The Future of Public Safety Communications - A SE Asian Perspective

With mobile market growth slowing in Europe and North America, the fast developing nations in Southeast Asia become attractive targets for mobile equipment suppliers. This week, Nokia invited me to join the company's annual analyst event addressing the company's strategy and progress in the region. With more than a year of operation as a combined entity -- Nokia radio expertise buttressed with Alcatel-Lucent IP routing, optical, fixed networking and applications software -- the two day Hanoi event on June 7 and 8 spotlighted the benefits of a comprehensive portfolio boosted by a sophisticated professional and managed services arm.

Along with the wide range of topics that a broad portfolio brings, the Nokia event touched on opportunities in the region for expanding the impact of LTE in the public sector domain. Pursued as part of Nokia's "Expand" strategic thrust, the public sector market provides potential new growth beyond the company's traditional service provider customer base. As company executives reflected on the opportunity to expand in the public sector, they pointed to interesting potential for Asia Pacific nations to leapfrog public safety communications technology by embracing LTE mobile broadband in advance of more mature markets. 

APAC Leapfrog Potential

The rationale for an accelerated APAC shift to LTE-based mission critical communications revolves around the lack of existing trunked radio systems coupled with rapidly expanding LTE coverage. In addition, governments in the region are eager to drive smart city initiatives that can improve civic life while helping boost economic growth. For nations such as Vietnam, where the government holds interest in the mobile operators, the move makes sense. If the nation plans an investment in public safety communications technology, why invest in an old generation of technology?

But much needs to happen before a wholesale replacement of existing mission critical communications infrastructure occurs. Industry players need to make further progress on bringing LTE-based mission critical push-to-talk devices to market. The networks are ready, thanks to 3GPP Release 12 and 13 efforts that bring priority and pre-emption. But direct mode operations remains an unsolved problem that hampers communications when users are outside a network signal. Low frequency spectrum allocations -- either dedicated for public protection and disaster response (PPDR) or shared with commercial network users -- need to be made for improved in-building penetration. 

Of course, proof-points of success for the technology are needed as well. To that end, the UK's Emergency Services Network (ESN) will set the pace. As mission critical push-to-talk voice users are brought on-line in the UK, APAC agencies will gain confidence in shifting technologies. Once confidence is won, the spread of this technology will be fast across the region as national officials modernize networks to contend with growing economies and populations.

Operational Impact

The SE Asia region shares similar operational requirements with other regions around the world. But the starting point for operational embrace is different as existing systems offer limited capabilities. The impact of LTE-based public safety systems across the services is:

  • Police -- High Impact - Introduction of LTE-based public safety systems in SE Asia enables the prospect of tablet computers assigned to officers in the field. Cloud-based applications can boost productivity of field officers while also increasing situational awareness for responding officers. Another important impact for police agencies is the potential for public safety IoT device deployment that delivers information on traffic and security perimeters.
  • Fire -- Low/Mid Impact - Fire ground operations in the region are likely to change slowly. Constructing data sets with building information will take a long time to achieve. Fire operations will remain primarily voice-oriented and remain on legacy analog networks until a good range of hardened voice devices are available for the SE Asia region.
  • EMS -- High Impact - In the pre-hospital environment, EMS providers stand to benefit from improved communications with doctors. Existing systems in the region are limited and availability of effective mobile broadband service for public safety can enable more advanced field procedures remotely guided by hospital staff.


LTE provides an important opportunity for the rapidly advancing societies in Southeast Asia to leapfrog the west with modern public safety systems that combine cloud and mobile access for improved citizen welfare. Nokia stands to gain with this advancement by focusing its broad portfolio of assets on the unique requirements of public safety agencies. Nokia's moves to foster advances in the public safety device ecosystem can help accelerate the progress. But proof-points of success that come from the UK ESN experience will ultimately be the make-or-break for policy makers planning coming public safety modernization efforts.