AT&T, Inc., said today that more than 1,000 public agencies in 52 states and territories have signed up for service from the nationwide public safety broadband network that AT&T is building for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), “nearly doubling the network’s adoption since April.”
First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) officials today continued to tout what they said are the benefits to public safety of subscribing to their network being built by AT&T, Inc., drawing an implicit comparison with the public safety offering of Verizon Communications, Inc.
Also today, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) released a statement supporting the FirstNet system.
At today’s joint meeting of the FirstNet board and its four committees, which was held via teleconference and WebEx, FirstNet board Chairwoman Sue Swenson wasted no time in touting the progress that she says has been made in deploying the nationwide network.
She said that a “significant number” of public safety agencies across nearly all states have signed up for the service — more than 60,000 customers at more than 650 agencies, FirstNet said today — 31 devices have been certified to operate on the network, more apps are available in the FirstNet apps store – nearly two dozen, according to AT&T – and deployable equipment is being rolled out – although later this originally announced.
Ms. Swenson also said efforts are underway to ensure there is better coordination to respond to the requests for assets. “I think it’s exciting that we’re actually making this amount of progress,” she added.
Other FirstNet officials repeatedly stressed that AT&T has deployed a dedicated public safety core network, rather than a “virtual” core, taking a shot at Verizon.
“We have a network that has its own dedicated core,” said board member Neil Cox, who is chair of the Technology Committee. “It’s not some virtual private network.”
Board Vice Chair Jeff Johnson, who chairs the Public Safety Advocacy Committee, said FirstNet’s network is superior to “other offerings,” adding, “There are lots of offerings out there that are, frankly, not as good as public safety demands.”
Verizon did not respond to a request for comment today. A spokesman for the carrier said previously that it is “building our core on dedicated resources, but it would be foolish to not embrace software defined networking (SDN) and other technologies designed to future proof network development and enhance operations for public safety customers.”
Also at today’s meeting, Network Management and Operations Officer Rich Reed announced that AT&T will complete the delivery of the first 24 of 72 deployables in the next five weeks. At FirstNet’s March meeting, Mr. Reed said that the 24 deployables would be rolled out by the end of that month (TR Daily, March 15).
“This is the first tranche of dedicated FirstNet deployables,” a FirstNet spokesperson noted in a statement to TR Daily. “All FirstNet deployables are expected to be delivered by September 2018. In the meantime, AT&T has made their Network Disaster Recovery fleet available to public safety.”
In response to a question about the delivery of deployables, an AT&T spokeswoman said, “Like a fire apparatus, a custom cell tower on wheels – built to public safety’s specifications – takes months to produce. While we have not missed any commitments, we have delayed delivery of these assets until our vendor meets the exacting standards established by our public safety partners. In the meantime, we have responded to every public safety request for a deployable using our numerous assets.”
Marsha MacBride, associate administrator in charge of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Office of Public Safety Communications, briefed the board on the process for filling five FirstNet board seats that will be open this August. She said NTIA received 18 applications for the seats and two requests for renominations. “A tentative set of selections” has been prepared for review by NTIA Administrator David J. Redl. There will then be another set of reviews before the names are presented to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, she said. “We are very hopeful that that will be done in a timely fashion,” she added.
In its statement today, NPSTC said that it “strongly supports Public Law 112-96 (02/22/12) that sets forth the requirements for having one Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). THE NPSBN is what public safety advocated for from the beginning of discussions within the community, starting around 2006, and what Congress mandated — a single nationwide network.”
“FirstNet has a physically separate, redundant, and dedicated core — it is NOT a virtual core as part of a commercial network,” NPSTC added. “This supports the SAFECOM public safety communications continuum, which encourages one platform for the highest level of interoperability. One public safety core, the FirstNet core, also takes us away from decades of systems that cannot inter-operate for multi-jurisdictional responses. The FirstNet Authority has committed to provide an Applications Catalog that ensures that applications are tested and certified; to provide dedicated security monitoring of the network 24/7/365; dedicated customer support personnel 24/7/365; public safety dedicated disaster recovery resources and response coordination; a dedicated lab run by the FirstNet Authority that tests and validates the performance of the network, devices, and the applications ecosystem; and a sustainable financial model that guarantees reinvestment in public safety’s network.
