Public Safety Advocate: FirstNet Ten-Year Anniversary—FCC Chair’s Speech, Awards, and Unified Push-To-Talk

I hear that a good time was had by all who celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the creation of FirstNet. I, on the other hand, unexpectedly spent my Tuesday in a Mayo Hospital operating room while they put final touches on a minor surgery. Still, I was able to watch some of the live stream and from what I saw, it appeared to be a professional and well-organized event.

The Celebration

Congratulations are in order for the FirstNet Authority, the management team at the Public Safety Broadband Technology Association (PSBTA), and members of the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA).

That FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel accepted an invitation and spoke at this celebration speaks volumes. This indicates to me that she understands the needs of all who are seeking additional radio spectrum and she will fairly evaluate their needs and put forth Notices for Proposed RuleMaking (NPRM) on their behalf. Her speech was relatively short but targeted to those assembled at the Press Club in DC and those watching the live streamed. The video can be found here.

Chair Rosenworcel took us back in time to when Land Mobile Radio (LMR) provided the only way for public safety to communicate. She reminded us that the inability for first responders to communicate with other agencies cost lives, both during the Oklahoma Murrah Building and 9/11 attacks. Out of the 9/11 attacks came a series of recommendations. One was to establish a way to provide communications interoperability between and among disparate first-responder agencies.

She pointed out that the 9/11 Commission’s report was released in 2004 but the recommendation for solving public safety’s communications issues took an additional eight years of effort. The FirstNet project could have been a failure had it not been for public safety’s tenacity as members came together with a common voice to convince Congress, the FCC, and the Executive Branch that there was a solution on the horizon.

It should be noted here that Chair Rosenworcel was not simply reciting past events. During the time public safety was working to convince Congress to authorize a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), she held a Congressional staff position on the committee chaired by Senator Rockefeller when he introduced the first Senate bill to allocate some 700-MHz spectrum for this new network.

Next, she spoke about where we are today and how the FCC is trying to provide spectrum access to all who want and need it. She mentioned that the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (FirstNet) is a success as far as she is concerned and this process could well be used as a model for future rural broadband joint ventures.

In closing, she looked into the future. First, the FCC has to decide how the 4.9-GHz band is to be used and how to protect public-safety entities that use this spectrum every day. Next, FirstNet needs to be re-certified by Congress before fall of this year. FirstNet has been so successful, Chair Rosenworcel does not think there will be a problem with re-certification.

Finally, her speech dealt with how to reinstate funding for Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) systems that will play a critical role in seamless Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) communications. In addition to being able to receive voice, text, videos, still pictures, and other forms of data. Once validated, this data can be sent directly to public-safety units that have been dispatched to cover an incident. This feed of additional citizen information will provide input to our first responders letting them know what, exactly, they are driving into. This additional information will enable them to better assist once they are at an incident.

As I listened, the first thing that came to mind was that for the first time in a long time, we have an FCC Chair who understands the allocation of segments of spectrum to those clamoring for more and having to juggle far too many balls from far too many spectrum users who think their own spectrum needs should be the top priority for the FCC. So far, there has been a huge difference between the last FCC Commission, which strongly favored broadband networks and those providing unlicensed data communications, and this Commission. It appears today’s Commission is much more attuned to looking at all requests and prioritizing them, which, in turn, will be good for public safety and critical-communications users.

Noe: The rest of the days activates can be viewed here: Welcome and FirstNet Histor, FirstNet Progress Report, Future Needs , FirstNet Innovations, and Delivering FirstNet Promises


The February 22, Ten-Year Anniversary awards celebration was held toward the end of the afternoon. I had been asked by the PSBTA if the award category for Innovative Technology for First Responders could carry my name. I was honored and agreed.

Unfortunately, it turned out that I was not present to thank the members of the PSBTA for honoring me in this manner. Even though I was not able to be there in person, I would like to take a few minutes in this Advocate to talk about the companies that received the first awards with my name on them.

Rescue 42

Three companies were honored at this celebration. The first was Rescue 42, which has been around for a long time and has developed what might be called a micro-cell on wheels that is aptly named a “Compact Rapid Deployable” or CRD.

FirstNet (Built with AT&T) has more than one-hundred deployable devices ready to be dispatched to incidents when and where needed. These devices include Cells on Wheels (COWs), Cells on Light Trucks (COLTs), carry-in, airborne, and other forms of emergency cell sites. All these devices are owned and operated by FirstNet (Built with AT&T) on behalf of FirstNet and are available to FirstNet customers for no charge. However, FirstNet deployables are very expensive and, in most cases, they require a crew of trained professionals to take them to where they are needed, set them up, and join them to the network to replace a damaged cell site. They can add coverage where needed or simply help with network congestion during planned events such as the Superbowl.

Rescue 42 built what it classifies a CRD and has received FirstNet (Built with AT&T) certification. If I had to use jargon that fits in with the other deployables, I would call this deployable a “Micro-Cell Site on Wheels.”

The Rescue 42 deployable can be purchased by any public-safety agency for use on FirstNet. It is towable behind a light-duty truck or car and many units can be stored in a single trailer and be deployed where they are needed most. Their range is less than that of COLT and COW devices, but they don’t require a crew of trained personnel to travel along with the CRD.

CRDs can be set up by a single person in a matter of minutes and the backhaul for connecting to the FirstNet network can be provided by satellite (built-in) or some other IP connection. The Rescue 42 deployable has a limited range but the flatter the area to be covered, the more ground can be covered by a single device.

The deployables are also set up with a Wi-Fi access point for local access, a cellular antenna array can be raised above this micro-cell site on wheels, and the Rescue 42 deployable can be set up with the antenna elements on a roof of a building while the rest of the unit remains on the ground.

