Public Safety Advocate: Traveling and Possible FirstNet Delays

Mon Oct 24 14:21:27 2016

No, it’s not Friday, it’s Monday and you are receiving the weekly Public Safety Advocate a few days late. I was traveling to Auburn University last week where I gave a lecture to Samuel Ginn Engineering School students and faculty who are taking part in the only wireless engineering degree program of which I am aware. It was a great experience, Sam Ginn was there to introduce me and Ed Reynolds, a FirstNet board member and someone I worked for as a consultant long ago, was also there to lend his support.

The speech was to a standing room only group of bright future wireless engineers and the faculty members shepherding them through the process. I was also given a tour of the engineering school and spent some time in several of the labs. I was pleased and amazed to see that some of the engineering research underway is based on the needs of the Public Safety community. Some of the issues we have been discussing are being explored and many of the problems including in building location, multi-network connectivity, and others are on the table. I don’t think many people within the Public Safety community are aware of this research and I made several suggestions to increase Auburn’s researcher’s visibility in the Public Safety community. All in all, it was a very good and rewarding trip!

FirstNet

While I was on the road I read the news about the pdvWireless RFP response being turned down by FirstNet. I also heard rumors from all over the United States that FirstNet will delay the RFP winner announcement until (and here are the rumors): after the elections for political reasons, for at least a year because of federal politics, both or none of the above, but still a delay. Since these are all rumors and there were so many all at once I have not tried to chase any of them to ground. I don’t plan to spend much time on rumors except to say it is interesting that all of the rumors seemed to have started the same week.

FirstNet does not need more delays, nor does it need, at this late date, for politics to stand in the way of moving forward with the network. I think it is safe to say that if this network was being built by a fully private company it would have been up and running by now. Instead, FirstNet has had to deal with a lot of government rules, regulations, and red tape. Most of these are to make sure everything is done correctly and meets the intent and fairness the U.S. government wants to achieve. However, this does create delays, and I am sure it increases costs and has other effects. I don’t have an answer except to say if politics is to blame for getting in the way of FirstNet progress it is very sad indeed. This is about life, limb, and property, not about who is owed what favor by whom.

It is unfortunate the FirstNet RFP was issued the same year as a major and contentious U.S. presidential election. It is also unfortunate that there have been some attempts by some vendors to create uncertainly as to what states are permitted to do if they opt out. Still, it appeared to me as though we were moving in the right direction. At the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in San Diego last week, FirstNet was present and optimistic, vendors were making the rounds but being circumspect, and it appeared as though it was only a matter of days before the next big FirstNet step. Now we will have to wait and see what FirstNet will do and if, in fact, it will announce the RFP award in November or wait.

Another theory about the delay floating out in the ether has to do with the lackluster response to the 600-MHz reverse auction where there appears to be a stalemate. TV broadcasters started out being greedy about what they wanted to be paid to vacate their 600-MHz spectrum, demanding more than $86 billion for 120 MHz of spectrum. The bidders that want to use the spectrum for commercial broadband services were willing to pay a total of $23 billion so round one ended without any winners on either side. In September, round two was started and ended after one round. TV stations asked for about $55 billion and commercial operators offered even less than in round one at just over $21 billion. Some seem to think the FirstNet RFP announcement is being delayed so all the bidders for the 600-MHz spectrum will stay in the auction instead of dropping out because they benefited from the FirstNet award.

I don’t subscribe to this theory but anything is possible. The 600-MHz auction bidders seem to be interested in the spectrum but at a reasonable price per MHz, not what TV broadcasters (that did not pay for the spectrum in the first place) believe it is worth to them. I think the real issue with the 600-MHz spectrum auction is not FirstNet but rather the fact that network operators are moving as fast as they can to 5G, which means lots of small cells in much higher portions of the spectrum. While 600 MHz is prime, wide-area spectrum, carriers are focusing more on prime very small coverage area spectrum in order to gain both capacity and speed on their networks.

I do wish FirstNet would move on with the process since there are so many things that need to be done before starting construction. For my part, I hope all the rumors are unfounded and FirstNet moves ahead rapidly, the winners and losers accept the outcome, and find ways to continue to work with the Public Safety community moving forward. Perhaps that is too much to hope for but it is the right thing and the best thing for the Public Safety community.

Andrew M Seybold

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