“FirstNet is the only network with Band Class 14 spectrum that is dedicated to public safety,” NPSTC noted. “FirstNet also has an oversight organization in the FirstNet Authority that not only ensures that AT&T delivers on its commitments, but also advocates for public safety. Both are unique to FirstNet. NPSTC Supports FirstNet as THE Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.”
Asked by TR Daily why the federation of 16 public safety organizations had decided to issue the statement now and whether it was taking sides between Verizon and AT&T, NPSTC board Chair Ralph Haller said, “The board was just expressing its support for FirstNet, which is the DHS solution to some aspects of public safety interoperability. It was supporting the federal position, not taking sides in a commercial fight. The statement was just affirmation of support for DHS efforts.”
“We appreciate NPSTC’s continued support of FirstNet, public safety’s network,” a FirstNet spokesperson said of the NPSTC statement. —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org
FirstNet and Interoperability. During speeches at the recent PSCR meeting in San Diego, two people made points that started me thinking about what lies ahead for FirstNet. The first was the Chair of The FirstNet Authority, Sue Swenson, who talked about FirstNet ending Chapter One on a high note and starting Chapter Two. The second was TJ Kennedy, who announced formation of the Public Safety Technical Alliance (PSTA), a non-profit that has been formed to work with the public safety community, vendors, and others to ensure components for FirstNet (Built by AT&T) meet the open standard mandate put into place by FirstNet the Authority.
Sue talked about the first chapter for FirstNet being a long one for many of us, spanning more than ten years. However, it concluded with the network in place, all 56 states and territories opting in, a large number of public safety agencies joining FirstNet (Built by AT&T), more approved devices coming to market, and momentum that will carry us into Chapter Two. As promised, the network is nationwide, it provides end-to-end encryption, has its own core, and delivers full pre-emption for the first responder community. Chapter Two then will be about what runs on the network and how to maintain full interoperability. The rationale for FirstNet was to provide a coast-to-coast and border-to-border network where vehicles and people could move into other jurisdictions to assist in an incident and not only have a common network but to be assured that what rides on the network in terms of applications, data access, and voice are all fully interoperable.
To this end, TJ Kennedy and a host of others formed the PSTA to work with FirstNet, public safety, vendors, and others to make sure what flows over the network is “operable” for all. However, before we start on Chapter Two, we must first understand that like any broadband network, it will never be truly finished. It will continue to grow, new sites will be added as needed, and it will encompass 5G small cells, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other related purposes for the network. AT&T recently committed $2 billion to building out FirstNet in rural America, which will also enable rural businesses and citizens to gain access to broadband they have never had before. Even after the 25-year contract is over, the network will continue to grow and expand using whatever new technology replaces 4G and 5G.
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The board of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and its four committees plan to hold a joint meeting next Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET. The meeting will be held via teleconference and WebEx. The public can listen by dialing 1-888-324-9653 and using passcode 4609182. To view the slide presentation, the public can visit https://www.mymeetings.com/nc/join/ and enter conference number PWXW7524794 and audience passcode 4609182.
AT&T, Inc., announced today that eligible first responders can sign up at AT&T’s 5,300 retail stores for service on the nationwide public safety broadband network being overseen by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). AT&T is FirstNet’s network partner.
Public Safety Advocate: PSCR, PSTA, and More
This year there was much discussion about Mission-Critical Push-To-Talk (MCPPT), direct-mode, and other types of mission-critical technologies. These sessions were well presented and many of the organizations being funding to work on MCPTT and direct-mode are universities that historically have been conducting great federal grant sponsored research on many different technologies. There were two things I wanted to hear about but did not hear: First, a realization that Mission-Critical PTT cannot qualify as mission-critical until it is running on a public safety-grade RF mission-critical network (which will take time for AT&T to complete). The second point is that none of the grants focus on using LMR for direct-mode instead of LTE.
