Urgent Matters

Will mission-critical PTT be FirstNet’s ‘killer app’?

by Donny Jackson

Table of Contents:

Apr 07, 2016

With all of the broadband functionality promised by public-safety LTE, could mission-critical push-to-talk—a decidedly narrowband technology—be FirstNet's "killer app" that drives public-safety adoption?

It was a pretty straightforward question asked at the end of an interesting IWCE 2016 panel examining early-builder deployments of public-safety LTE on the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum that is licensed to FirstNet. Panelists didn’t have a lot of time to respond, but the answers were enlightening—and probably surprising to many, particularly those who believe FirstNet should be a data-only network.

“What do you think the killer app might be for FirstNet?” moderator Bill Schrier asked the seven-member panel.

My mind began to race, imagining the wide range of broadband-oriented possibilities. Would it be a location-based technology that provides situational awareness? How about a bandwidth-effective app that would allow ubiquitous uploading and downloading of video at an incident scene? Would it be something we never would have thought about—for instance, who would have thought bigger broadband pipes would be leveraged so much for a character-limited app like Twitter?

Indeed, each of these was mentioned by one panelist. But the leading response—from four panelists, including four of the five panelists representing early-builder networks—was mission-critical push-to-talk.

That’s right; the overwhelming “killer app” choice was not some fancy, bandwidth-intensive functionality that no one has seen before. It was mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT)—something that public-safety personnel have had for decades via their LMR networks.

Given this, some would argue that MCPTT should not be considered a “killer app” for FirstNet. Not only does MCPTT already exist on LMR systems, many are quick to note that FirstNet is supposed to be a data-centric system, with voice capabilities being offered almost as an afterthought—in fact, a FirstNet official repeated this mantra during another IWCE session.

Those are legitimate points, but the panelists are absolutely correct, in my opinion.

If a “killer app” is the functionality that drives people to subscribe to your service, I think that MCPTT is the app with the greatest potential to sway public-safety users to utilize FirstNet—and that’s important, because public safety is under no obligation to subscribe to the proposed nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Since FirstNet was established four years ago, the biggest concern I’ve heard about the proposed system—assuming it is deployed—is how cash-strapped public-safety agencies would be able to afford mobile broadband service.

For public-safety entities that already have mobile broadband service from a commercial carrier, moving to FirstNet might make sense, if the monthly service cost is similar to the commercial offering. The good news for FirstNet is that such agencies already have a budget for mobile broadband; the bad news is that it may be difficult to explain to elected officials the importance of having public-safety personnel on an interoperable network with preemptive access and priority service (especially when carriers now offer priority services).

Convincing public-safety agencies that do not have mobile broadband budget today to join FirstNet promises to be an even tougher challenge. Most of these agencies rely on LMR networks to provide mission-critical voice capabilities to their first responders, and their budgets may only allow for the money to be saved for the next LMR upgrade. Broadband-only communication is a luxury they simply cannot afford, in many cases.

However, if FirstNet can provide MCPTT that is proven to be reliable (and it shouldn’t be labeled as MCPTT, if it’s not reliable) and provides the kind of coverage that a public-safety agency needs, the dynamics of the economics argument changes dramatically.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 5

Anonymousradiousers (not verified)
on Apr 8, 2016

Please stop already. You may have some stray users on a "ptt" cell phone app, most likely the feds. However, the real public safety users such as police and fireman have ZERO interest in using cell phone style applications based communication. This is not senior year at high school social media type stuff, this is real world, and real world requires proven and useful technology, not pipe dream play toys. Stick to you video chats and cruiser computers over your glorified cell phone network. The rest of public safety will be utilizing the real communication LMR networks.

Anonymous123 (not verified)
on Apr 10, 2016

I think your comments are somewhat short sited, feds, cops and co are sick of carting bricks radios around which will only provide one task - ptt. Where smart devices have been deployed it has taken traffic away from ptt. there will also be a need there but why not give the front line some thing which helps and not hinders there jobs

Sounds like your employed by a old school radio company who has lost focus moving forward.

Anonymousradiousers (not verified)
on Apr 13, 2016

Not only am I a radio system engineer, who works on cutting edge communications systems, I have over 20 years of actual public safety service as a fire fighter and law enforcement officer. You statement is perfectly qualifies why Motorola has lost soo much ground in the public safety field. They have completely lost site of what is important and what the customers actually want and need. Brick radios will never go away. If you never been down the hall or held someone to the ground or at gun point you can't comment. Hold on while is open the app and select the users I want to call on my cell phone so I can call dispatch. Lol

Provider (not verified)
on Apr 11, 2016

LMR providers face an existential fight. For now, FirstNet is a Tier 1 carrier play with Motorola tacked on to placate and stop early retirement. System Integrators with a Tier 1 carrier player and no Motorola baggage might also be a good fit.

on Nov 30, 2016

Donny, you are spot on!!

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