Licensed Mobile Radio Trends Overview
Licensed mobile radio (LMR) deployments continue to increase globally, despite the emergence of LTE solutions onto the world stage and 5G on the horizon. Government and commercial sectors increasingly rely on LMR for secure, instant and reliable voice communications, so cost-optimized digital technologies, TETRA, P25, TETRAPOL and other major digital LMR technologies continue to attract investment. The United Kingdom, a pioneer of LTE technology, announced only in 2018 that it would extend its nationwide Airwave TETRA network to at least 2022 to provide mission critical communications to its emergency services despite the establishment of the nationwide UKESN LTE network. Overall digitization continues in the industry, as the number of digital users exceeded the number of analog users for the first time in 2017. However, there are a significant number of analog users who have not yet converted to digital-radio protocols. The global success of digital technologies has been multifaceted, as multi-tiered options, greater competition and advances in capabilities have provided an increasingly cost-effective migration path from analog to digital communications. Increasing awareness of the benefits of LMR technology for mission-critical and business-critical organizations around the world has facilitated this growth, and users are turning to trunked cost-optimized digital solutions to meet their scalable communications requirements.
The deployment of trunked networks has increased significantly over the last couple of years, as transportation hubs, utilities companies, mines, and public safety and security organizations have adopted the following technologies:
- TETRA has proven itself the technology of choice for emergency services, and European public safety and security continues to be the backbone of the TETRA market, although the largest growth will come from the Americas and Asia. As TETRA becomes more popular around the world it will continue to spread into business-critical sectors, such as transportation, utilities and industrial.
- Cost-optimized digital technology, which includes digital mobile radio (DMR), digital private mobile radio (dPMR), next-generation digital narrowband (NXDN) and police digital trunked (PDT), has also been successful globally. The largest markets in 2017 were North America and Asia, with Asia accounting for half of all deployments. Cost-optimized digital technologies will be more prevalent in commercial sectors in developed economies with nationwide networks, and in public safety and security organizations in developing regions where no nationwide network exists.
- APCO Project P25 (P25) will also continue to increase its footprint, with the world’s largest single P25 market located in North America, where P25 is the de-facto mission-critical communications standard for public safety and security agencies. Suppliers of P25 continued to enjoy the spoils of continued investment in public safety in North America, with large-scale network upgrades in 2018, like Motorola Solutions contracts to modernize the P25 network in Portsmouth, Virginia, in a multi-million-dollar deal to provide P25 technology to its emergency services and the Harris deal to upgrade the US customs and border protection (CBP) network. North America is forecast to remain the largest global market for P25, holding more than three quarters of the world’s P25 users; however, P25 has also permeated elsewhere in the global market.
- TETRAPOL continues to attract refreshment cycles, as high-end government agencies rely on the security and resilience that TETRAPOL offers. Examples include the Fort Irwin United States Army training base in California, which opted to upgrade its network with TETRAPOL Internet Protocol (IP) technology in 2018, and a midlife upgrade of the POLYCOM network in Switzerland, which will extend the life of the network to 2030 and beyond.
Competitive LMR landscape
As the digital LMR market continues to grow, the competitive landscape also becomes more intense, as suppliers continue to innovate, invest in research and development, and users are offered more and more viable communications solutions. Over the years, the industry has undergone a process of consolidation and collaboration, with some key acquisitions, including the Hytera acquisition of Sepura in 2017 and a number of Motorola Solutions acquisitions, including Interexport, Kodiak and next generation 911 software from Airbus DS. JVC Kenwood highlighted its commitment to global LMR markets, acquiring Radio Activity S.R.L. in 2018 and announcing that it plans to buy shares in Tait, a global supplier of P25 and DMR solutions.
Despite market consolidation, the overall landscape has become more competitive. Increased price competition has reduced barriers to entry, and technological innovations have increased the number of choices, either by provider or protocol.
LMR still growing, as LTE gets established
Despite the emergence of LTE technology, LMR adoption will continue to grow, as LTE becomes more established and proves its capability to meet the specific critical voice communications requirements of emergency services. In the short term, LTE will complement critical voice with data, rather than replace LMR altogether, as investment into LTE is required to continue to increase coverage and resilience. Only in the next five to ten years could LTE substitute for TETRA, TETRAPOL or other high-end LMR technologies, as capital investments are considered in nationwide or large-scale deployments.