The Ultimate Gameplan for Advancing Public Safety Network Infrastructure

Few systems are as important as a public safety network. These mobile broadband networks are the foundation of first responder communication and other emergency services in our communities. Simply put, public safety networks save lives. Things like real-time video communication and reliable data uploads can be the difference between life and death. That’s why safety authorities, operators, and governments all around the world—especially in developed counties—have deployed public safety networks. A large number of projects are underway—with goals for better interoperability between the different agencies/services, minimizing downtime, and expanding nationwide coverage.

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Market Overview

A large number of public safety network projects are underway—with goals for better interoperability between the different agencies/services, minimizing downtime, and expanding nationwide coverage. Some notable projects that are in motion include:

  • FirstNet in the United States
  • Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) in Canada
  • BroadWay in the European Union (EU)
  • Emergency Services Network (ESN) in the United Kingdom
  • PSBN in Australia

“ Vendors are now starting to develop mission-critical solutions using features standardized in Release 16, and solutions may reach market in 2022/2023. ABI Research compiled public safety forecasts for two core areas: outdoor macro basebands and Distributed Antenna System (DAS) equipment.”  – Fei Liu, Industry Analyst at ABI Research

Public Safety Macro Baseband Forecasts

  • North American penetration rate of public safety macro basebands will grow from 3% in 2021 to 11% in 2027. Revenue will more than double in that time span, reaching US$126 million.
  • In Asia-Pacific and Europe, macro baseband penetration rates will hit 3.3% and 3.7%, respectively, by 2027. Revenue will grow by 3.5X in Asia-Pacific (US$410 million) and 4.3X in Europe (US$328 million), compared to 2021.
  • For the Rest of the World (RoW), the public safety macro baseband penetration rate is expected to be a little north of 1.5% by 2027. Shipment revenue will total US$82 million.

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DAS Forecasts

  • Uniform growth for in-building public safety DAS equipment is seen across all regions, with active DAS being the go-to deployment.
  • Public safety in-building wireless penetration in North America will increase from 26% in 2021 to 37% by 2027. The public safety DAS market in North America is expected to eclipse the US$1 billion mark by the end of the forecast period.
  • The DAS market will reach US$2.3 billion in Asia-Pacific by 2027, more than double the revenue in 2021.
  • DAS revenue in Europe will remain stagnant between 2021 and 2027—increasing from US$318 million to US$357 billion.
  • The RoW DAS market will grow by 2.6X, surpassing US$141 million by 2027.

Key Decision Items

Choose a Deployment Model

The three public safety (PS) network deployment models are as follows:

Private Networks: While a private PS-LTE network guarantees high-quality network availability and full customization, it’s an expensive deployment model. A private PS-Long Term Evolution (LTE) network will have a PS core, PS Radio Access Network (RAN), and PS spectrum. Dedicated spectrum is allocated by the government.

Shared Network: A shared network will either fall under a Shared Mobile Virtual Network Operator (S-MVNO) model or a hybrid model. If going the S-MVNO route, public safety authorities/governments forfeit autonomy over network coverage, but gain a firmer grip on subscriber management, prioritization, and Quality of Service (QoS). In a hybrid model, such as FirstNet in the United States, coverage is extended to critical hot spots. However, this introduces greater perplexity in network management. Unlike the S-MVNO option, a hybrid model enables the public safety network to leverage a Mobile Network Operator (MNO) RAN and dedicated spectrum, in addition to the MNO spectrum.

Public Network: A public PS-LTE network utilizes an MNO core, MNO RAN, and MNO spectrum. What public safety authorities/governments gain in cost efficiency, they lose out on reliability and control. Indeed, a fully public network shares the same spectrum as commercial users—for which this deployment is best suited. In life-threatening scenarios, a public network could present shortcomings.

Every country differs in its own vision, requirements, laws, project timelines, and budget—no single deployment model is the answer for every country. What’s important is that a centralized group of experts is formed; a group with an extensive collection of knowledge relating to first-responder operations and technical needs. These individuals should be able to clearly translate mission-critical use cases into available technological solutions. This group also needs to assess the interest, competencies, and network assets of potential MNOs to select the right partners.

Deploy 4G Now, but Plan for 5G Later

For those scheduling a public safety network, be sure to use 4G/LTE as the backbone of your network. By building a network on 4G/LTE, authorities/governments will have a clear upgrade path to the inevitable 5G migration. As early as 2025, many public safety networks around the world will be full standalone 5G (with New Radio (NR)). 5G for public safety networks brings a host of benefits, including:

  • Better situational awareness
  • Clearer image quality
  • Increased camera density
  • Enhanced connected tools for remote diagnostics
  • Real-time drone control
  • Greater speed and reliability
  • Lower latency

Infrastructure Players Can’t be Late to the 5G Show

Vendors must have 5G mission-critical solutions ready to go by the time safety agencies and first responders are inclined to switch. Market leaders, such as Ericcson and Nokia, already offer 5G systems for public safety networks—enhancing voice, data, video services, etc. for first responders. AT&T’s FirstNet in the United States, while fully 4G/LTE now, is going to upgrade to 5G eventually. Taking a cue from these companies, infrastructure vendors should center much of the product development around 5G.

The biggest drawback of 5G deployment is poor or even non-existent indoor network coverage. Therefore, it’s imperative that indoor solutions, such as small cells, are strongly considered by authorities/governments and infrastructure players.

Stay Tuned with 3GPP Standardizations

While ABI Research has already pointed out the enhancements and new features in 3GPP Release 15 and Release 16, the organization has big plans for Release 17 and Release 18, too. Among the upgrades in Release 17 that public safety authorities can take advantage of, here are the highlights:

  • NR positioning enhancements to improve positioning accuracy
  • Mitigation of gNodeB (gNB)/User Equipment (UE) Transmit (Tx)/Receive (Rx) timing delay errors
  • Uplink-Angle of Arrival (UL-AOA) enhancements
  • Downlink-Angle of Departure (DL-AOD) enhancements
  • Multipath/Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) mitigation) and latency
  • Improvement in network and device efficiency
  • Enhancements in Assisted-Global Navigation Satellite System (A-GNSS) positioning to support new applications and industry verticals for 5G

Keep in mind, 3GPP standardizations can take a couple of years before being available. Indeed, the features that come with Release 17 aren’t expected to hit the market until 2023/2024.

Meanwhile, Release 18 will coincide with the advent of 5G-Advanced (2025), which will introduce Sidelink positioning. Additionally, ABI Research anticipates NR positioning improvements, NR support for low-grade devices, and various features that could not be achieved with Release 17.

Guide Public Safety Agencies on the Upgrade Path

While 5G is destined to be the go-to cellular technology found in future public safety networks, there’s no reason for them to hold off on projects until nationwide 5G coverage comes around. Indeed, 4G/LTE has already been shown to be effective in mission-critical use cases. Infrastructure vendors can educate potential clients on the benefits of existing LTE capabilities in public safety (e.g., real-time applications, remote cloud management, etc.). Moreover, some authorities/governments may be irresolute about planning a public safety network before nationwide 5G coverage. They may think the network will be outdated too soon. However, this can be seen as an opportunity for vendors to clarify the seamless transition from PS-LTE to PS-5G with their solutions.

Key Market Players to Watch

Dig Deeper for the Full Picture

To get a more comprehensive look at the current and future developments in public safety networks—and how vendors are meeting the demands of emergency services—download ABI Research’s Public Safety Networks research report.

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This content is part of the company’s 5G & Mobile Network Infrastructure Research Service.

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