The issue here is how you make direct-mode viable using LTE when the power level of the LTE devices is ¼ watt and the antennas (with few exceptions) are inside the case and sub-optimal. How can LTE devices be expected to provide the same level of direct PTT that is used daily by public safety with 5-watt LMR radios with external antennas? (While these antennas are external, most are still not equal to a unity gain antenna but they work well.) It bothers me that the PSCR and other entities are so focused on LTE being the be-all, end-all technology that they lose sight of the fact that public safety communications is about FirstNet AND LMR working together for many years to come.
I learned a long time ago to never say something could not be done, but I am a skeptic for sure when it comes to direct-mode over LTE. I would prefer to see more effort put into radios such as the Harris (not a client) XL series that includes LMR and FirstNet or Sonim’s (not a client) new expansion connector for use for LMR direct-mode. The technology is available and there are engineers who know how to make dual-mode radios. The issues are battery life, form factor, and functionality. The 4-band XL-200 from Harris I am carrying is really impressive and the user interface is the best I have seen on a portable product. Colors are used to be able to instantly see what talk group or band you are on, and the device is still only the size of a standard handheld. I am sure there will be more products such as these two coming to market and I have to wonder when the first LMR/LTE tablet for Incident Commanders will make its appearance in the marketplace.
I was pleased that PSCR is spending time on other important issues such as location services inside buildings, ways to map entire cities, and other technologies that will help both the public safety community in responding to incidents and the victims of the incidents. The Internet of Things (IoT) is gaining a lot of attention as well. I had an opportunity to talk with a number of the smart engineers who work at PSCR and discovered that more and more, PSCR is involving the vendor community working on similar technology advances. PSCR can learn from the vendors and the vendors can learn from PSCR folks.
My last comment about PSCR is that I wish it would not be so bullish on the timeframe for Mission-Critical PTT. It is excited about what it is doing but every month I receive calls from public safety agencies (as do others involved with FirstNet) asking if I can help them re-convince the mayor, city council, or board of supervisors that LMR will not go away anytime soon. Elected officials pick up ideas that LTE will soon replace LMR and that makes the public safety community’s job of keeping funding in place for their LMR systems that much tougher.
There is one state that conducted an internal audit on the need for both LMR and LTE before they committed to FirstNet and while they were wrestling with the costs of both systems. This was an internal report with no vendor or other input. The results clearly show that both LMR and LTE will need to co-exist for many years to come. The entire report can be found here. The public safety community needs to be more proactive in producing and distributing materials aimed at non-public safety elected officials explaining the reasons LMR and LTE will co-exist for many years to come. Once they understand this, and if the marketing and research organizations will tone down their rhetoric on LTE as the be-all, end-all for public safety, we can get back to the job at hand:
- See that FirstNet is fully deployed
- Convince more public safety agencies to sign up
- Work on providing connectivity between LMR systems and FirstNet
- Take PTT over FirstNet to a point where the different flavors of PTT being deployed are all compatible with each other
This is a segue way into an important announcement made during PSCR. TJ Kennedy and a host of others have been working for months on forming a new alliance that is now known as the Public Safety Technology Alliance (PSTA). TJ and a panel of some of the participants in this new organization explained that this non-profit organization was carefully put together with vendor and public safety participation and will be advocating for public safety identifying testing and adopting open-standards equipment and applications. FirstNet the Authority has always maintained the stance that only open standard products and services would be permitted on FirstNet (built by AT&T).
The PSTA will not be a standards body but it will work with the standards once they are completed or as they are being developed. The goal of the PSTA is to assist the public safety community with making sure the solutions provided that meet the standards are open-source, and that they are common so they do not introduce any operability issues into FirstNet (built by AT&T). FirstNet was designed from day one to be a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) where devices work regardless of where they are within or outside their own jurisdiction.
Some of the important issues already identified include:
- Common mapping issues—It seems each dispatch system has a mapping system that is not compatible with others in the area or adjacent areas.
- Mission-Critical PTT—Help ensure it becomes truly operable and does not create islands of PTT users who cannot communicate with other departments, thus negating the primary reason for FirstNet and return public safety to the era of incompatibility across departments.
