Mission Critical Reports: Public Safety Grade LTE: Myth or Reality?

By Joe Ross, Steve Sidore, Scott Edson and Ted Pao

Recently, there has been some debate on the meaning and definition of “public safety grade.” The recent hurricanes underscore the need for clarity on what it means and what public safety needs with regard to reliable data. A National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) document published in 2014 provided a definition that the overall system design enables system and service to achieve 99.999 percent availability. What does availability of this magnitude mean in lay terms? Availability at 99.999 percent (five nines) results in net outage of five minutes per year. Availability at 99.99 percent (four nines) results in net outage of roughly 53 minutes per year. Both factors are better than the general commercial carrier availability of 99.0 and 99.9 percent availability (between 88 and 8.8 hours respectively per year)

This creates a significant difference in expectations because the devil is in the details of how availability is calculated versus measured in an operational network. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is highlighting the importance of data in public-safety operations, and as public safety wrestles with a 25-year commitment decision with the selected vendor, it becomes one of the cornerstones of the eventual solution that will last a generation.

If FirstNet and data communications are ever expected to become “mission critical,” public safety must be able to rely on data communications as much as LMR, built to five nines availability, which is needed to achieve public safety grade. So, a definition is less material than whether FirstNet will be as reliable as public-safety radio communications. If in five or 25 years, broadband data is only slightly more reliable than existing commercial networks, the mission-critical element of broadband data will not occur. Public safety needs a concerted effort to work toward public safety grade, defined as 99.999 percent service availability. Five nines, among many other requirements, is mandatory for broadband to replace LMR.

While not the desired level of reliability, four nines of availability simply is not achievable without substantial network hardening. Network transport services — the connection between cell sites and the core network — generally have service level agreements (SLAs) that only guarantee 99.9 percent service availability. For higher service availability, multiple unique connections to the cell site are required.

Likewise, a power-related event caused by equipment failures or major weather events is not going to deliver four nines. These events frequently have average downtime durations of a full day. A single event could then cause an entire region to experience less than 99.9 percent reliability. It is not feasible that a commercial carrier could achieve nationwide 99.99 percent availability without hardening the majority of its network.

When public safety builds systems to public safety grade, the availability applies to the system itself. Not every site is guaranteed to achieve 99.999 percent availability, but overall, across all aggregated sites, the construction and commitment are generally 99.999 percent. Each site, connectivity and core that support each other must be designed collectively for greater than 99.999 percent availability. So, a purpose-built network for a city or county achieves 99.999 percent availability in that city or county. A nationwide commitment, on the other hand, could mean that areas where it is difficult to achieve a high degree of availability — areas that experience frequent hurricanes, for example — could be sacrificed because of expense.

For example, if AT&T’s network in Los Angeles County failed for an entire day, it would have little impact on AT&T’s nationwide compliance but would result in, at best, 99.7 percent availability in Los Angeles County. AT&T and FirstNet might consider this a success, but an outage affecting Los Angeles County serving 10 million residents for a day would cause major problems and put lives at risk.

While it may be difficult and challenging to achieve four nines, much less five nines of availability, public safety needs most sites for each region, city and county to be hardened to ensure that local public-safety officials can rely on FirstNet wherever they live and work.

Read the full story in the October issue of MissionCritical Communications. https://www.rrmediagroup.com/repository/files/PublicSafetyGradeLTE.pdf



Telecom Infrastructure Affected by Wildfires in California

Devastating wildfires in northern California have affected telephone, Internet, and cable services in the region. Cell sites, electric service, and utility poles have been affected in Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Solano, Sonoma, and Yuba counties. The California Office of Emergency Services said this week that so far 77 cell sites had been damaged or destroyed by the fires, and a key cellular hub was damaged.  Repairs have been made to about 35 of the sites.

In addition, Gov. Jerry Brown (D.) said earlier this week that the fire had destroyed utility poles causing the loss of power to more than 38,000 residents.  Fires have “destroyed and continue to threaten critical infrastructure, including 80 communication towers, impacting services for thousands of people,” according to the governor’s office.  The governor has issued emergency proclamations for nine counties due to the effects of multiple fires causing “damage to critical infrastructure, threatening homes, and causing the evacuation of residents.”

AT&T said it had deployed a “network disaster recovery team” and mobile cell sites that link to AT&T’s network via satellite in the areas of Santa Rosa, Willits, and the Napa Town & Country Fairgrounds in Napa. The company, however, did not comment on how many customers are affected by the outage. Continue reading

From the FCC Daily Digest, October 12, 2017

IMPROVING PUBLIC SAFETY COMMUNICATIONS IN THE 800 MHZ BAND.   Granted the Declaratory Ruling. (Dkt No.  02-55 ). Action by:  Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. Adopted:  10/12/2017 by Declaratory Ruling. (DA No. 17-1004).  PSHSB  https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-17-1004A1.docx


Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, October 12, 2017

The Vison Which Became FirstNet There are a number of people within the States and the Public Safety community who are not happy with the coverage which AT&T/FirstNet is offering on day one. Perhaps if they had a better understanding of the fact that the RFP could have been won by someone who would built out just the FirstNet Band 14 and that it might have had to have been built out as a greenfield (totally new) network they would better understand the difference between a network which is available today and one that might be 3-5 years away in their area.

