Public Safety Advocate: Managing FirstNet Capacity

But first some exciting changes!

Public Safety Advocate: Now from a New Home!

  • It will be the same blog
  • It will still be written by Andrew Seybold
  • It will contain the same type of content and continue to pull no punches!
  • If you subscribe through andrewseybold.com or AllThingsFirstNet.com, it will continue to feature news bits of interest

What will change is the website the Public Safety Advocate will call home!

The first issue of my Public Safety Advocate was published in June of 2010. Since then I have published approximately 350 editions and the readership from our subscribers and LinkedIn continues to climb. Over that time, the news items I have attached to the blog have been graciously provided by Discovery Patterns, an interesting company that provides many different types of information sources and scans of thousands of news feeds based on key word searches. I have to say that its results leave Google in the dust when it comes to news coverage!

Where we are going

That is where we have been. Where we are going in the very near future will expand our readership even further. I recently entered into an agreement with a new website called “AllThingsFirstNet.com” that will be the go-to site for, you guessed it, all things FirstNet. After this edition, I will continue to email and send out my blog and news but in a slightly different manner. If you are a subscriber you will receive a thumbnail of the week’s offering and a link to see the blog on the website. On LinkedIn, I will post a notice with a link to the website and, of course, NPSTC will still have full access.

In addition to AllThingsFirstNet.com being the new home of my Public Safety Advocate, it will also contain the archives of all of the blogs I have posted so far. This site will also allow me to post other items and blogs that might impact those involved with both FirstNet and Land Mobile Radio systems. Yes, Land Mobile Radio because we know LMR is not going away and there will be connections and integrations to broadband so it too falls under All Things FirstNet.

The site will be advertising-supported but I assure you that will have no impact on my continuing to “Tell It Like It Is,” or perhaps better to say “As I See It!” I felt that after seven years of providing these weekly blogs it was time to be able to monetize my blogs but I wanted to find a way to do that without having to ask my subscribers to fund my work.

I hope all of you will stay with me and our subscriber database will continue to grow as it has every month since I started. I promise you that while there will be ads on the site to support the content and my blog, my list will NEVER be used to send out unsolicited ads or other extraneous materials. I will retain the copyright for the publication and any additional posts I make to the site, and my intention is to continue to make sure the Public Safety community is well served by those committed to providing communications services for them.

Thank you, and I will be seeing you at AllThingsFirstNet.com. I am excited about this change and hope you are too!

 

Public Safety Advocate: Managing Broadband During an Incident

When FirstNet was preparing to release its RFP we all assumed the spectrum licensed to FirstNet would be the only primary spectrum for Public Safety use and would include pre-emptive priority when the capacity was needed for an incident. However, now it appears as though AT&T has decided to provide access to all of its broadband spectrum as well as band 14. This should mean many of the issues of concern to the Public Safety communications community regarding bandwidth during an incident are not as critical as we thought they might be.

A few weeks ago I wrote about network capacity and our report that helped show that Public Safety would need more than 5 X 5 MHz of broadband spectrum since many of the incidents they will be responding to will be geographically small but could still involve large numbers of Public Safety vehicles and personnel. That is, the number of Public Safety users including vehicles could be a factor in ensuring the broadband network maintains the needed capacity during the incident.

Typically, the amount of radio traffic at an incident escalates from the time the first units are on the scene until the incident is under control. Sometimes this is accomplished in minutes, sometimes in hours, and sometimes in days. More and more incidents are being responded to by law, fire, EMS, and perhaps other types of vehicles for the incident first responders (electric and/or gas company vehicles, tow trucks, and others). Using the Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems available to them today means that normally law, fire, and even EMS are on their own channels or groups and congestion on law channels does not affect fire and EMS channels and vice versa. But with broadband, the available spectrum will be shared by all of those responding to the incident.

The issue that has not really been addressed by FirstNet or the Public Safety community (when we were to have only FirstNet spectrum) was how to manage the capacity of the system in small areas covered by only one or two cell sectors between the services. Of course, the ideal way would be to establish what in incident command structure is referred to as a unified command where all Public Safety disciplines are represented and incident commanders for each service are co-located with the others and sharing information. This would include their broadband demands, what they need, and how to make sure each agency can access the broadband network when it needs it.

But AT&T is offering much more available spectrum than simply the FirstNet 20 MHz of broadband spectrum. It also has LTE up and running on its own 700-MHz spectrum in band 17, in the AWS band 66, and WCS band 30 spectrum. It is also replacing a lot of its systems with LTE in the PCS 1900-MHz band. It is difficult to say exactly how much broadband or LTE spectrum AT&T has available in any given area but when you add the FirstNet spectrum it becomes a very healthy number in most of the United States. Add to that its agreements with rural carriers for FirstNet, and coverage in rural areas and the Public Safety community is doing well with the available spectrum.

