Private Systems versus Commercial Services

A fundamental decision that an agency must decide regarding a mission critical radio system is whether to operate your own private system or to use services provided by a commercial service provider. By a private system we refer to one which is substantially owned and operated by the user agency (even if that agency is in the public sector). Commercial Services would be those from companies that offer wireless services on their network to any segment of the public that is willing to pay. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach to wireless service.

The prime advantages of the private system option are:

  • control over the operation and service decision and
  • potentially lower operating costs.

The disadvantages of running your own system are:

  • a large initial capital cost (and subsequent upgrade costs) and
  • responsibility for many operational concerns such as staffing, training, budgeting.

Conversely, the advantages of using the services of a publicly available system are:

  • minimal capital costs – both initially and for system upgrades
  • economies of scale when it comes to operating costs if the service provider has many other customers
  • expertise within the service provider as providing wireless service is their core business (presumably)

Disadvantages to watch out for when utilizing commercial services include:

  • higher monthly operational costs
  • lack of responsiveness to the particular needs of public safety (such as system availability and service levels)

In recent years a third system option has emerged which falls somewhere between a private system and public services.  This is the regional system (perhaps state/province-wide). These systems are typically not-for-profit collaborations for users with similar interests (such as public safety). Being designed to common interests/requirements, these systems are more likely easily meet the the operational/technical needs of an agency. The downside is that these regional systems will have their own organization (and bureaucracy) that will make them more like a contracted service provider. Your individual agency probably will not be able to  enact changes to the system as quickly as you could if the agency owned and operated the system itself.

A decision  regarding which option to go with may be made up front, or an RFP may be formulated with generic requirement specifications that allow any option to be considered. Writing such an RFP may not be easy but it can be done and given good requirement definitions, it should yield the best results.



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