Sometimes we need to reflect on the past and to remind those who have come to both embrace and complain about FirstNet about the original dreams and aspirations of those who have been involved in this journey, most for over 11 years and a few even longer. During the activities which resulted in Congressional Approval and President Obama signature which allocated the 10 MHz of spectrum referred to as the D block and created FirstNet, there were a lot of discussions by those involved. There was a discussion about the type of network or networks which was (were) needed. Some favored a “network of networks” that is a number of different networks, perhaps state by state or by dividing the Country into thirds but the consensus was that a single nationwide network would be the best approach and the focus shifted to that goal.

There were other discussions held by the member of the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) as well as the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) which held the license for the original 10 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum the FCC had allocated for a public safety broadband network. After FirstNet was formed some on the FirstNet board showed a diagram outlining a plan where each and every device on the FirstNet spectrum would also be able to seamlessly roam across all of the commercial broadband networks as well as the FirstNet spectrum. This, we were assured, would provide the best way to achieve a true mission critical system. As you might imagine the public safety community reacted in a negative manner and over time this idea as scraped. Next up after FirstNet regrouped was go to bid for both the one network approach and essentially a network of networks concept. Fortunately, FirstNet listened and the RFP came out calling for a single, nationwide network. Read The entire Blog Here Continue reading

FirstNet Delivers Plans to Territories

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has finally delivered plans to Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. “Building on our work with those territories, FirstNet looks forward to holding onsite engagements to get their feedback on the plans before starting the official 90-day clock for their governors to make an ‘opt-in/opt-out’ decision on their Plans,” FirstNet said.

Initial plans were delivered to states, other territories, and the District of Columbia in June (TR Daily, June 19) and final plans were delivered last month (TR Daily, Sept. 19), but the plans for the three Pacific territories took additional time to complete.

Courtesy TRDaily


T-Band Migration, Decline in Full-Time SWICs Raised as Concerns at First Responder Hearing

Both the Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee’s emergency preparedness, response, and communications subcommittee expressed concern today about the fate of first responder communications in major metropolitan areas, including New York, when they are forced to migrate their wireless communications out of the T-band in the coming years.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 required the FCC to reallocate and auction public safety spectrum in the T-band by 2021 and relocate incumbents by 2023. Proceeds from the auction can be used to cover the relocation costs of public safety licensees. The T-band encompasses TV channels 14-20 (470-512 megahertz). It is used by public safety entities in 11 markets.

During a hearing today, subcommittee Chairman Dan Donovan (R., N.Y.), expressed concern in his opening statement that there are “not sufficient alternative bands for these [first responder communications] to rely on.” Chairman Donovan also expressed concern about cybersecurity risks to public safety communications.  “We must be sure our nation’s first responders are aware of cybersecurity threats,” he said.

Ranking member Donald M. Payne (D., N.J.) said in his opening statement that he too is “concerned about the requirement that first responders in certain metropolitan areas vacate the T-band by 2023.” He also said he is “concerned [about] the dwindling number of full-time SWICs,” or statewide interoperability coordinators.

Witness Ronald Hewitt, director of the Office of Emergency Communications in the Department of Homeland Security and a retired U.S. Coast Guard admiral, said in his testimony that it is difficult for SWICS, who are responsible for a state’s land mobile radio communications, to coordinate with other state agencies that are responsible for other types of communications.  He noted that his office began working with the National Governors Association last year to improve coordination.

Witness Ed Parkinson, director–government affairs at the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), acknowledged that “there are areas where we still need to do a better job,” including engagement with tribal authorities.  “We ask that going forward, you judge us by our network,” he said.

Witness Mark Goldstein, director–physical infrastructure issues at the Government Accountability Office, which released a report in June on FirstNet, said that tribal stakeholders had expressed concern that FirstNet has not engaged directly with them, and that in responding to the draft report, FirstNet agreed to do so.

Chairman Donovan asked the witnesses about the T-band issue, noting that a report by the National Safety Council has found that “there is insufficient spectrum for first responders to move to.”

Mr. Hewitt said, “The T-band auction has been a major concern of the SAFECOM group. … We’re reviewing that.  We’re working with the FCC which is required to do that, looking at their options.”

Mr. Parkinson suggested that lawmakers should address questions on the issue, including the magnitude of the spectrum shortfall that public safety agencies are facing, to the FCC.

Mr. Hewitt said, “There is not spectrum in those major metro areas to move that traffic to.” Continue reading

California OES Reports Fire-Damaged Cell Sites Are Being Repaired

The California Office of Emergency Services said today that 64 of the 77 cell towers that were damaged by fire in Northern California have been repaired. A Cal OES spokesman, however, cautioned that “this is a moving fire. As things get repaired, other infrastructure is being damaged or destroyed, so the numbers are constantly changing.”

As of today, as many as 18 fires are burning in nine California counties and an estimated 20,000 people have been evacuated. “Infrastructure is still being assessed and we will not be able to fully assess until we are given access from CalFire to the burned areas. Search and rescue are the priority at this time,” said Robb Mayberry, public information officer for Cal OES.

Internet, phone, and cable services are also being affected by power outages.  According to Cal OES, at the peak of the incident on Monday there were 240,000 customers without power, and at this time there are 52,560.  OES said today that more than 50,000 customers have had power restored within the last 48 hours. Continue reading