This does not mean Public Safety can assume that during an incident it does not have to worry about the amount of capacity it uses in a given area. AT&T has to serve its existing customers even during incidents, and it has to make the network available for 9-1-1 emergency traffic. My take on AT&T’s way of building out FirstNet is that a shortage of network capacity during most types of incidents will not be an issue. However, there may be times when AT&T will have to limit the amount of non-FirstNet spectrum being made available to Public Safety. Remember, though, that when Public Safety is only using FirstNet spectrum lightly for routine tasks, AT&T can be using the spectrum to help relieve congestion on its own spectrum. In practice, the issue of who gets how much spectrum and when during times of high demand will depend on real-time analysis and will have to be managed on a real-time basis. It should also be noted that in most Public Safety incidents the amount of data from the field back up to the network will be greater than the amount of data being sent down to field units. This is typically the opposite of what commercial users experience today. During an incident that may also change as bystanders and the press decide to stream the incident somewhere such as Facebook or back to their studios for retransmission.

Spectrum Management Training

Simply put, AT&T has solved a major issue for the Public Safety community most of the time but both AT&T and Public Safety will face times when there is a need for something or someone to take control of the spectrum and make sure those at the incident have what they need, customers in and around the scene still have access to the network, and there are no delays in 9-1-1 calls.

Today the Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications (DHS OEC) offers a series of courses that provide those taking the courses with the title of COMML for Communications Unit Leader. The training is for LMR voice systems and includes developing plans to effectively use incident communications equipment and facilities, managing distribution of communications equipment to incident personnel, and coordinating the installation and testing of communications equipment.

However, the most important function of a COMML is to assist the Incident Commander as a person who understands how to manage complex communications requirements. For more than five years a number of us, including those at OEC, have tried to interest the Public Safety community in adding broadband network management to the COMML program. I would like to see an even more focused and perhaps shorter course to instruct local departments and jurisdictions in how to manage the broadband network. I would include AT&T in the basic training and make sure there was an expedited way to train and certify the COMMB (B for broadband) and those at AT&T who can help make on-the-fly network changes, communicate and understand each other.

As more Public Safety personnel come online with FirstNet, more applications come online and are in use, especially graphics for building plans, live video to and from scenes, and much more, demand for data will grow as it has for commercial customers. Granted there are not nearly as many Public Safety personnel as commercial users on the network but when the Public Safety community needs the bandwidth and capacity, it needs it! Someone who knows how to allocate capacity should be able to work in the field to ensure that those at the incident have what they need and that AT&T customers are not frozen out of the entire AT&T network (which I doubt AT&T would allow to happen, but it could cause some unpleasant issues).

One scenario I use to try to get the capacity issue across to people is to talk about an incident where law, fire, and EMS are all involved, video is coming and going from and to law and fire, and EMS folks are treating a number of patients and sending vitals to a trauma center. Then a doctor asks the paramedic to start an ultrasound to determine if the patient is bleeding internally. The paramedic starts the ultrasound and the data rate up to the trauma center is about 6 MBPS which, unless expected by others on the network, would cause network slowdowns or even network failures. This type of situation will turn Public Safety off when it comes to FirstNet. This means the network must not only be mission-critical for the radio portion of the network, it must be Public Safety-grade when it comes to capacity availability. This takes the training of COMMB individuals with quick and reliable access to the AT&T operations centers.

The first time the FirstNet network cannot sustain the capacity required is the last that the Public Safety community will trust it. I am concerned that any initial failures will not be caused by a lack of network capacity but by a lack of training and understanding that for the first time, Public Safety agencies at an incident are sharing spectrum they need to do their jobs. It must be managed properly so they all can have access to the spectrum when needed, AT&T customers can also have access to it, and anyone who dials 9-1-1 will be able to connect quickly!

Andrew M. Seybold
©2017 Andrew Seybold, Inc.

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1 Comment on "Public Safety Advocate: Managing FirstNet Capacity"

  1. Hello Andy – as on old 9-1-1 person I hope you will elaborate on the idea that 9-1-1 service will benefit from FirstNet. You allude to it in the last sentence of this Advocate and I have noticed this idea in other reports.

    Dispatch using FirstNet I get, but the handling of 9-1-1 calls is another matter. Perhaps FirstNet could be a tertiary IP path for calls where IP to the PSAP has been implemented, but I could be missing something so I look forward to further info.

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