Public Safety Advocate: Jumping the Gun, Unanswered Questions

Note: Because I will be out of the office on Thursday, the usual publication day for the Advocate, this issue is being sent to our subscribers a day early.

We hope to see you all next week at IWCE! I have been watching the press releases for information important to the public safety community. In doing so, I have noticed that especially right before large communications shows, some vendors and organizations jump the gun with their press releases. Some make it sound as though the product they are promoting is ready for prime time when it may or not have been certified. Other press releases are sent out before all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. 

Generally, there appear to be two reasons for these early announcements. The first is that the vendor or organization wants to appear to be ahead of others. The other is simply because the marketing people have not been properly briefed by those involved in the design and product scheduling. So, when you see a new press release that discusses a new and revolutionary item or event, it is better to wait until the product itself is available or being shown rather than a mockup.

The Mobile World Congress is also this week. This event is a good place to find products that are not ready for prime time or don’t live up to the hype provided in their press releases. I have read about a new ruggedized “shell” with a built-in Push-To-Talk (PTT) button for iPhones, using a Bluetooth interface, for at least two different PTT services. I am wondering if this shell will be shown at IWCE so we can take a look at it.

Meanwhile, some press releases catch our attention even though the product will not be released in the United States for a later in the year. One of these is the Samsung Galaxy S10 line of devices, all of which are FirstNet-ready and approved. They feature fingerprint activation, which is faster than keying in a password, even though both must be accomplished before a fireman or paramedic puts on gloves. Other than that, the fingerprint method of signing on and being recognized by the device and FirstNet is great. However, I think the most important Galaxy S10 phone is the foldable device.

Unlike flip phones, the foldable S10 has a full smartphone screen on the front but opens like a book to a screen that is twice the size. This appears to be the perfect device for members of FirstNet who end up being the initial incident commander (IC) simply because they are the first or one of the first on the scene. This provides them with all standard smartphone features and when it is opened to the larger screen, it can be used as a tablet. I believe incident commanders will prefer tablets on FirstNet because their screens have more real-estate. The IC can see incoming units, locations of fire, police, and EMS, perhaps locations of fire hydrants, and video and still pictures of the incident from all angles—all features not available before FirstNet. The only problem with this device is the $2,000 price tag, making it out of reach for most public safety agencies except perhaps for their chief officers. Still, it looks like a great product.

Next up, Unanswered Questions

Over the past months I have been asked, and in turn have asked, a number of questions that remain unanswered by either FirstNet (built with AT&T) or FirstNet The Authority. I don’t think answers have not been forthcoming because they do not want to answer them, rather because internal discussions are ongoing and will, in due time, result in answers to these and other questions.

My List of Questions

It appears that some contracts for service state that all-you-can-eat data is limited to 22 GB a month, but FirstNet has verbally assured the public safety community that it will not throttle or cut off public safety users. This conflict is complicating the issue and we are awaiting an official response. Recently I have been contacted by several agencies that are ready to join FirstNet but are hesitating until this question is answered in writing or until the contract has been changed.

The issue of streaming HD video is still up in the air. I believe streaming video during incidents to and from the scene of an incident is permitted as it is happening in real time. However, the questions I continue to be asked are about using FirstNet for fixed streaming video.

One of our readers pointed out that a lot of progress has been made in providing quality video at data rates much lower than the 5 MBPS some departments are using. This question is also under advisement and the issue of throttling has been answered verbally (see above) but I have not yet seen a definitive answer on fixed streaming video. 

On the other hand, I believe fixed video does not belong on FirstNet except during incidents or when needed for other reasons, but not for 24X7 video fixed cameras. We need a definitive ruling from the FCC as to the status of the public safety 4.9-GHz spectrum, and an assurance it will not be shared with other types of users. This spectrum can and is being used for video transmissions for distances of more than ten miles in some cases. Since this video is one-way to the point where it is viewed and stored, it appears that the 50 MHz of spectrum could be divided into ten channels of 5 MBPS each, which would provide more than adequate video for many applications.

Then we have Push-To-Talk over FirstNet and PTT over both Land Mobile Radio (LMR) and FirstNet. While others are working on solutions for both of these, I haven’t seen any guidance from the FirstNet camp. My direct questions are as follows.

  • How many verified PTT vendors will be permitted over FirstNet?
  • Will FirstNet (Built with AT&T) issue a statement or provide guidance as to the best ways to interface LMR and FirstNet PTT interoperability or will FirstNet defer to work being carried out by several organizations to provide their guidance?
  • Also, as vendors move toward Mission-Critical PTT over FirstNet, how will FirstNet ensure that over time these vendors do not add bells and whistles beyond the standard to seek a marketing advantage?

Moving On 

I have also been in contact with public safety communications professionals on the west coast, in the mid-west, and on the east coast. Many times, they say what FirstNet is telling them differs either a lot or slightly from area to area. They are all asking for common answers to their questions regardless of how large the agency is or where it is located. 

On the other side of the coin are the 3,000+ agencies that have already joined FirstNet and are using it on a daily basis. Many stories of successfully using FirstNet show up on Twitter, Facebook, and even Linkedin, but so far, I have seen few of these in more generic publications for those interested in seeing how public safety is becoming safer and more efficient, resulting in better responses to citizens. Perhaps the local agency Public Information Officer (PIO) assigned to communicating information to the public regarding incidents could also add some interesting stories about FirstNet and what it is doing to promote better communications that help solve crimes and saves lives. 

Here is a perfect example of the above, FirstNet The Authority is attending Mobile World Congress and finding a lot of interest but the only place I have found this information is on Twitter and not in the news feeds: ” At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, it’s great to see the growing @FirstNet ecosystem on display! We are proud to bring public safety’s needs to industry to help drive innovation for their lifesaving mission. #MWC19 “

I don’t read all of the news but as I have mentioned before, I do use Discovery Patterns, an artificial intelligence service that looks at thousands of news sources to cull them based on keywords, and I have some Google Alerts floating around the Internet looking for stories of interest.

Winding Down

The State of Arizona has a very active public safety and rural broadband group. Karen Ziegler, a key person in this organization, has put together what looks to be a great event, not only because I will speak at it, but because the other speakers are also well versed in public safety broadband. 

The event is called Arizona’s Public Safety Broadband Forum and it is free but you need to pre-register. It will be held from 1:00 to 4:00 PM on March 27, 2019, at the Arizona Department of Administration Building in Phoenix. The event brochure states:

I think this will be a worthwhile event and SPOCS (Single Point of Contact for FirstNet) and others from out-of-state are welcome to attend. More information is available at:  https://azfirstnet.az.gov/news-events.I hope to see you there. 

As I said last week, my schedule for the next few weeks is challenging. I am looking forward to IWCE this year and expect it will be full of new and almost ready for prime-time devices and applications for FirstNet. I hope to see you there too. After that, I am eager for my trip to the Palmyra Atoll to scope out what is needed there in the way of communications. 

Based on this schedule, there will be a two-week break in publishing the Public Safety Advocate. We will be back the following week to pick up where we left off.

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

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