First, a sincere thank you to public-safety professionals for putting others’ lives ahead of your own, and thanks to the professionals in Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs), law enforcement, fire, and EMS personnel on the streets as well as medical professionals who are treating so many people who have been hit with the COVID-19 virus. These are uncertain times, but thanks to your efforts, we will get through this current crisis.
Even so, I am concerned about heighted use of both wired and wireless broadband and how much traffic our Internet can truly support. In 2015, I wrote a commentary about my concerns and many people told me not to worry, our telecommunications infrastructure and the Internet can handle whatever we throw at it. I am not so sure that today with stay-at-home orders for employees, students, and many others that the Internet can truly support all the additional activity. In Europe, Netflix and other streaming services have been asked to stop streaming in High Definition (HD) to help reduce the traffic load.
I, along with others, have a suggestion for public-safety agencies that generally have good, solid broadband connections to serve their needs. Sierra Wireless, Cradlepoint, and other wireless router companies have recommended that in addition to fiber, cable, or wired access, your agency consider adding a broadband wireless router and use it as a backup in case of wired access failure.
When you add a wireless router to your existing IT infrastructure, if your fixed IT connection fails or is overloaded, your system will switch over to the wireless router either automatically or on-demand. While your connectivity might not be as robust as your failed fixed connectivity, it will provide you with access to broadband services in and out of your facility.
Further, FirstNet agencies can use the FirstNet network to access all of AT&T’s existing LTE spectrum as well as access public-safety Band 14 spectrum that is available only to FirstNet customers. Many independent companies recently tested FirstNet and have deemed it to be the fastest LTE network. During these uncertain times when Internet use is spiking and both fixed and wireless operators are concerned about the amount of traffic that will traverse their networks, having a section of spectrum reserved exclusively for public-safety agencies when needed can make a huge difference if broadband providers are struggling with capacity issues.
One iteration of a secondary connection, as shown above, is to connect the Wide-Area Network (WAN), T-1, fiber, or cable through a Sierra Wireless MG-90 and on to the internal Ethernet network. The router has a second “channel,” which in this case is a FirstNet radio. When and if the WAN connection fails, the MG-90 switches over to the FirstNet network. Depending on the type of WAN and internal network infrastructure of a given site, there may be additional ways to provide dual connectivity, but the outcome will be the same: If the WAN connection fails, the system will revert to FirstNet.
Many fixed and wireless broadband service providers are concerned about what is coming as more people are staying at home. As mentioned last week, this is not a localized issue, it is nationwide. The FCC has approved spectrum waivers for T-Mobile to use more 600-MHz spectrum and US Cellular to use more AWS spectrum, and Dish is granting short-term access to Verizon, AT&T, and others. (Do you remember when Verizon did not bid on FirstNet because it did not need the spectrum?) All these networks are concerned about the increase in traffic over the coming months. FirstNet (Built with AT&T) has a decided advantage with its additional bandwidth since agencies that are part of FirstNet have access to all AT&T LTE spectrum plus public-safety broadband spectrum. While this spectrum can be shared when it is not needed for public safety, if AT&T’s commercially available spectrum becomes overloaded, FirstNet subscribers have 20 MHz of LTE spectrum at 700 MHz available exclusively for public safety use. It appears that with the addition of the Dish Network spectrum, AT&T is even more prepared to take care of its non-public-safety customers and leave more bandwidth for FirstNet responders.
Also in 2015, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Put Everything on the Internet! Cancel all Other Services!” and it started this way: “The title of this commentary should not be taken seriously unless you believe the Internet has infinite bandwidth, it is a robust network, and it will always be there for us when we want and need it. If that is not you, I would suggest that like me you continue to keep your phone on a pair of phone company wires for as long as it supports wires, keep your cable company providing your TV (or Direct TV for TV) and Internet services, and store a back-up copy of your most important information on a separate and removable hard drive, if possible, in a different location from your home or work computer.”
At the time, comments about this article were both good and bad. Many readers thanked me for writing it, and many said I was crazy and the Internet and broadband in general could and would support all the traffic we could put over them. Over the years, others have also expressed the same concerns about broadband and the Internet. Now, with work-at-home, school-at-home, and stay-at-home orders spreading across more states we are seeing a serious spike in fixed and wireless broadband usage as well as Internet usage.
