Public Safety Advocate: June 2017, Important Month for Public Safety Communications

Welcome to the first Public Safety Advocate column from our new web-home AllThingsFirstnet.com. After you read this week’s advocate take a look around the site, there is more to come but so far people are liking what they see.

June is important for all those involved in public safety communications around the world. In the United States we have the Single (State) Point of Contact (SPOC) meeting in Texas where FirstNet, AT&T, and the SPOCs and their teams will gather to hear what is happening and gain more insight into the state plans promised in preliminary form in the middle of the month. This meeting will set the tone for when the plans will be delivered, how open FirstNet and AT&T will be to making changes to the plans, and how willing they will be to allowing states, regions, and local jurisdictions to add equipment to the FirstNet network in order to better serve their own needs.

It is virtually impossible for FirstNet and its partner and even the state to understand local issues well enough to know how to provide coverage in many of these areas. That is why I keep discussing the idea of opt-in-plus to permit local entities to work with AT&T on the network design, build, and any additions to the network that might be locally funded.

A perfect example of this type of system collaboration is the early builder system up and operating in Harris County (Houston) Texas. After the initial system was installed and put into operation, the county allocated several million county dollars for enhancements. The result is a system that provides the level of coverage required by the local first responders. I am hopeful this model can be replicated elsewhere. There are also other ways to increase coverage, especially in rural areas, using other sources of funds.

The mood of the SPOCs at the conclusion of this meeting will be an important gauge of how FirstNet/AT&T and the states are working together, and I am hopeful this meeting will mark the start of a partnership being forged not only between FirstNet and its contractor but also by the states and over time, the local jurisdictions within each state and territory.

PSCR

The following week in a different part of Texas there will be a Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) meeting. This meeting is billed as the 2017 Public Safety Stakeholder meeting and as always will feature a jammed agenda. For those who may not be familiar with PSCR, it is located in the Department of Commerce Labs in Boulder, Colorado, and is a joint effort between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Communications Technology Lab (CTL), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

PSCR, which has been operational since the beginning, is providing research for FirstNet and the Department of Homeland Security. Its first task was to receive broadband LTE equipment from multiple manufacturers and to test for interoperability. Since then it has undertaken a number of research projects beneficial to FirstNet and the public safety community.

This meeting is normally attended by FirstNet, vendors, and those involved in the more technical aspects of public safety communications. It is especially important this year because we are expecting to hear updates on PSCR activities that will have an impact on the deployment of FirstNet, devices, and applications needed on the network.

State Plans

According to the timeline reported, the SPOC teams should be receiving their preliminary state plans the week after the PSCR meeting. This will start the process of evaluating what FirstNet and AT&T have suggested as the coverage of the network for each state and territory. We have been told the final version of the plans will be delivered in late September, which is when the opt-in/opt-out clock will start running.

I expect that once the state plans have been delivered there will be states that are satisfied with the plan as it is and may, in fact, opt in early for a head start. Other states will want to review their pending RFI and RFP requests as a way of calibrating what FirstNet/AT&T will provide, and some states may decide to opt out and go it alone or with a different vendor. One of the RFP provisions will permit AT&T to continue to work with any state that decides to opt out as a potential vendor. Again, I am also hopeful that the FirstNet/AT&T team will be willing to discuss changes and additions to state plans and perhaps to explain how coverage will be increased over time.

Any new networks, even based on existing broadband systems, won’t be built out in a day and the final coverage of the system won’t be available for a while. If you talk to any of the commercial wireless broadband network operators they will tell you their network is never really finished in the sense that they are always adding sites, putting in more inbuilding coverage, or moving to small cell technology. FirstNet’s network will be made up of both the FirstNet spectrum and AT&T existing broadband spectrum. I believe it will have an advantage since as AT&T continues to add to and tweak its own network, that will result in better coverage and capacity for FirstNet’s customers as well. Even so, like all the others it won’t ever be really “finished.” There will be additions, upgrades, and new technologies to roll out during the course of the 25-year contract.

Push-To-Talk over LTE Standards Tests

In France during the third week of June, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) will hold a PTT over LTE plug-test. This event is designed to test the interoperability of PTT systems that meet or will meet the 3GPP PTT standard. The 3GPP standards body has named the standard for PTT over LTE “Mission Critical Push-To-Talk” or MCPTT. However, having a standard that is truly mission-critical also requires that it run on a mission-critical grade network. However, there is no LTE network I know of in the world that can be considered mission-critical. AT&T has stated it will be hardening its network and the FirstNet network and that could potentially lead to a true Mission Critical PTT system. Until then these tests are still important as it appears there will be many vendors offering PTT over LTE and unless they are interoperable, public safety will still not have been provided with a fully interoperable PTT voice solution.

Because I will be actively participating in the U.S. meetings, my Public Safety Advocate will not be issued as usual for the next few Thursdays, they will come out as soon after each event as I can write them up.

In the meantime, if you want to let me know what you would like to see added to the new site or have a suggestion or comment, please contact me at andy@allthingsfirstnet.com.

Andrew M. Seybold
©2017 Andrew Seybold, Inc.

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