, a continent-wide public safety LTE network will be established. In this Insight, ABI Research looks at the impact of this contract win and assesses the potential of the public safety LTE market.

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AT&T Won FirstNet's Contract


In March (2017), FirstNet finally announced AT&T to be the winner of its first nationwide public safety LTE network deployment contract. This announcement comes after months of delays (the original announcement was expected to fall in the 4Q 2016), controversies, and litigations. According to the contract, FirstNet will provide 20 MHz of Band 14 (758 MHz to 763 MHz/788 MHz to 793 MHz) spectrum and US$6.5 billion funding over the next five years to support the network buildout.

AT&T first announced its FirstNet bid back in July 2016, and became the sole runner for the FirstNet bid when the Department of Interior (DOI) excluded two other competitors, Rivada Mercury and pdvWireless, from the bidding for the FirstNet contract.Despite the obvious outcome, this announcement is still significant to the mission-critical industry.

Avoiding Deployment Delay (and Saving Taxpayers' Money) Should Be AT&T's Top Priority


Now, the FirstNet clock starts ticking. In the case of the 4G Emergency Service Network (ESN) in the U.K., EE, the mobile network operator contracted to host the ESN network, is currently facing some challenges in terms of system integration and deployment, resulting in delays. ABI Research believes that AT&T will leverage its existing relationship with key infrastructure providers Nokia and Ericsson, which supply equipment for AT&T’s commercial LTE network. At the same time, AT&T extends its partnership to include mission-critical equipment vendors, such as Motorola Solutions, General Dynamics, Sapient Consulting, and Inmarsat Government, attracting support from pure-play mission-critical vendors.

On the same note, AT&T also announced that the company will spend about US$40 billion over the next 25 years to build, deploy, operate, and maintain the network, with the target to be fully operational by 2022. The mission-critical industry had its doubts when FirstNet first announced the initial investment amount, which was worth US$6.5 billion. Now AT&T promises to invest US$1.6 billion on average on an annual basis. Though the figure is still much smaller compared to AT&T’s annual CAPEX spending of US$8 billion, the substantial increase in capital expenditure will go a long way. It will be interesting to see whether AT&T will still consider cloud and virtualized solutions that are more cost-efficient and scalable, without compromising security.

Continent-Wide Public Safety LTE Network


Shortly after FirstNet’s contract announcement, ALTÁN Redes, a recently-formed Mexican wholesale carrier, announced its contract win to build a nationwide public-private LTE network for Mexico. The deployment will be using 700 MHz and will cover five of nine regions in Mexico. Nokia will be providing its LTE-based public safety solutions. With this announcement, three countries in North America—the United States, Canada, and Mexico—started their deployment of public safety LTE network. This will create a homogenous and interoperable continent-wide public safety LTE network, with more than 1 million public safety personnel and first responders.

The continent-wide access now allows mission-critical LTE, a niche segment in the wireless telco market, to benefit from the economy of scales in terms of user equipment, radio access equipment, core network, and IT infrastructure. Major chipset suppliers and OEMs can benefit from this development through the introduction of public safety LTE, specifically Band 14, compatible user equipment in smartphones, tablets, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Public safety agencies can draw benefits from other aspects of LTE technologies, such as voice-over LTE (VoLTE), rich communication services (RCS), and 3GPP-approved IoT communication protocols, namely LTE-M and NB-IoT. In October 2016, Bittium conducted the first Band 14 VoLTE call on the Bittium Tough Mobile smartphone that runs on Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset and Android OS 6.0. Already used extensively in the maintenance of AT&T’s network infrastructure, AT&T is also likely to introduce drones in FirstNet’s applications.

Therefore, ABI Research is optimistic about the future of public safety LTE. The overall size of the global public safety LTE hardware market is expected to grow by 38.4% on an annual basis until 2025, slowly replacing existing public safety protocols, such as P25, TETRA, and DMR. A bulk of this growth will no doubt be driven by North America and Asia-Pacific, where South Korea, Australia, and Japan are looking to introduce their respective public safety LTE networks.