Public Safety Advocate: 5G Interloper, Ready for Public Safety?, Uplifting, More

By necessity, this week’s Advocate will begin at the beginning. During the FirstNet RFP process there were three bidders. As we all know, AT&T won the bid over Rivada Networks, which bid and was disqualified. Rivada sued FirstNet and the award was tied up in court for some time. For those who would like additional details on Rivada’s activities, I will refer you to a recent article in the New Yorker by Sue Halpern in which she writes about what the company is up to here and around the world and its track record.

In the United States, Rivada is attempting to obtain spectrum not being used by the Department of Defense that is worth literary billions of dollars without paying anything. With high-priced lobbyists including Karl Rove, it has come up with a plan to acquire this spectrum by promising to serve rural broadband communities. As a result, Rivada would stand to make huge profits using free spectrum. FirstNet already has an obligation to cover rural America, and if the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is allowed to go through, the company will commit to providing 5G to rural America. More than 11,000 little Low Earth Orbit satellites (LEOs) are to be launched in the near future, perhaps covering the world, and hundreds of smaller players are also focused on delivering broadband to rural America. Even Congress and the FCC are studying how to extend rural broadband into areas where it is not available today. 

Do we really need another company promising to build out rural America, especially one that has a poor track record in wireless services? Is it worth giving away billions of dollars in spectrum for a promise and lining Rivada’s pockets? I highly recommend reading the article in the New Yorker. I believe like me you will come away with a much better understanding of this situation and the implications if Rivada is successful. The article speculates this spectrum award will be taken up by Republicans in hopes it will gain traction and assumes this proposal has not yet been endorsed by the President, who could easily make it a 2020 campaign promise. Rivada’s other claims include the prediction that this could destroy China’s hold on the United States communications segment. I hope anyone contemplating this award will take a more realistic approach and study the facts before making any commitments.

More on 5G

I have heard there are issues with 5G and others have shared their concerns in an article in Light Reading. Most disturbing of these is that some network operators feel the need to convince the public safety community that 5G is fully ready for its use. One network recently issued a statement claiming all 5G would be interoperable because of standards and the inclusion of Quality of Service (QoS). The problem with this is that according to Light Reading and the 3GPP website, release 16 of the standard has not been finalized and probably won’t be until mid-2020 or beyond. Under the circumstances, I don’t know how this vendor can make such a claim. 

5G is an exciting technology implemented on different portions of spectrum that will result in different coverage, capacity, and speeds. Mid-band systems will have an extended range but not the same capacity or data speeds as 5G systems using millimeter waves, which will offer fast data and lots of capacity but in very small areas. The plan is to deploy many millimeter sites to saturate an area, e.g., where there are smart streetlights or where a greater density of cells would be practical. There is also an interesting 5G concept called “network slicing” where a cell being used by different vendors on the same slice of spectrum is shared. However, it appears all this is a long way from being real. 5G is a technology to watch and even experiment with but for now, I don’t think 5G can be considered public-safety grade. 

FirstNet Uplifting

The following comes directly from Dave Mulholland, Arlington, Virginia. While I had not been aware of this aspect of uplifting, I decided to report on it here to elicit readers’ feedback. Every so often, this customer has to contend with major public safety personnel issues. According to Dave, there may be 30,000 or more public safety personnel in a very small footprint at the same time at least once every four years. It has been discovered that FirstNet local control for uplifting a user to full priority/preemption status can be accomplished by any person anywhere who is capable of uplifting. This means those in control of the incident do not necessarily control who is uplifted and under what circumstances. Even when coming in to help from outside the area, users can be uplifted by their own local control regardless of whether or not the uplift has been authorized by the incident commander. 

I hope this was simply an oversite on FirstNet’s part and it can be rectified. It makes most sense to restrict uplifting on an incident to the local Emergency Operations Center or Incident Command and not allow arbitrary uplifting by a well-meaning person in the unit’s home area. The end of the email is directly quoted as follows:

“The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has just begun proactive efforts in the National Capital Region to create policy and governance for FirstNet local control and looks forward to sharing our ultimate products as model policies for other areas. It is important for us to remember that FirstNet is only 2 years old, it is still a toddler. A toddler makes some missteps while learning to walk, and that’s ok. We need to be patient as a program as ambitious and extensive as FirstNet learns to navigate the practical application of the network in public safety. Meanwhile it is important that public safety understand that the current infrastructure allows any person to uplift any device from any other jurisdiction anywhere in the country, without mechanism to cancel an uplift. We look forward to working collaboratively with FirstNet to understand the significant implications this can have, to evaluate and implement better controls on where and which uplifts can be made, and to create an uplift cancel mechanism. FirstNet will be more responsive to the collective response from public safety. It is important for us to advocate as the whole public safety community on addressing this issue.” 

