December 13 2016 —
Change is often viewed as a catalyst for opportunity. Yet the SWOT planning method, which considers the strategic viability of a business plan or market initiative by assessing the upside (strengths and opportunities) and downside (weaknesses and threats) for both internal and external dynamics, informs that change can also be inauspicious.
Given the observation of the philosopher Heraclitus, “The only thing that is constant is change,” business leaders within the wireless industry have much to consider as they seek to identify the right ventures for their organization in response to both megatrends and sector-specific trends.
This article arrives as the midway point in a series that investigates five key trends and how they’ll impact the in-building wireless ecosystem in 2017 and beyond. So far, we’ve examined 5G and Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), including when each trend will be felt by the industry and which key functional areas (R&D, Marketing, Sales) should be focused on it in 2017.
Today, we tackle public-safety communications and E911 location services.
An Industry Shaped by Regulations and Requirements
The importance of indoor public-safety communications and location services cannot be overstated. Public-safety personnel must be able to communicate and coordinate efforts. Likewise, the general public needs to be able to call for help as well as receive alerts and instructions. Plus, knowing only the horizontal location of the caller is insufficient – the vertical location or z-axis is essential information during an emergency when seconds can determine an outcome.
That’s because, according to Chief Alan Perdue, the executive director of the Safer Buildings Coalition (disclosure: I serve as a board member), an estimated 80 percent of all wireless calls originate or terminate inside buildings. Similarly, most emergency incidents occur indoors.
These facts have not lost on the International Code Council (ICC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) whose bodies created the first national code for indoor public-safety communications in 2009. This model language was elevated to the technical provisions section of the code in 2012, and it is expected that it will be further refined in 2017. Related, FirstNet has hinted that in-building communication is essential, although the independent authority has not indicated whether indoors will be included in its scope to provide emergency responders with a nationwide high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety.
Location has also received scrutiny. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stated that, “(The) gap in the performance of 911 location service needs to be closed: the public rightfully expects 911 location technologies to work effectively regardless of whether a 911 call originates indoors or outdoors.” The FCC has set forth location rules for both horizontal and vertical location in which certain increasing benchmarks must be met over a timeframe of seven years.
Together, these Fire Code and FCC requirements represent changes that signal potential opportunity. In February 2016, ABI Research forecasted the public safety worldwide spend for DAS will double to $1.7 billion over the next five years. And in a move that advances the lucrative commercial indoor location-based services market, smartphone OEMs have made Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) a standard which will likely spur innovators to develop other applications including public safety.
Nuances Distinguish Indoor Public-Safety from Indoor Commercial Cellular
Members of the in-building wireless ecosystem that view indoor public-safety communications and E911 location as an adjacent market to capture greater customer share-of-wallet will likely find more differences than similarities to commercial cellular in their go-to-market strategy:
· Public safety is a regulated industry which means that products and network performance “shall” – not “should” – meet specified requirements and standards. Failure to comply significantly impacts the venue owner.
· Buyers, influencers and channel partners tend to be stakeholders the commercial in-building wireless ecosystem has not consistently engaged before. They include Venue Owners, Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), A&E firms and electrical contractors.
· The buying decision is not based upon return-on-investment (ROI) but, instead compliance with an unfunded mandate. As a result, price is the key consideration.
· OEMs should expect to reap lower revenue per project while shouldering higher manufacturing costs. That’s because the infrastructure needed for public-safety is approximately a quarter to a third of that for commercial cellular. Plus, products must be “hardened” to meet certain unique public safety-grade requirements which include NEMA Type 4 enclosures, 24-hour battery backup capabilities, dry contacts for fire panel connections, filtering against competing signals, and red paint.
· The market is as nascent as indoor commercial cellular was in 2002, which means that the likelihood of a fundamental understanding of problem-solution scenarios among AHJs, CRE and A&E stakeholders is low.
Timeframes and Stakeholder Focus
A market currently exists to address indoor public-safety communications due to prevailing code requirements. But, given the aforementioned nuances, organizations should weigh the risks and rewards. It is likely that momentum for this market as well as E911 location won’t meaningfully increase until five years when codes become more stringent and uniform, LTE public-safety is launched through FirstNet, and location requirement standards become higher.
Conceivably, R&D, Marketing and Sales groups among in-building ecosystem organizations will be actively engaged in 2017. R&D should manage the product portfolio via a build-buy-or-partner approach with the understanding that the majority of buildings within the foreseeable future will be addressed by BDA Signal Boosters, not Active DAS and Small Cell solutions. To fill the information void, Marketing should develop programs to engage and educate AHJs and Venue stakeholders. Finally, Sales should similarly liaise with public-safety and E911 location buyers, and cultivate channel partners who possess both venue owner relationships and expertise in local and regional public-safety deployments.
In summary, requirements for indoor public-safety communications and E911 location services is going to usher evolutionary and revolutionary change that can manifest as either opportunity or threat to participants within the in-building ecosystem depending on how they position themselves. Will your organization be prepared?
Next trend: The Tier 2 Venue Market.
Mike Collado helps companies win mindshare and capture marketshare. He is a Principal Consultant at Wireless 20/20 and former Vice President of Marketing at SOLiD. He also serves as a strategic advisor for both industry and nonprofit organizations and is an author, blogger and frequent speaker at wireless industry events. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.