FirstNet Fires Back at Interoperability Complaints

Courtesy of TR Daily

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Chief Executive Officer Ed Parkinson fired back today at critics who bemoan a lack of interoperability with the nationwide public safety broadband network that AT&T, Inc. is building under a contract with FirstNet.

“Recent claims that there is a lack of interoperability with FirstNet and that special interoperability solutions are needed are simply not true—they ring hollow for those who understand the value of a nationwide public safety broadband network and that rely on FirstNet to keep them mission ready every day,” Mr. Parkinson said in a blog posting. “They depend on us for public safety standardized features, such as Mission Critical Push-to-Talk, aka FirstNet Push to Talk, and things as simple as sending a text to a public safety counterpart using another commercial wireless service. Because we are fully committed to international standards, they all work seamlessly.

“In fact, the 2012 legislation that created the FirstNet Authority not only called for our broadband network to be based on 3GPP standards, but required us to be actively involved in standards organizations representing public safety,” Mr. Parkinson added. “This legislation recognized that standards-based solutions not only provide interoperability, but also foster creative innovation for Mission Critical services, provide economies of scale, and provide for multiple suppliers of services which typically leads to lower costs. To reinforce this commitment to standards, our contract with AT&T requires the use of interoperable standards-based solutions.”

He said that FirstNet “has been actively working to develop standards for mission critical services in 3GPP since 2012. In collaboration with global public safety colleagues in 3GPP and AT&T, the FirstNet Authority led the charge to complete standards for mission critical services, such as Push-to-Talk, Video, and Data, including enablers such as direct mode device-to-device (D2D) and group communication services (e.g. Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (MBMS). We continue to work on enhancing these standards and evolving them for inclusion in 5G and ensure that the needs of first responders are addressed, now and in the future. In addition to the work in 3GPP, the FirstNet Authority and AT&T have been actively involved in developing standards for interworking new broadband mission critical services with legacy Land Mobile Radio systems.  

“We are responsible for keeping public safety’s unique communication needs at the forefront of technology and as a result, FirstNet is the fully operable communications network that public safety asked for, it is available today and, as public safety’s communications needs advance, it will continue to grow and evolve for decades to come,” Mr. Parkinson stressed.

Earlier this month, Verizon Communications, Inc., which offers a public safety service that competes with FirstNet, called on industry to join together to ensure there is “true” interoperability for first responders (TR Daily, Oct. 15).

“We cannot achieve true interoperability … until all carriers, device manufacturers, platform and solutions providers commit to building their solutions to interoperability standards. Verizon isn’t waiting for that; we have partnered with Mutualink to enable first responders to easily create secure group communications for improved collaboration and data sharing in near-real time, giving agencies greater control and choice when cross-agency communications are mission critical,” said Andrés Irlando, Verizon’s senior vice president and president of its public sector and Verizon Connect. “It’s time to get to work. We invite other industry leaders to join us. It’s simply the right thing to do for the dedicated public servants who risk their lives every day to save others—and for the millions of Americans they protect and serve.”

Verizon has argued that FirstNet has a “restrictive and proprietary approach” to interoperability, a criticism shared by some others that have called on policy-makers to require FirstNet to permit other carriers to interoperate with the FirstNet core.

“Without true interoperability, first responders responding to the same emergency using different service providers will only be able to communicate within their own user groups and unable to use one another’s public safety audio, video, and data services,” Verizon told the FCC last year (TR Daily, Sept. 30, 2019).

FirstNet and AT&T have argued that the type of interoperability sought by Verizon and others is not what Congress envisioned when lawmakers created FirstNet and that it could impair the security and resiliency of the nationwide network.

In his blog posting today, Mr. Parkinson said that “public safety expected us to aim squarely at solving the interoperability issue that had plagued effective public safety communications for decades by ensuring that we did not repeat the mistakes of the past—we could not create a patchwork of disparate and incompatible broadband networks, and we had to implement a network based upon open standards.”

“The first responder subscribers from these agencies enjoy full, seamless operability with one another and represent every public safety discipline and all levels of government in the 56 jurisdictions that we serve,” he added. “Because we based FirstNet on open international wireless standards as required by Congress, and created objectives requiring AT&T through our contractual agreement to meet those standards, the network is interoperable with other standards-based mobility networks. Our users can talk, text and exchange data with the users of commercial wireless networks across the globe.” —Paul Kirby,