Sep 9, 2013

Blue Ocean in Public Safety Mobile Broadband

In the past there have been huge investments into public safety networks in the world. These investments into digital voice solutions with country wide coverage are factually still going on in many countries with Germany being the latest and widest implementation. The big infrastructure providers have been earning good revenues with the national roll-outs and many of the traditional ones are planning on selling the dedicated broadband networks the same way in the future. There is, however, a Blue Ocean concept that might change the whole business model for the public safety broadband. This can be good news for the tax payers, but poses a significant risk for the previous rulers of the market place. Before I’ll get here, let’s summarize what Blue Ocean in this case stands for.

Blue Ocean Strategy (BOS)

This term was invented by W. Chan Kim and RenĂ©e Mauborgne in their book “Blue Ocean Strategy:
How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant”. The idea is that you don’t only develop and enhance your offering to win markets, but you can redefine it by introducing aspects of elimination and reduction. With this one can create a new value curve that has potential to conquer the market. In this context the current incumbent approach to public safety broadband networks is to raise the capacity and to create new networks and technologies (LTE) for the market.

A Blue Ocean can be created by elimination and reduction. This is a valid concept that needs to be considered.

The dilemma of over serving the public safety communication market

Whenever talking about public safety, the argumentation for selling solutions has been around the importance of the service itself. I’ve heard arguments like “TETRA is the only technology you can trust your life on” or “the dedicated and government controlled networks are the only solutions that fulfill the availability and resilience needs of the public safety”. We all know these statements are not true. I have heard about multiple cases when TETRA networks have been down or unusable and the officers have turned to use the commercial networks to communicate. These solutions are also never 100% sure against storms or other natural catastrophes. The dedicated PMR networks get overcrowded when needed. When there’s nothing important going on, the networks are almost empty, using even as low as 2-5% of their capacity normally. This means that we have huge investments standing unused and failing often when mostly needed. Do we really need these dedicated networks also in the future? If not, we could probably save a lot of money for sure. Let’s see what commercial solutions could offer for the sector?

The Blue Ocean in public safety communication

The new strategic alternative comes from elimination the need for new networks. We see solutions in the fixed internet where one builds their own dedicated more secure networks inside the commercially available one. Normal VPN tunneling or MPLS technologies are commonly used in PS sector today. The solution is to combine commercial networks, as many as one wish, and use secure tunnels inside them. One thus actually uses the infrastructure of all needed mobile operators, the resilience, availability and operational security they together can serve. And has simultaneously secure tunneling inside all of them. This means that the costs of the solution are minor compared to building a new network anywhere with any significant coverage.

One roaming SIM is not enough

There are two different scenarios how to use the multiple network approach. One has been to acquire agreements with operators to enable roaming between networks with only one SIM-card. This sounds like a viable solution at first, but will not sufficient for Public Safety needs. The problem with roaming SIM is the inability to see the status of any other networks than the one the card uses. When one loses the primary network, one can only then start to even search if the other networks are available. This can take minutes or even tens of minutes. It creates intolerable uncertainty and hampers the user friendliness required for the officers to adopt the applications. Also session persistence can be easily lost.

The benefits of multichannel routing solution

Using routers that monitor all of the used networks all the time and use them either separately or together can give what is required. Currently the switch over times can be reduced to just seconds, enabling advanced online streaming data applications. The networks’ capacities are not a problem in most areas today, and will be even less as LTE is expanding at its current rapid rate. Also the fears of commercial users jamming the networks seem to be overrated.


Let’s take FirstNet in the US as an example, since they are the only ones who have openly announced spending something like 7-9 Billion US for a country wide dedicated public safety network. If they used selected existing commercial operators with a router solution, the cost for equipping all the public safety vehicles (450 000) in the country, would be in the range of 1-2 Billion. Simultaneously the operating costs can be kept much lower due to operators’ efficient commercial organizations. With this investment every single public safety vehicle would have safe, resilient and highly available broadband in their use.

The routers using multiple networks create the Blue Ocean. The incumbents that have so far sold the digital PMR networks are naturally interested in continuing their old business model. With novel alternatives minimizing network investments the business can be switched to other players. This has happened already in Scandinavia and will certainly have its effects in other parts of the world. I hope for us taxpayers’ sake that the modern approaches get the foothold they deserve.