Slow then soaring growth for LTE data connections
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May 2014 – The private LTE market is expected to show slow growth over the few years, but longer term the amount of data connections are expected to soar, according to a study from information and analytics provider IHS.
Demand for data is increasing in a number of regions worldwide, as more users expect more sophisticated and high-bandwidth applications on their networks. Traditionally, this type of functionality has been limited on traditional LMR networks, as narrowbanding has reduced the ability to transfer large data packets. Surely, therefore, the industry is crying out for a solution that is able to offer both the traditional LMR systems in combination with high-bandwidth capability.
So far, however, the uptake of private LTE – the forerunner in the PMR broadband race – has been slow, with fewer networks operational than previously expected. There have been spectrum allocations that have increased uptake of LTE networks – such as allocation in China and the United Arab Emirates, and of course the roll out of FirstNet in the United States. So there have been some success stories for LTE.
However, it is key to note that harmonised spectrum allocation may take many years, especially in a disaggregated Europe where a number of activities to provide cohesive spectrum policy are still ongoing. As such, the impact of LTE in the short run is expected to be limited. Instead of using LTE for high-bandwidth applications, some users currently have to find alternatives.
TEDS technology, for example, offers enhanced data rates as an overlay to traditional LMR networks, and therefore presents a mid-term solution to the increasing need for higher data throughput capabilities without the need to wait for LTE infrastructure and spectrum harmonisation. Importantly, however, IHS projects that these networks will later be transitioned to private LTE once spectrum becomes available, as TEDS – despite enhanced data rates – does not offer the extensive data packaging functionality that LTE can offer in the future.
However, IHS does not expect LTE to be rolled out as a complete critical communications solution, however. Traditional PMR will still hold the majority of the voice market for a long time to come, as LTE providers have not yet developed an LTE solution that can successfully replicate the benefits and attributes of traditional PMR systems, despite ongoing work with 3GPP. As such, IHS expects that a hybrid PMR / private LTE will be the mid-term solution for critical communications requirements.
There is no doubt that LTE will emerge as a key solution in the critical communications industry, offering increased data rates and increased availability of data-heavy functions in the field. Despite the prospect of PPDR being allocated its own spectrum, LTE spectrum will typically be auctioned off to commercially-operative national service providers such as telecoms and multi-service operators as well, where IHS believes that partnerships between critical communications organizations and these operators is essential in developing a viable path for LTE usage in the PMR market.
By Elizabeth Mead, Market Analyst, IHS