By James Careless
What do you hope to see FirstNet accomplish in 2023?
That’s a question that AllThingsFirstNet asked former FirstNet CEO (now RapidSOS President of Public Sector) Edward Parkinson, Public Safety Broadband Technology Association Executive Director Martha Ellis, and Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA) Executive Director Chief Jeff Johnson. We also heard from 51 of our readers who took part in an online questionnaire created/managed by Loredana Elsberry Schwartz, the PSBTA’s Director of Public Safety Engagement.
The Execs Speak
Former FirstNet CEO Parkinson would like FirstNet to “continue to lead the marketplace in innovative ways to help public safety” in 2023. “One only has to look at the adoption of the Compact Rapid Deployables (CRG) as one example of how public safety went to FirstNet and told them, ‘look, the larger deployables are amazing, but what we need is something that fits onto the back of a pickup truck’. These CRGs are now being deployed across the country and agencies are looking to purchase them directly from AT&T so that they can take FirstNet with them wherever they need to be.”
The WFCA’s Chief Johnson wants FirstNet to continue to evolve its offering to public safety. “Networks require continual upgrades and enhancement,” he said. “While this is the best, most reliable network in the world, we need to look forward to what is coming.”
The PSBTA’s Ellis wants FirstNet’s achievement of “full operating capacity” not to lull the organization into setting “the program to auto pilot, which could leave our flanks exposed to potential attack. FirstNet will need to leverage the inertia that has been generated with strong public safety centric leadership, fortify the program’s framework, and elevate education and engagement efforts with decision makers within public safety, in addition to local, state, and federal representatives.”
Ellis also wants FirstNet to hire a new leader “with a public safety background” in 2023, and resist the diversion of FirstNet funds into other government departments and programs. “FirstNet must continually message that the predictable and reliable sustainment of FirstNet, as it stands today, and moves into and beyond 2023, is unwavering,” she said. “This leads to the final accomplishment for 2023: Make sure every representative, from the local level to Congress understands the importance and ongoing potential of FirstNet.”
Parkinson has one more wish for FirstNet in 2023. “The mental health of public safety has been a secondary matter for too long,” he told AllThingsFirstNet. This is why Parkinson wants FirstNet to continue with its “ROG the Dog” animal assisted therapy program for first responders, “to ensure that public safety has the mental health support they need when dealing with life and death matters is so important.”
The Respondents: Who They Are
The 51 respondents who took part in our online questionnaire didn’t leave their names, but they did tell us how they are connected to FirstNet and what kind of agencies they work with.
Thirty-nine of the respondents are primary users of FirstNet, while eight are extended primary users. One is an equipment supplier, while the rest are “interested parties”.
Forty-four of the respondents work with state, local or tribal public safety agencies. Two are with the federal government, and five are with the private sector.
Better Coverage Wanted Most
Nearly half of the respondents to our questionnaire want FirstNet to provide better coverage to users in 2023. In fact, “Better coverage” was the most common answer submitted, without further specifics.
The respondents who did offer specifics wanted better coverage in rural Arizona (“especially Mojave County”), northern New Jersey, northern Wisconsin, southeastern Illinois (“No coverage. Wayne County IL”), southwest Florida, the “remote NW Pacific region”, and all of West Virginia (“There are too many locations without service at all”).
Four respondents want 5G to be part of this FirstNet coverage improvement. “Move to 5G as technology allows,” wrote one.
Lots of Constructive Ideas!
The respondents to the AllThingsFirstNet questionnaire have lots of other suggestions for improving the service in 2023.
For instance, one respondent would like FirstNet to support and enable integrations into Next Generation 911 public and private systems. “Help define standards by which information can be exchanged and processed,” they wrote. Two more would like to see better coordination between existing land mobile radio and LTE cellular networks, with one of them suggesting “network coverage via small cell or other portable locally deployable devices.”
In a similar vein, one person wants FirstNet to continue the expansion of in-building communication options and strategies. “Improve mobile/vehicle data system technology which bridges LTE and LMR for voice in addition to promote interoperability amongst all first responder data systems,” they added. Other possible 2023 accomplishments, should FirstNet so choose, could include connecting this national wireless broadband to state digital radio systems, enhancing FirstNet’s Push-to-Talk (PTT) functionality, and even adding “Smartwatch capabilities”.
Speaking of Push-to-Talk, one respondent would like FirstNet to “Bring back PTT technology, in such a way that it is a feature that does not need to be logged in and out of, like Nextel used to be. Many of us use apps to communicate together and in groups in a speedy fashion that phone calls/texts cannot accomplish, however the people need to be logged into the app for it to work. Make this a passive feature that can be programmed into a side button in existing phones.”
Questionnaire respondents would also like to see FirstNet establish “Direct communication with state SWICs [Statewide Interoperability Coordinators] and ESF-2 [Emergency Support Function #2] partners”, “A focus on data moving across the network (video, photos, text, etc.) and how that can be made more interoperable and flow across the network in times of congestion,” and “Interaction with key users and explain how the system actually works.” Also suggested was the creation of an “interoperability standard for the multiple MCPTT [Mission Critical Push-to-Talk] vendors using FirstNet to deliver OverThe Top MCPTT”.
Three Non-Technical Possibilities
The last three suggestions from our “What do you hope to see FirstNet accomplish in 2023?” respondents are non-technical in nature, but equally useful. One of these wants to see more transparency in FirstNet’s accounts and billing processes, while another would like long-time users of the systems to get a price break. “My department has been a long time customer and your competitors are matching your rates or even coming in cheaper,” they wrote.
The third and last respondent made this helpful suggestion. “It won’t happen, but I believe the FirstNet umbrella should include all major carriers,” they wrote. “There are areas where AT&T just doesn’t have the infrastructure [that] others do.”