A Texas state official today emphasized the benefit of AT&T, Inc., providing priority access immediately and preemption by the end of this year across its LTE network for public safety agencies in states that opt in to having the carrier build their First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) radio access networks (RANs). During a webinar this afternoon organized by IWCE’s “Urgent Communications,” Todd Early, deputy assistant director of the Public Safety Communications Service within the Law Enforcement Support Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the capabilities that AT&T has agreed to provide are “a game-changer.”
He noted that some have questioned the time it would take to build out a public safety network on the 20 megahertz of spectrum licensed to FirstNet. AT&T’s decision to provide immediate priority access across its LTE spectrum and preemption by the end of the year to first responders “really changes the thought process” in evaluating whether to opt in and have AT&T build RANs, Mr. Early said. He also noted that as a result of AT&T’s commitment, agencies such as volunteer fire departments that are short on funds will no longer have to acquire new devices to get priority access and preemption. “That really kind of changes the perspective,” he said.
David Buchanan, FirstNet’s director-consultation, called priority and preemption over AT&T’s LTE network “really the crown jewel of the AT&T Solution.” He said that the capabilities are “far beyond what we expected we’d be able to get” and that they put “at ease a lot of the concerns states have had or stakeholders had about … speed to market.”
During the webinar, Mr. Early and Scott Edson, executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS), also stressed the importance of having access to deployable assets in a public safety broadband network as well as local control. AT&T has committed to providing 72 dedicated public safety deployables.
Mr. Buchanan said states have asked where that equipment will be situated. He said the locations will be based on which states opt in to having AT&T build their RANs, although he noted the equipment will be moved depending on the need. So far, Virginia and Wyoming have announced that they will opt in (TR Daily, July 10 and 11). Mr. Buchanan was asked whether states can get access to “raw data shape files” to better evaluate AT&T’s planned coverage in their states.
He said AT&T has not made that information available, but that more coverage information is discussed in meetings with states than is available in maps. He also said that AT&T has provided state RAN directors or engineers in meetings with states. So far, 36 meetings have been held since state plans were delivered June 19 (TR Daily, June 19) and 20 more are scheduled, Mr. Buchanan said.
Mr. Edson noted that LA-RICS is “negotiating with FirstNet and AT&T about the assumption” of its LTE network, which includes 77 sites and is used by more than 1,000 first responders a day. That decision will be based on whether California opts in or out, he said. LA-RICS is an early builder project for FirstNet. He also advised states to make sure they get adequate answers to their questions during meetings with FirstNet and AT&T. “Right now is the opportunity to make sure we get what we need. And so far, we have found that AT&T and FirstNet [are] listening and being responsive,” he added.
Meanwhile, the International Association of Fire Chiefs has written governors urging them to opt in to the FirstNet system. “The IAFC represents fire chiefs and fire officers that lead the nation’s 1.2 million firefighters. These firefighters have responded to numerous large-scale events including natural disasters and acts of terrorism. They know firsthand the benefits that the FirstNet network stands to offer in terms of improving communications, coordination and situational awareness during emergency response operations,” said IAFC President and board Chairman John Sinclair. “FirstNet devices and applications will ultimately change the way local fire and EMS departments operate for the better. The ability of a single communications network to dispatch EMS and fire personnel, a medical helicopter and other emergency responders from different jurisdictions – all at the same time while enabling video, text and data communications at broadband speeds – will save critical minutes when it matters most.”
“The IAFC believes that if you allow FirstNet to build out the RAN in your state this will result in the rapid delivery of services for the public safety community and financial stability for the state and its taxpayers,” Mr. Sinclair added. “An ‘opt in’ decision by you as governor is a low risk option for the state, as FirstNet and its network partner will take on the financial, implementation and customer service responsibilities, as well as the maintenance and operation of the network over the next 25 years. … If you decide to opt out and have the state build its own RAN, this will undoubtedly delay the delivery of services to public safety in your state. There have been estimates that this could cause a delay of service by a minimum of two years. States will assume all technical, operational, political, and financial risks and responsibilities related to building their own RAN for the next 25 years. In short, the state will need to ensure the interoperability of its RAN with the nationwide FirstNet network and take on the duties for ensuring its mission critical operations.”- Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org