TJ Kennedy, who came out of public safety and earned a reputation for being a true believer and friend of all of public safety as first the General Manager and later President of FirstNet, will be the CEO of this venture. One of his opening statements frames the goals of the organization: “Our goal is not to be a standards body, per se, but to help drive industry standards and compliance and to also ensure that public safety chooses standards, so that everyone—both in industry and public safety—knows what the standards are that are going to be followed.”
I believe this organization is important to the public safety community. FirstNet is the standard broadband pipe AT&T is building for public safety, but what runs on that pipe needs to be the same or at least operable between agencies. It won’t do any good if every agency is still using a different map format or different applications that are not compatible with each other. I see the PSTA acting as the go-between for approved standards, the development community, and the public safety community to ensure that not only is the FirstNet network nationwide and fully interoperable, but what runs over it is, too!
I enjoyed my few days at PSCR. On the whole, it is a needed entity and is doing a lot of great work. However, I think sometimes its members’ exuberance gets the best of them and ends up causing problems for public safety. PSCR is well funded, it is working with many smart companies and educational institutions, and it is doing important work. I am looking forward to next year’s event to see how far it and its partners have come in a year.
I met up with a lot of people I have known for the many years we have all been at this, and I met some new people who are there to carry on going forward. It is amazing how much has been done and listening to the FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson recap all the accomplishments made in a little more than a year between FirstNet the Authority and FirstNet (built by AT&T) was a great reminder of how quickly the dream from almost twenty years ago is coming together now that there is an organization and a network provider. Sue has done a great job over the years. I have had the pleasure of being a consultant to her during her various and challenging jobs over the years and have always respected her and her understanding of how to get things done and get them done correctly the first time. She will be missed but as she said, we are entering Chapter 2 of FirstNet and she will stay involved in public safety now that it is in her blood. I hope to work with her again wherever she ends up.
I also had an opportunity to meet with some startups I have been following for a number of years. One of these is Assured Wireless (not a client). It has a product that is very well designed and provides lots of functionality including Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Mesh, and Bluetooth, and is also a computing platform so it will run applications. It has been designed primarily to be mounted in public safety vehicles but in today’s world that also includes drones. The main reason I follow Assured Wireless is that its FirstNet radio is capable of operating in the high-power mode authorized by the FCC for band 14 which, instead of ¼ watt can go up to 1.25 watts adding more range and better data speeds, particularly in rural areas where there may be coverage issues using standard ¼-watt devices. The company has come a long way, the product is about to be launched, and it should become a popular addition to FirstNet (built by AT&T), especially in rural areas.
The Public Safety Advocate will be back on its regular weekly schedule starting next week—there are a lot of exciting things happening. As the network gains more users and as those who have been using different broadband networks realize the future for public safety broadband is FirstNet, I believe more and more agencies will sign up. FirstNet coverage is a priority for AT&T and it is putting significant resources into expanding coverage. Those who have not experienced FirstNet coverage because they are using some other network should at least give it a try and see how well it will serve their community.
Andrew M. Seybold
©2018 Andrew Seybold, Inc.
First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) officials today cited several examples of the system in action during the Boston Marathon in April, the Volvo Ocean Race in Rhode Island last month, and after damaging storms in Connecticut last month. During a keynote speech this morning at the Public Safety Communications Research program’s Public Safety Broadband Stakeholder Meeting in San Diego, FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth cited the three responses by AT&T, Inc., FirstNet’s network partner, according to the text of his remarks.
FirstNet also discussed the Connecticut response in a blog posting today. Meanwhile, the Oglala Sioux Police Department became the first tribal entity to sign up with FirstNet. “We’re very proud to lead U.S. tribal lands as a FirstNet early adopter. We have firsthand experience regarding the huge void that a lack of communication can mean during critical incidents,” said Oglala Sioux Chief of Police Robert Ecoffey. “Moving to FirstNet enhances our ability to respond to the serious needs across the reservation for the protection of life and property on behalf of tribal members and the public.” The tribe is based in South Dakota.