Public safety professionals require the highest level of reliable mobile communications, including broadband data services that deliver real-time imagery, video, location and mapping data and always-on connectivity to cloud
based information. LTE provides the most cost-effective and secure way to support these services. The transition to LTE requires technical, operational and business expertise to ensure a smooth evolution for the public safety community. This white paper examines the advantages and disadvantages of the four main business models that bring such mobile broadband connectivity to first responders: MNO (contracting services through an existing mobile
network operator), public safety MVNO (operating or getting service from an S-MVNO), dedicated (building a dedicated network), and hybrid (combining a public safety MVNO with a dedicated network.
When evolving to mobile broadband, a public safety agency may choose from numerous business models that will support its specific needs, taking into account existing mission-critical network operations, available spectrum,
regulatory environment and financial resources. It may contract services provided by a mobile network operator (MNO), operate or use a service from a dedicated virtual network over a mobile operator’s infrastructure (public safety mobile virtual network operator [MVNO]), build a wholly owned and operated dedicated network, or use a mix of different approaches. We can already see some concrete examples of these different models in the market:
- The police of New York decided to equip officers with smartphones using a contract from a commercial service provider.
- In the UK, the government decided to go for a public safety MVNO, which is relying on a commercial access network operated by EE.
- In the US, the nationwide public safety network, FirstNet, will rely on both dedicated and commercial access networks. This is a hybrid solution.
- Qatar has a dedicated nationwide LTE network, which is owned and operated by the government.
Business models for critical communications over LTE
Public safety agencies migrating to LTE broadband networks must consider many factors that will influence the selection of their optimal deployment model. The most important ones are as follows:
Spectrum availability and implementation timeline
Spectrum is a critical asset for deployment of a dedicated public safety network. Its assignment for public safety varies across the world: there is no worldwide harmonization.The implementation timeline and the spectrum availability will influence the type of network implementation. If high-speed mobile data connectivity is
urgently needed, while spectrum is not yet available, then the dedicated network option cannot be considered, at least in the initial phase of the project. However sharing the radio access network (RAN) of an existing
commercial LTE network (MVNO) that is providing good population coverage will enable a quick start of the broadband services to first responders.
A very strong requirement for public safety services is coverage. Commercial MNOs are providing good coverage in dense urban areas, but first responders also have to operate in semi-urban and rural areas. Provision of such coverage will be essential to public safety agencies.
In the context of tight public spending, what budget can governments allocate to public safety communications modernization, and how will that budget be split between CAPEX and OPEX? Here, an analysis of the TCO over a relevant period (7 or 20 years), will be critical to help assess the cost of the different options that can be considered, and determine which ones could best fit budget constraints.
Public safety agencies have specific requirements in terms of security, high availability and quality of service (QoS) that are not necessary deployed in commercial LTE networks. Key security aspects include end-to-end application ciphering, network protection and secure device management. High availability is achieved through resilient architectural design, taking into account georedundancy of core sites, resiliency in the IP network, redundancy of network elements and guaranteed power supplies.
Number of users and capacity
The number of users as well as their expected consumption patterns will have a direct impact on how the network and/or the service will be dimensioned. This will also be a critical factor when assessing the TCO of the different models.
Model 1 : Contract services through an existing MNO
In this model, the public safety agency simply contracts data subscriptions with an MNO to provide mobile broadband services. Public safety agencies may want to buy their own ruggedized devices and manage them, and in most cases specific public safety applications will be their responsibility. As shown in Figure 2, public safety users and consumers share the same spectrum and network. The public safety entity pays a consistent, predictable periodic fee for network access, usually a function of some known factor, such as the number of end users, devices or usage.
Model 2 : Operate or obtain service from an S-MVNO
The MVNO approach has become prevalent in the commercial sector, where branded operators resell bulk-purchased wireless services to consumers while providing their own usage plans, billing and customer support. The MVNO approach can be extended to the support of public safety users. In that case, the MVNO, called a secure-MVNO (S-MVNO), which is operated by a dedicated public safety service provider, provides added-value services (such as secure public safety applications, user and device management, customer care, endto- end security, billing and so on) to the different public safety users. They get access to secure broadband data services when the S-MVNO leverages the 4G access network from one or several different MNOs.
Model 3 : Public safety dedicated network
In this model the government, in collaboration with the public safety agencies finances, procures, builds and manages its own network. It takes full responsibility for all network elements and software, and the deployment,
management, operation and maintenance of the network. The extent of upfront costs depends on the scale of deployment (local, regional or national), whether the network is shared among several entities and whether the deployment is scheduled gradually over years or within a shorter time period. An alternative scenario of this model is when network operations are outsourced to a specialized company (managed services).
Model 4 : Hybrid model (combining an S-MVNO with a dedicated network)
Governmental agencies that are finding the completely dedicated public safety network too costly to implement will consider the hybrid model. A typical scenario is that dedicated RAN is built in selected areas and commercial mobile
operator networks are leveraged in other areas to complement the coverage.
Is there a preferred model?
This short analysis shows that no single model provides many more advantages over the others. Each government will have to conduct an indepth analysis of its situation, its requirements and priorities to find the best choice, matching its operational needs and financial criteria.But perhaps the most interesting aspect of using LTE for public safety is that it leaves the options fairly open.We might very well see governments starting with a MNO model, evolving toward an S-MVNO model, and finishing with a dedicated network—or perhaps starting with a dedicated network but evolving toward a hybrid approach. Last, but not least,when choosing the best overall design and business model, agencies should also have a plan for doctrine change management, because the wealth of robust data will offer new ways of conducting operations. Regardless of the model chosen, the network must be defined through an end-to-end service-centric approach. This approach enables operational support to be maintained from the core through the network to the end user.