This “micro-cell on wheels” was chosen to receive an award because of its design and ease of set-up, and it is small enough to be stored almost anywhere. These deployables are reasonably priced and can be purchased by any public-safety agency that has joined FirstNet and made available to augment or expand department or users’ coverage.  At the current price, local, county, regional, state, and federal agencies can afford to purchase one or more and not have to depend on FirstNet (Built with AT&T). In many cases, these micro-cells on wheels can be towed behind one of the first vehicles to be dispatched if a unit is needed to provide additional coverage or capacity, even for a single public-safety agency. Congrats to Rescue 42.

Assured Wireless

A number of years ago at an early Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) meeting in San Diego, I was invited to lunch with a few people who wanted to discuss their idea for a product and company with me. I went to lunch with them and I was impressed. Over the next few years, I stayed in touch as their product was being developed and morphed into the sophisticated product it is today.

Assured Wireless is the company and it has released high-power vehicular in-vehicle (High-Power User Equipment, (HPUE) category or “Mega-Range™” as FirstNet (Built with AT&T) has branded it.) These units are available to FirstNet users on public-safety Band-14 spectrum. Band-14 spectrum falls under FCC Part 90 public-safety rules that allow transmit power levels up to 1.25 watts. Compare this to LTE spectrum that is governed by standard cellar rules and transmit power is limited to 0.25 watts, which is the legal limit for the rest of AT&T’s LTE spectrum under both the 3GPP (LTE) standards and FCC guidelines.

When this vehicular system was announced, I felt it would be a game changer because it provides up to an 80% increase in range when within coverage of a Band-14 cell site. With higher power and a larger Band-14 footprint, this system provides much faster speeds from the vehicular device up to the network.

Congratulations to Assured Wireless. Thanks for inviting me to lunch on that day. It has been interesting to watch as your products have developed.


The last award recipient seemed to have come out of nowhere though it has been in the antenna business for many years.

AirGain recently showed it could think “out of the box” when it entered into an agreement with Assured Wireless to use its AW12 module and embed it in a roof-mounted “shark-fin” antenna (it looks like a shark fin).

AirGain has embedded an Assured Wireless High-Power User Equipment (HPUE) module into an antenna for even more efficient use of Band 14 regardless of which FirstNet bands a mobile device is using.

To embed the module directly into the antenna, the antenna design had to be modified to dissipate the heat generated by the transmitter being embedded. And since the module is designed to be connected to an in-vehicle router, laptop, or tablet, it is not necessary to run coax antenna cable between the antenna and the in-vehicle unit. Instead, this antenna configuration uses a standard wireless-area network cable of the same type we all use to connect most of our external devices to other IP-based devices. Since the loss between the cable and the transmitter module has been eliminated, this antenna performs better than antennas that use coax cables to connect to the in-vehicle components.

In my drive tests, I verified another AirGain claim. Since there is no coax and therefore no cable loss, there is an overall advantage for all other LTE spectrum used by both FirstNet and AT&T customers. However, it is not clear at this point if non-public-safety users who are entitled by law to use Band 14 when it is not running at full capacity will have the same advantage. Does this mean, for example that an over-the-road trucker could use Band 14 as a non-priority user? Since the truck would be using Band 14, could the trucker use first-responders’ MegaRange?™ This question is more appropriate for FirstNet (Built with AT&T ) and perhaps the FirstNet Authority.

Congratulations are in order for AirGain and the AirGain Connect HPUE antenna system.

Summary: Bringing More Effective Communications to FirstNet Users

All three of these vendors were chosen for this first round of awards because they enhance communications tools already being used by FirstNet users. Because they contribute to more effective communications tools for FirstNet users, they meet my primary requirement for this award.

There will be more awards for innovative technologies in the future and I fully expect to see more high-power products including “carry-in” suitcase-style devices, perhaps a new high-power phone, and other products that have already been hinted about.

Winding Down

As you may know, I am writing a history of how FirstNet came to be, the many people who played a role in making it happen, and the people at the FirstNet Authority and FirstNet (Built with AT&T) who jumped in with both feet to make FirstNet a reality.

FirstNet deserves to be an example of a success story for many reasons. The public-safety community came together as one; the issues with interoperability between public-safety agencies had come to the attention of most U.S. citizens; there were supporters working within the federal government; and other organizations answered the call for support.

Interoperability Issues

I have been writing about interoperability issues faced by public safety for some time now. My first article on the topic was published in my Emergency Communications Newsletter in December 1981 and it was based on an experience I had as a volunteer firefighter in the late 1960s. As I learned more about what public safety was becoming involved in, I continued to write about the need for a nationwide broadband network in both my Commentary and Tell It Like It Is columns.

In 2009, I received a phone call asking me to assist the Public Safety Alliance (PSA). Even though it could not pay me, my life pivoted in a new direction. I am still deeply committed to working with public safety to resolve current issues and address new issues that come up over time. Knowing what I know now, I would do it all over again.

The public-safety community needs to stay united. We need funding for Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911). We need to make sure the FirstNet Authority’s charter is extended. The 4.9-GHz spectrum issues are still unresolved. And I am certain other issues will come to light during the rest of this year.

Next week, I will discuss the differences between broadband/LMR nationwide PTT and what I now call “Unified Nationwide Push-to-Talk.” Public safety needs nationwide PTT both on FirstNet/broadband and integrated with existing LMR systems. We can make this happen but it will take some pressure on various fronts. The lack of interest for this project is not coming from within the public-safety community but rather from vendors and other outsiders who do not want to work together to come up with a solution. Unified Nationwide PTT can be implemented this year but it will take some pressure to be exerted from the top and a groundswell of first responders who have been waiting for common, nationwide solution to push-to-talk. Stay tuned!

Until next week, Andrew M. Seybold
©2022, Andrew Seybold, Inc.


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