Public Safety Advocate: FirstNet Authority Five-Year “Roadmap,” Devices at APCO

As promised, the FirstNet Authority has published its five-year reinvestment roadmap as approved by the board of directors some time ago. Official publication had been held up so the FirstNet Authority could hold a series of meetings around the United States with public safety professionals to review the plans and collect input.

That the report has been published and a session on the roadmap has been held at the APCO conference confirms it is now ready for prime time. According to the Authority, there are six areas that warrant investment. Funds for such investments are derived from “excess monies” FirstNet (Built with AT&T) is paying to the FirstNet Authority as outlined in the Request for Proposal won by AT&T. From the beginning, FirstNet was to be self-sustaining as an organization and the FirstNet Authority was to further invest any excess funds in the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN or “FirstNet network”) each year. The FirstNet Authority is being true to its mission.  

The six areas, referred to as “domains,” represent technologies and capabilities that are vital to public safety operation now and in the future. They include:

  • Network Core: Provides the essential intelligence for the functioning of the network. The Core is foundational to the network, and the FirstNet Authority envisions the Core evolving to remain technologically current.
  • Coverage and Capacity: Enables robust and ubiquitous access to the network.
  • Situational Awareness: Envisions real-time access, collection, and distribution of critical information.
  • Voice Communications: Envisions high-quality, reliable voice communications nationwide working seamlessly across analog and digital platforms.
  • Secure Information Exchange: Envisions the ability to access, exchange, and manage data securely and conveniently within and across public safety agencies and jurisdictions.
  • User Experience: Seeks to ensure interfaces are designed for specific public safety users’ operational challenges.

Since many of these investments are in the network and its development, I have to believe the FirstNet Authority and FirstNet (Built with AT&T) discussed the investments, the amounts, and what to expect from the FirstNet network in return. On the whole, this list of investments seems to be right on the money. I am sure some have other ideas, but I trust the Authority thoroughly vetted these domains with public safety, the FirstNet network and, of course, the Authority board of directors. 

When you go to FirstNet.gov/roadmap, you will find a great deal of information including the fact sheet shown below.

The FirstNet Authority’s first investment, to be made this year, amounts to $154 million and its budget for 2020, as approved by the board of directors, will be $82 million. This is the first installment of what the Authority will put back into the network and it should be mentioned that almost weekly, my FirstNet Google Alerts provides articles about AT&T’s investment in the public safety network as well its own network. For example, this past week AT&T announced that over three years it would spend $250 million in the Baltimore area, and the week before it was announced that AT&T would invest $350 million in the Greater Boston area over the next three years. 

That is not to imply the money being reinvested by the Authority is peanuts, it isn’t. It is a substantial reinvestment in the network and, more important, in the public safety community.

APCO Devices

Last week I mentioned I had walked the APCO exhibition floor several times. I always enjoy walking along the sides and back of exhibit areas to see smaller vendors and what they have on display. I also mentioned I was really disappointed I only saw only one Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV or drone) company off to the side, and while I saw several hardened tablets, I did not see one that jumped out at me. I was amazed Panasonic, the pioneer in wirelessly-enabled notebooks, had a very small exhibit showing only one tablet and more Toughbooks.

I attended a session on Sunday in which the last two speakers focused on a company building software to enable a smartphone to double as a camera and provide several other functions. At the end of the session, I asked about battery life and the Police Chief on the stage said it was a concern. After the session, I was approached by a gentleman from Kyocera who showed me a smartphone with an indentation on the back. He explained this indentation is for another battery and this shell was only one of many it is building. I stopped by the booth and was pleased to see Kyocera had done its homework. Not only were there two shells for different-sized batteries, there were shells for other uses as well. Nice product line.

Next was my visit to what is now L3Harris. I really like its XL-200 portable and am waiting for what I hope will provide full FirstNet and other network LTE capabilities, making it the portable everyone including me will want. I was asked if I would be at the IACP show in October and when I said “yes,” I was told that would be a great time for another visit. Meanwhile, at the conference I drooled over the new multi-band mobile. I currently have three radios in my car: VHF, UHF, and 700/800. This one radio and one neat control head would replace all three and leave room for a larger tablet for my Sierra Wireless MG-90.

