Public Safety Advocate

Fri Jun 10 15:08:20 2016

The PSCR Recap, followed by RFP Submission Facts, Fantasies, and Rumors

The Public Safety Communications Research Lab (PSCR), which is part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), put on its annual show-and-tell in San Diego this week. The event was well attended and the topics were great, the only problem was that there were many non-technical Public Safety people in attendance who understand the value of the new broadband network for Public Safety but who become lost when a number of very smart, well versed Lab employees stand up showing charts with mathematical formulas and more. I think the PSCR is doing good work in its labs but perhaps it needs two different sets of sessions: One for the technical folks and one for those who come to find out what is coming, to mingle with their peers, and who are, frankly, totally lost trying to follow the technical presentations.

Those who read my recent MissionCritical magazine article (http://rrmediagroup.com/Features/FeaturesDetails/FID/670) saw I pointed out that those who are deeply immersed in wireless technology are a different sort from those who make use of the technology. I know from experience how difficult it is to present to an audience made up of both proficient technologists and those involved with FirstNet who are interested in the operational characteristics of the network. Many of these people have been around since before it was FirstNet and want to make sure it will provide the types of services and applications needed by the Public Safety community. I summed up the event in a single sentence that is a realization that there are two diverse types of Public Safety stakeholders and both bring knowledge that needs to be incorporated in the research moving forward. My one-sentence description of the event was: Too much research and not enough reality! But then the last word in PSCR’s title IS research. This is not a negative assessment, it is a suggestion that I would like to see separate sessions for the technical savvy and the community that will be important in bringing first responders to the network.

One issue I am having a problem with is the introduction of Mission-Critical Push-to-Talk over LTE. There are some standards and more coming, and to its credit, the PSCR is being realistic about what has been done and what remains to be done before the user community will vote with their PTT fingers regarding LMR PTT, PTT over FirstNet, or a combination of the two. The problem is that the 3GPP committee is working on standards that will provide LTE Mission-Critical (I hate those two words), Push-to-Talk and mesh it with the United States’ versions of land mobile radio that include analog FM, P25 digital Phase 1 and Phase 2, and some other digital systems. Add to this the European and Asian LMR systems that are based on Tetra, and the standards process becomes very confusing.

Several examples come to mind after listening to the well-versed PSCR researchers and standards folks. The first is the use of the term “Proximity Services” or ProSe, which in LMR speak means off-network, talk-around, simplex, one-to-many communications. Another that really gets to me is what the 3GPP calls “side talk,” which again is commonly known as talk-around, simplex, or off-network communications. There are also terms such as synchronization, discovery, resource allocation, co-existence, and more that mean absolutely nothing to those who may some day use PTT over FirstNet. I hope the Public Safety community, via NPSTC or the PSAC, can do away with all of these confusing and cumbersome names so we can convey to the First Responder community, in terms they already know from the LMR world, some of the capabilities coming to FirstNet’s broadband network. PSCR did a great job but in reality many of the sessions went over the heads of about half the attendees.

Bidders, Rumors, Press Releases and More Rumors

After this column last week I was called on the carpet because of my comments about the names of bidders not being released. I am still confused but will trust those who said FirstNet’s RFP is required to follow the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) rules and under these rules the names of the bidders cannot be divulged by government or a quasi-government organization such as FirstNet. However, that did not stop one company from announcing it had submitted a response to the FirstNet RFP and it even named some of its partners. The company, of course, is Rivada, and the partners that were announced are Nokia, Ericsson, Intel, Harris, Fujitsu, and Black and Veatch. We are told there are other partners that did not want their names used in the press release and one of these is rumored to be Verizon Networks. There is nothing in the RFP that says a company can only partner with a single prime contractor so I suspect the other bidder teams are made up of some of the same partners.

As predicted, there was a lot of speculation about who the bidders are. Unless more of them issue press releases there is really no way to verify who bid and who did not. The rumored suspects discussed both during the PSCR event and each evening at the parties included AT&T, Verizon, perhaps with Motorola and Ericsson, Pacific Data Vision (Morgan O’Brien’s company) along with Motorola and Ericsson, and perhaps to round things out a company such as Northrup-Grumman or even Booz-Allen Hamilton or others. The bottom line is that the consensus at the PSCR event seemed to be that there were at least three bidders and possibly as many as five. When the award is announced in November or whenever it will be, I suspect we will only be told the winning bidder and may never know who the others were. I hope there are more than three bidders so FirstNet has more choices and can judge them against each other to ensure Public Safety gets the very best network that can be built.

The PSCR event comes at a good time each year, after IWCE and before the APCO conference that is always in August (in Orlando this year). There are a fair number of conferences the Public Safety community attends but only a few dedicated totally to communications. It would be helpful next year if PSCR has someone similar to a sign-language interpreter at the edge of the stage who would reduce the technical jargon to words that would convey the information to those deeply involved in FirstNet but not highly technical. I can envision one of the presenters saying, “ProSe will make it easier for the Public Safety community going forward,” and the interpreter saying, “Push-to-Talk over LTE will work basically the same as the PTT you now use over your LMR radio systems but in the future it will provide even more capabilities.” Next up will be the researcher talking about LTE off-network where a radio halfway between two first responders who need to communicate with each other will relay the conversation to extend the range. At this point the interpreter will say, “Yes, this capability is like the vehicular repeater in your car or the portable repeater that is placed on a high point to extend the range of your communications.”

If we use research speak, or 3GPP speak to try to convey the capabilities of the FirstNet network to members of the Public Safety community their eyes will glaze over and some will be afraid of the complexity of the solution instead of simply understanding that it will do exactly what they are doing now, and perhaps even more, but the even more comes later after they have digested the fact that it does not require them to learn anything new or complex. If they want to talk, they push a button, if they want to send video they send it as they do today on their smartphone. Those working on enhancing the technology and adding future capabilities can certainly talk research speak among themselves, but when they are trying to explain it to those who don’t care or need to know about the technology, only what it will enable them to do, they will need an interpreter who is fluent in both researchese and operationese.

It is exciting watching the next steps, RFP responses, and technology advancements that are a culmination of many, many years of dedicated people’s time and effort. The goal has always been to make it easier and safer for first responders and to provide them with information and access to information they do not have in the field today. Soon they will be able to monitor live video when a weapon is drawn, to know where each firefighter is located inside a building and how much air they have left in their Scott Airpaks, what their heartrate is, and more. But the bottom line is when any of these people need help and need it quickly, there had better be a Public Safety-grade voice channel ready and waiting for them to use.

Andy Seybold

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