Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate Weekly News, August 26, 2016

I missed APCO, but I have been following the many articles and tweets and gained a sense of the flavor of the conference. It sounds as though it was another great event and that the interest in FirstNet has grown at each of the past four APCO conferences as well as at its other events during the year. The conference is over and FirstNet is still on track to make an award for the RFP (which we know was responded to by at least three teams, and perhaps more). Hopefully, those not chosen will understand that any delays in the execution of the contract will only hurt Public Safety, the very organization they have expressed interest in assisting. The Department of Commerce, which is responsible for appointing FirstNet Board of Directors for FirstNet, has returned Chairwoman Sue Swenson, Jeffery Johnson Fire Chief (ret), and Teri Takai. I think it is good for FirstNet that there are no significant changes in the board makeup at this point in its evolution. It is hoped that their desire to issue a contract to an RFP bidder to become the FirstNet/Public Safety partner is on track for November. I hope the bidders who are not selected will remain solid supporters of the Public Safety community and not do anything to delay the much needed next steps of building this network. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but then perhaps most people today don’t even know what a broken record is!

In any event, I am still having a hard time believing that those involved in the technology of FirstNet and NOT its operational aspects, still do not understand the difference between Push-To-Talk (PTT) on Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems versus PTT over broadband (LTE). The most significant differences are as follows:

1) To be considered mission-critical (Public Safety grade), mission critical PTT needs to run on what is truly a mission critical network.

2) LMR systems today are far more Public Safety grade than any LTE broadband system.

3) We have yet to see if FirstNet and its partner will be able to build a mission critical broadband network.

4) Mission Critical PTT over LTE is a new, unproven standard that is not even in the field yet.

5) We have no idea, at this point, how much of the needed data and video bandwidth will be lost due to multiple PTT users within a single, capacity constrained cell sector.

6) The decision to make use of PTT over FirstNet cannot be made by the technologists who are quick to tell us it is coming and will be here soon. It will only be viable once the Public Safety community trusts it and stops using their own LMR systems.

Until all of these conditions are met it makes no sense for those who are not in the field, those who do not face the challenges the dangers that first responders face every day, to tell the Public Safety community that PTT over FirstNet is coming real-soon-now, and that their LMR radio systems will be obsolete in only a few years. This is a dangerous statement to make and it needs to be tempered with the reality that it might actually happen in the future. The only issue is how long into the future will it be? I don’t know why those who have not spent time in the field, and those who have not even participated in a ride-along during a Friday or Saturday evening, think they understand and know what the Public Safety community wants and needs.

I was taught, many years ago, that a standard only becomes a standard when it is used by a majority of those who require what it provides. A standard that is declared a standard has to be proven, tested, tested again, and used in the field. Finally, perhaps, those who need to trust their lives to voice within the Public Safety network will accept it and make it a standard. No committee, no testing lab, no federal organization, can simply declare the standard ready for prime time and expect people who rely on voice communications to survive the incidents to which they respond. Let’s stop pushing new, unproven technologies and get FirstNet up and running for what it was intended to do: Provide the Public Safety community with data and video services now, with more to follow later. Andy Seybold

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