DENVER – First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Chief Technology Officer Doug Bratcher today touted the benefit of first responders in opt-in states being able to access more than 100 megahertz of spectrum on AT&T, Inc.’s LTE network, rather than just the 20 MHz of Band 14 spectrum licensed to FirstNet. AT&T, FirstNet’s network partner, says that public safety agencies in opt-in states that sign up for service can immediately access all of the carrier’s LTE bands, with priority service right away and preemption by the end of this year.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from public safety: they don’t care about what band … they’re on. They just want the network to work when they need it,” Mr. Bratcher said during a session this morning at the APCO 2017 show here.
In response to a question about any technical tradeoffs of public safety using Band 14 or other AT&T LTE spectrum, Mr. Bratcher replied, “The methodology that we’re driving with AT&T is that low-band spectrum – that 700 MHz spectrum or 800 [MHz spectrum] – is always used or driven in those areas. They’re adding Band 14 in those to drive some of the capacity needs. But, again, with the priority/preemption on all the LTE bands that AT&T has today, the need on that Band 14 push is not as great as it was before we announced our partnership with AT&T.”
“We now have over 100 MHz of spectrum for public safety,” Mr. Bratcher added. “That’s a game-changer for public safety.”
After FirstNet announced its 25-year agreement with AT&T in March (TR Daily, March 30), Mr. Bratcher and other FirstNet representatives touted the benefits to public safety of being able to access AT&T’s commercial spectrum from the day a governor decides to allow the carrier to deploy a radio access network (RAN) in his or her state. But Mr. Bratcher said then that the default band for public safety would be Band 14.
But in response to a question from Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) at a July hearing (TR Daily, July 20) before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee about whether AT&T planned to build out Band 14 public safety spectrum “only where it is economically viable,” Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president-FirstNet, replied, “We are building Band Class 14 where we need the capacity in our network,” which will be done on a tower-by-tower basis.
That statement has drawn criticism from some people who say that public safety fought for Band 14 because that is the best band for the community’s use. “Why did we fight for Band 14 if we’re not going to build a Band 14 network?” Chuck Dowd, a former FirstNet board member and retired assistant chief with the New York Police Department, asked today in an interview with TR Daily. “I’m confused.” Mr. Dowd sits on the public safety advisory board of Sonim Technologies, Inc., which makes ruggedized smartphones for public safety agencies.
Rivada Networks LLC, which led a consortium that lost out to AT&T for the Verizon contract and is still hoping to get business from states that opt out, also has been critical of AT&T’s Band 14 plans. For example, in a tweet yesterday, Brian Carney, Rivada’s SVP-corporate communications, said, “Band 14, btw, is not just another LTE band. It operates under unique rules designed for public safety. Higher power, greater range, etc.”
Regarding the use of Band 14, David Buchanan, FirstNet’s director-outreach, said at an APCO session this afternoon that FirstNet and AT&T discussed such deployment as state plans were being finalized. He also said that issue is still being discussed as FirstNet and AT&T review input from states on plans.
An AT&T spokesperson addressed the carrier’s Band 14 use in a statement released late this afternoon. “Not only are we making our existing nationwide AT&T LTE network available for FirstNet subscribers, but we’re also deploying Band 14 where coverage and capacity are needed,” the statement said. “We’re aggressively rolling out Band 14 — both on our existing network to add additional capacity to help meet public safety needs and in building new sites to cover areas that are today unserved or underserved. FirstNet is public safety’s network, and the first step in making this work for public safety subscribers is providing them access to it when they need it.”
Also during his remarks today, Mr. Bratcher cited progress that has been made with AT&T on the critical design for the FirstNet core, which will be deployed next March. He said the public safety core will be redundant geographically with AT&T’s commercial core serving “as a backup.”
“This is a first in the wireless industry,” Mr. Bratcher added. “There’s no other large-scale network that’s been implemented in this fashion.” He also said that “we have built in cybersecurity for this network from the group,” noting that there was a separate appendix on cybersecurity in FirstNet’s request for proposals (RFPs). Mr. Bratcher also said that FirstNet today reopened its engagement process for vendors and others to solicit information on new technologies that entities think FirstNet should know about. —Paul Kirby, email@example.com