A public safety network is a communication network deployed by public safety authorities to support first responders responding to emergency situations. In the past few years, public safety authorities and first responders have become more willing to use new applications and devices to improve their efficiency. 4G/LTE has been identified as an alternative to legacy public safety networks to address capacity and interoperability. Public safety networks using 4G/LTE offer mission-critical capabilities such as higher network availability and reliability, better performance, and higher network security, in addition to cost savings due to the shared network between general use and public safety. According to global technology intelligence firm ABI Research, it could be possible for a greenfield public safety network to evolve to a complete standalone 5G network in 2025, assuming 5G networks can reach nationwide coverage by then using low, mid, and high band frequencies. This is likely because 5G is being deployed in low frequencies, such as 600 Megahertz in the United States, meaning that 5G coverage will be very wide.
There are different options for deploying outdoor public safety networks. “A dedicated network will require a significant budget to provide nationwide coverage, and the time to market is long, but network performance, reliability, and security can be guaranteed,” explains Fei Liu, 5G & Mobile Network Infrastructure Industry Analyst at ABI Research. “A shared network, a Secure Mobile Virtual Network Operator (S-MVNO), or hybrid model, leveraging existing infrastructure from Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). When choosing this option, additional investment such as coverage enhancements, prioritization mechanisms, and equipment hardening will be needed to upgrade the public network to be able to provide mission-critical services.”
The future Public Safety-LTE (PS-LTE) networks are expected to combine dedicated and shared models. Partnering with MNOs allows public safety authorities to adopt broadband capabilities more smoothly and quicker, but it should be completed by a dedicated network to provide coverage in areas that are not covered by network operators.
“Public safety authorities and governments should set up a centralized unit with deep knowledge of the first responder operation, able to convert their needs to technical requirements and define clear technical targets in advance to prepare for a smooth transition,” Liu recommends. “It is also essential to thoroughly analyze network operators’ assets, interests, and capabilities and determine the control level.