Introduction to Broadband and Convergence

What is Convergence?

What is Driving the Revolution?

AT&T estimates that there are roughly ten million LMR radios worldwide, of which 40% can be classified as ‘critical’ communications users. While LMR still dominates the market, people are also using mobile phones, tablets, smart devices, and cameras to stream video, automate asset tracking, perform mapping, run real time data analytics, monitor health status and other advanced functions that are well beyond LMR.

The difference is data. New technologies such as LTE can deliver lots of data – fast – something LMR cannot do. And more data means more capabilities. Just consider the difference between what you can do on a two-way radio and what you can do on a cellular phone. There is a smartphone application, often with a slick user interface, to cater for almost any need. Businesses can readily develop their own applications to meet customized requirements. In contrast, LMR applications are few and far between.

Smartphone Critical Communications

A second driver for change is connectivity. The ability to connect devices to each other and to networks using Wi-Fi or open standard IP protocols means that business solutions can be designed around multiple devices (e.g. tablet, cell phone, radio) rather than being held hostage to a single type of device (e.g. radio).

Open standards for connectivity have led to the development of a wide variety of specialized devices aimed at professional users. It is not uncommon to see a policeman with a P25 radio, Bluetooth microphone, tablet, cellphone, and wearable camera (with maybe more comms equipment such as an MDT in the car).

In principle, all of these could be connected into a common system, but typically the agency will support the radio and cellphone (for example) on separate systems.

The question is, “Is this too much?”

Some have argued that this profusion of comms equipment is over-complicated, too expensive, and completely unnecessary. In particular, LTE technology can carry nearly all of the services – voice and data – required by professional users. Additional communications bearers, such as LMR, should probably be retired. A few commentators have even suggested that LMR users would be better off renting capacity on commercial LTE networks rather than maintaining their own radio systems.

And this is already happening. Small businesses, hotel chains, casinos, construction and trucking companies have ditched their LMR in favor of LTE smartphones. But organizations who have made this move tend to be noncritical communications users.

So what makes critical communications ‘critical’? And what are the advantages of using multiple communications bearers and multiple devices? We’ll find out in the next topic.