Sat Aug 6 13:09:16 2016
Bitten by an Internet Outage
Long, sad, story, the end result of which was an Internet outage that lasted the better part of two days! So this week’s Public Safety Advocate is late!
Back to Business!
My regular readers know I only occasionally mention people’s names in my blogs. However, this week I am not only mentioning a name but expanding upon why I am doing so.
Bill Schrier Goes to Washington, (sort of)
Those who watch the world of Twitter, or read about FirstNet, or are on many of the calls of various states working with FirstNet all know the name Bill Schrier. He has been a steadfast supporter of FirstNet even before there was a FirstNet.
He lives in Washington state and has served in many different capacities for both the state and the city of Seattle. He has served as Washington state’s point of contact for FirstNet, and in many IT functions for both the state and the city. Bill led the APCO broadband committee for many years and has contributed many articles to help Public Safety and elected officials better understand what FirstNet is, and how it will assist the Public Safety community.
Now Bill is joining FirstNet to assist with the massive task ahead for FirstNet, the FirstNet partner, and for the Public Safety community. FirstNet has had amazing results hiring the best of the best in spite of its less than industry pay scale, and Bill is certainly one more great addition to the team. After working with Bill and reading his numerous tweets and articles, I know he will be a welcome addition to FirstNet, and he already has the respect of the Public Safety community and a large number of FirstNet state organizations as well. Bill, I guess I should say to you, “Welcome Home, since FirstNet has been your life for so many years!”
Public Safety Broadband Forecasts
In the news this week and every week it seems there are forecasts for the growth of Public Safety broadband, for the devices that will be used on the market, and most of these show a worldwide healthy growth. But remember, paper does not refuse ink, or should I reword a saying from long ago to say, “The Internet does not refuse keystrokes”? We all hope the Public Safety broadband market is robust around the world because it will help all of the first responder communities by lowering prices and making it profitable for vendors to introduce new products. But until the networks are up and running and until we see the real results, it is almost impossible to determine how successful the networks, products, and services will actually be.
So far it appears as though Public Safety around the globe will be making use of LTE broadband for at least data and video, that is the good news. The not so good news is that while there seems to be a trend to keep Public Safety broadband in the 700-MHz spectrum that is not the case around the world. In order to truly have better pricing for devices we need common devices, and lots of them. Software is a different matter because it will run on any Public Safety network, but devices are a critical item. And of course the price of these devices as well as the monthly fees for use of these devices and the software will determine, at least in the United States, what the Public Safety uptake will be.
Remember that in the United States there is no law, no requirement, that ensures that all Public Safety agencies will join FirstNet. It will be up to the network partner and FirstNet to make their case that the network is ready, the devices are available, and lots of applications are ready for use. I still believe that when the Public Safety community is provided with a working FirstNet system, those that have had some experience with commercial broadband will have a head start and will be wooed over to FirstNet easier than those who have not yet embraced broadband.
There are still a many unknowns for which the Public Safety community will need answers before they fully commit to this network. Just a few of them are: What will the coverage be in my area? How will it compare to my existing commercial broadband network and to my existing LMR radio system? How can my city, county or state add cell sites where we believe they are needed or where there is a capacity issue? How much will we have to pay? Today we are paying a per-vehicle fee to our commercial broadband operator. But that is for a single device in a vehicle. Suppose we are paying $30 per month for that device and the data and video we are using. Along comes FirstNet and now not only do we have to pay the monthly fee per vehicle but per person as well. Suppose, for example, that a fire department staffs an engine with four people.
In reality that is five devices. One in the cab and one for each person in the team. If the price remains $30 per device per month, the monthly cost of that apparatus and its crew just went from $30 per month to $150 per month. If the average fire department is a large city that has 500 vehicles, its existing 500 times $30, or $15,000 per month, jumps to 500 times $150 per month or $75,000 per month, a huge difference for most cities and counties. I certainly hope the FirstNet/Partner team will come up with a different way of pricing services for Public Safety. If I were the chief of a fire department having to justify an increase in monthly payments from $15,000 to $75,000 per month, I am not at all sure my elected officials, who have, by the way, been telling me I need to move to FirstNet so they don’t have to fund my LMR network, would even consider such a move, even if, at some future point in time, I could possibly retire my existing LMR system.
It is time for Public Safety to start looking at operational and cost issues when it comes to FirstNet, the technical part of the network will, for the most part, be taken care of by FirstNet and the RFP partner. The major issues that remain and should now be worked on by the Public Safety community are how operations and funding issues will be addressed. I continue to believe that the DHS Office of Emergency Communications and the FEMA courses in both Comm-L and Incident command need to be updated to include the new issue of broadband.
Many departments have been making use of broadband to a vehicle but the premise of FirstNet is broadband to the individual responder. This will change the metrics and uses of broadband data and video in a major way. From the decision of what to send to whom (that is, who needs the information) and who does not, how to we prevent overloading people with too much information, and what is it that is really needed now. I have said this before, today when there is an incident that requires multiple responders from multiple disciplines they normally operate on their own radio channel or talk groups and as a result there is no surprise about who is using the spectrum for what.
When we start making use of FirstNet and we have an incident that requires multiple agencies and different types of agencies, they will be sharing the same capacity of broadband, especially in a small or more confined area. If there is no coordination it is possible that one service, say the EMS professionals, may start to send an ultrasound to an emergency room so the doctor on duty can determine if the patient has internal bleeding. The amount of bandwidth used may, and probably will impact the amount of bandwidth that is available for video, data, and voice services. If someone is not coordinating the use of this bandwidth there could be issues of priority, or capacity that could impact the incident. Counting on services that may or may not be available is not something that the Public Safety community is accustomed to.
The success of FirstNet for Public Safety will be judged on coverage, pricing, and usability. All of these need to be weighed by each department, but each department also needs to understand that its FirstNet services on day one will not be its ultimate FirstNet coverage, or capacity. Like any new endeavors there will be growing pains, learning experiences, mistakes, and corrections. But the end result should be what we all envisioned many years ago: A new network to provide the Public Safety community with new services and capabilities to make its work easier, safer, and that result in the saving of additional lives and property.
Back on schedule next week!
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