I again met the folks from Assured Wireless at the FirstNet booth. Its 1.25-watt RF amp for Band 14 was approved and has been approved by FirstNet. I go back a long way with these folks. We talked many years ago at a PSCR meeting in San Diego and later I suggested they talk with the people at CommNexus, an incubator in San Diego. They talked, grew the company, finalized the design, and now they are on their own and ready to provide product. One thing I really like about this amp is that is it small and light and can be added to a Sierra Wireless or Cradlepoint modem. Just as important, it can be used by non-FirstNet users when on Band 14. Think about rural broadband and how this amp could improve coverage.

Bob LaRose VAP/Business Development and Andy Seybold

I always stop in to see the latest from Motorola, and even though its booth was packed, I looked at its LMR radios and its newly rolled-out software and applications. I have an APX8000 3-band handheld I really like and talked to reps about updating my software. As always, they were very helpful. As you may know, Motorola owns Kodiak Push-to-Talk which is being used by AT&T for its commercial customers and is one of three (for now) PTT options approved for FirstNet.

GPSLockbox was in the FirstNet booth showing how to turn a smartphone into a full-blown mobile complete with charger, amplified speaker, and PTT microphone and the company sent one for me to try (the demo looked great). It is sitting in my shop and I am anxious to unpack it and try it out. A number of other vendors were showing interesting products at APCO and over time I will be able to try some of them and let you know what I think. 

Winding Down

APCO was a good show but as I said, I don’t like the changes. I applaud APCO’s work for PSAPs and dispatchers who are our first line to first responders, but I don’t like that radio communications (“wireless”) has taken a backseat to dispatch. I also don’t like that some APCO chapters are now combined NENA/APCO chapters where few or no radio or IT types are involved. That is one reason that even though I am in Phoenix, I keep my http://www.cpra.org/CPRA APCO chapter membership. CPRA remains true to why I joined APCO—for a balance of all things communications for public safety.

Last week I mentioned my idea for a public safety communications hall of fame. I have received some interesting emails both pro and con, but mostly from interested parties. Therefore, I thought I would go ahead and start a list of people who belong in this hall of fame. Because there are so many, I plan to add a few names each week. I have to start with Morgan O’Brien, whose 2006 keynote at IWCE gave life to the work being done by Chief (Ret) Harlin McEwen, and Harlin McEwen who has for many years been an inspiration in public safety communications and is considered the father of FirstNet. Along with these gentlemen I nominate Ed Parkinson. When I first met Ed, he was working for Representative King in the Homeland Security committee. Ed was instrumental in helping us make our way through the Congressional maze and he helped identify the staffers with whom we needed to talk. Then would come four people who became known as “the four horsemen” when we were with the Public Safety Alliance (PSA). The four are Chief (Ret) JJ Johnson who served first as a member of the FirstNet Board and then vice-chair, Chief (Ret) Chuck Dowd from NYPD, Chief (Ret) Chris Moore from San Jose PD, and Dick Mirgon, former APCO president and retired police officer. Two final nominations for the week include Jim Bugel, the guiding force behind AT&T from the early days of the PSA through today, making FirstNet a reality, and Sue Swenson, the second Chairman of the FirstNet Board who brought FirstNet back to its original purpose and shepherded the path from an RFP to a contract award.

There are many, many others and as I work with the assistance of Roger Wespe to finish my FirstNet book, my very long list of people who should be honored for what they have helped accomplish and their continued efforts grows ever longer. Stay tuned for more people’s names and if you would like to suggest someone for a nomination, please send me an email and a line or two describing why!

Recently I wrote an article for Mission Critical Radio Resource Magazine, it is my view of what I hope the future holds for public Safety communications.

Until Next week,

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

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