We don’t know how this will all turn out, but we do know first responders are, as always, running into harm’s way, not away from it, and we need to ensure their communications systems remain up and operational. They already have too much to be concerned about without having to worry about their lifeline communications and their ability to convey information about the condition of a patient they are bringing in for medical assessment and treatment.
The announcement that IWCE has rescheduled its yearly conference to August 24-28 was one bright spot this week. This is great news and I am hoping it will be able to be held as re-scheduled. This is the only pure wireless communications show in the United States and I look forward to it every year. When I heard it was rescheduled to August, my first thought was that earlier in the month we will attend APCO in Orlando where it will be hot and humid, then later in the month we will travel to Las Vegas where it will be just as hot or hotter but with much lower humidity. Temperatures in Las Vegas should be ten or more degrees lower than in Phoenix, but just the same, I plan to spend the majority of my time indoors talking to people, taking part in seminars and conference sessions (at least at IWCE), and walking the floor to see what is new.
Multiple sources tell me that due to the spread of the corona virus across the United States there has been a groundswell of public-safety agencies joining FirstNet. I believe this is a prudent response. If this nationwide epidemic continues, there will be greater demand for agency-to-agency communications. FirstNet is the only network specifically designed to handle public-safety communications in conjunction with existing Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems, and it enables interoperability between member agencies. The ability to communicate and cooperate with many agencies becomes vitally important during this time of emergency.
FirstNet has responded to hurricanes, tornadoes, wildland fires, major events, and large gatherings. Now the network will be used for nationwide interoperability—the purpose for which FirstNet was authorized by the federal government.
High-Power User Equipment (HPUE)
I recently wrote about Assured Wireless and its high-power user equipment that has now been added to the FirstNet approved device list and for which FirstNet is upgrading its software for public-safety Band 14, the only LTE band in the United States authorized for HPUE devices. High-power user equipment has a transmitter power output of 1.25 Watts, while a standard LTE device is limited to about 250 Milliwatts (¼ Watt). Extensive testing has shown an HPUE can provide up to an 80% gain in coverage for a field device. This means field devices equipped with HPUE can provide far better connectivity and better data rates further from the center of a cell site than has been possible using standard LTE devices.
Add to this that public-safety Band 14 is the only broadband spectrum that is reserved exclusively for the first-responder community when needed, and it is the only portion of wireless broadband spectrum approved for high power. When public safety does not need the spectrum, in rural areas for example, citizens are also permitted to use high power on Band 14 on a secondary basis. Kudos to both FirstNet and Assured Wireless.
Recently there was a great public relations release from a number of organizations that are supporting repeal of the T-band spectrum giveback required when FirstNet was formed. These organizations are trying to attach the “repeal the T-band” giveback bills in both the House and Senate to a bill providing relief to those impacted by the corona virus. I hope this can be done. I am disappointed that I have not seen the vendor community, including all who sell, install, and maintain land mobile radios, come forward and announce their support for the T-band repeal. The more companies and organizations that make it known that they support these bills, the better the chances are that Congress will listen. If you are a vendor of LMR equipment or services, please add your voice to other supporters attempting to repeal the T-band giveback. Thank you.
Many citizens have been advised or ordered to stay at home except for minimal visits to stores that have been deemed essential. However, first responders on the front lines, including ECC professionals, cannot stay home and work to help others. More and more people on the front lines and in our medical community have tested positive or have had to self-quarantine because someone on their team or a patient they treated has tested positive. We keep losing first responders for a time requiring others to work overtime and longer shifts.
Some hospitals have asked recently retired doctors and nurses to return to work for a while and last-year med students and nurses to step in and care for less critical patients to free up existing hospital personnel to concentrate on patients experiencing more severe medical conditions. And I would think many public-safety agencies are at least considering asking retired personnel and perhaps those in training to step up and assist as needed.
It seems Arizona and Phoenix have been slow on the uptake. So far, they have closed bars, restaurants, and schools but have not required work-from-home or shelter-in-place. So many other states are much farther ahead of us. I have been working from home in a separate office building for many years so email and phone conversations have not been affected. However, I miss being able to travel and talk with first responders and their commanders as I normally do. There is no better way to learn of their communications concerns, what they still need but don’t have, and their success stories. Like many, I hope we get through this quickly so we can resume our normal activities.
Stay safe, protect yourselves as best you can, and thank you to all who are taking care of us during these difficult times.
Until next week…
Andrew M. Seybold
©2020, Andrew Seybold, Inc.