FirstNet the Authority

The day before this is emailed is also the day of the combined Committee and FirstNet Authority Board of Directors meeting (FirstNet.gov for information). Another item of interest is the FirstNet Authority’s road trip explaining board-approved plans to reinvest in the network and hear public safety’s input for what is needed going forward. I like the idea of the road trip but I am disappointed that for whatever reason The Authority decided these meetings should be closed to all but official public safety personnel. This means those of us who consider ourselves friends of public safety and work with public safety agencies on an ongoing basis are not permitted to sit in on meetings or even watch via video. I think this is shortsighted since if public safety communications supporters knew more about FirstNet Authority plans, we could provide more, pertinent information to departments we work with and perhaps provide input to The Authority as it plans for the future. However, with all that is happening in public safety communications, The Authority has decided these meetings will not be available to the public or even friends and family. I am not quite sure what concerns The Authority might have.

T-Band

Twitter has turned out to be a good source for breaking news and over the past few days several people have contributed to a Thread initiated by Bill Schrier on the T-Band giveback. It began with, “The Federal Government’s Accountability office says ‘Don’t Boot Emergency Personnel and #firstresponders from the T-Band spectrum’” (a requirement of the law creating FirstNet). Bill ended his tweet by saying this is good news for @TBandCoalition, @AndySeybold, and public safety. He then referenced an article in Nextgov that goes into more detail and ends with, “The GAO also found there is no other spectrum available for emergency personnel to relocate their communications to in 5 of the 11 Metropolitan areas.” 

The NPSTC report went further stating all eleven metro areas that now use the T-Band would be affected and not only is no spectrum available, there are no funds to pay for the relocation process. This is all good news for the movement to rescind the T-Band giveback and I hope those in Congress, pro-public safety or not, will take action to stop the T-Band from being returned for auction. 

Again, the fallacy with placing a value on this spectrum in the millions or billions of dollars is that it is not nationwide and the same portion of the spectrum is not being used in all eleven metro areas. Each area was assigned a portion of spectrum in the T-Band that would not create interference to TV broadcast stations and TV broadcast stations would not interfere with T-Band users. What the GAO did not say is that the many business radio users licensed to use the T-Band are not governed by the law authorizing FirstNet that requires the giveback. Even if the T-Band were to be cleared of emergency personnel and first responders, business users would remain.

Thanks to Bill for Tweeting this news. I hope this becomes another in the long list of reasons Congress should act on the bills to Stop the T-Band Giveback

Winding Down

I recently received a nice email from a member of historycooperative.org asking if I would be willing to publicize its latest work on the history of the iPhone. I agreed to do so and have provided a link to its website and the work of this organization. While this does not have much to do with public safety, it is an interesting history of a device that changed the world of wireless as we knew it pre-iPhone. Current iPhones, the Xs and Xr, both have public safety Band 14 onboard and are, therefore, FirstNet-compatible.

This email got me thinking how we need to capture the history of public safety communications. Motorola had a wonderful museum at its then Schaumberg Headquarters, and I understand there are fire and police museums around the United States including one in Phoenix, which has the first radio system in Arizona on display. However, I don’t know of a museum specifically for the history of public safety wireless communications. The National Law Enforcement Museum offers a look into the past, I have my mobile communications newsletters published monthly from 1981 to 2000, my Forbes newsletters, books I have written and, of course, my Public Safety Advocate articles dating back to mid-2010. While I do not have radio hardware as developed over the many years, I do have most of the early wireless modems for CDPD, RAM Mobile Data, and ARDIS, as well as one of the first “smartphones,” a Simon made by IBM for BellSouth with its black-and-white screen and oh-so-slow data capabilities.

The Wireless History Foundation has collected interesting information surrounding the advent and development of cellular communications, and its Hall of Fame features many prominent wireless innovators. The Radio Club of America (RCA) is home to a number of notable wireless personalities and it has a relationship with the Antique Radio Museum. Beyond these, I don’t know of any place where the history of pubic safety communications is showcased. Some vendors have their own devices on display, for example when I was visiting Kenwood, I saw its collection of both ham radio and public safety radio from EF Johnson and Kenwood. Perhaps someone, somewhere will think this is an idea worth pursuing. It would be both educational and interesting to follow the footsteps of Fred Link and Motorola on to today’s FirstNet and discover how technology has evolved and continues to do so. 

Meanwhile, today we are still on the cusp of what I consider to be the near-ultimate suite of communications for public safety: Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911), Land Mobile Radio (LMR), and FirstNet. Once NG911 is in place around the United States, FirstNet will move a large volume of video and data originated by citizens that is vetted at Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) and then sent to first responders to better prepare them as they report for duty and assist them as they clear incidents. Land mobile radio will remain a critical element in this roadmap—it is already in place, it provides great coverage in many areas, and it offers several levels of graceful degradation. FirstNet’s Push-To-Talk (PTT) cannot deliver off-network push-to-talk, which is and will remain vital to the first responder community. 

The good news is that NG911 is being discussed in Congress, FirstNet is building out and adding to its network in many states, AT&T is deploying 5G that will also be available to FirstNet subscribers, and many land mobile radio systems are being updated and/or refreshed. We are finally reaching a point where NG911, 5G, and FirstNet will work in concert to provide the information and services public safety needs to protect first responders as they protect our lives and property.

Andrew M. Seybold
©2019, Andrew Seybold, Inc.

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