Public Safety Advocate: LMR, FirstNet, WiFi, Just to be Clear, and More

Last week’s Advocate discussed the integration, over time, of NG9-1-1, FirstNet, Land Mobile Radio (LMR), and WiFi into a homogeneous communications system for public safety. Before last week, I had written multiple Advocates about LMR and FirstNet working hand-in-hand and in recent months I have been promoting a way to integrate FirstNet, LMR, and WiFi into a solid, interactive communications platform for all of the public safety community.

It was, therefore, a shock to me to read a response to last week’s Advocate from a gentleman I have conversed with and met on several occasions. The response to my columns is moderated on AllThingsFirstNet.com but I have never chosen to not accept any comment, good or bad, as that goes with the territory.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, after I approved the comment for inclusion at the bottom of the Advocate and typed in my response, the site went down. The web folks were able to save a copy of the comment and my response, which is directly below:

“Welcome back Andy, I have been a little disappointed in the past few articles since they have been focused on FirstNet and the possibilities making it seem like you were advocating to replace LMR today. I agree that the current radio will evolve to include data/text/video, but as you stated in today’s article, it will be a while until all the pieces fit together.”

My response: “First of all thank you for the comment but I am horrified that anyone reading my Advocate would believe that I am about replacing LMR with FirstNet, I think you will find that I have always stated that LMR is a vital and important part of overall public safety communications. I have been very vocal in my call for LMR to LTE PTT solutions and I have, I thought been very clear about the fact that LMR is a vital portion of the public safety communications picture and will be for many, many Years. Best regards, Andy” 

The comments he made indicated that even though he was a long-time reader he apparently thought that in a number of my articles I was making a case for FirstNet as the only network for public safety. This is what surprised me. I have, for many, many years, said that FirstNet and LMR (and WiFi) will work in concert with each other and that LMR has a long life left within the public safety community. In the most recent hurricanes, both LMR and FirstNet were up and running and where one was not, the other was. So, to be very clear, my vision of public safety going forward is robust and up-to-date NG9-1-1 systems, LMR, FirstNet, and WiFi where available. I believe this will provide the best of all worlds.

As I mentioned last week, we need to concentrate on what public safety needs, not what some engineers and elected officials think they need. We need to blend LMR and FirstNet by finding an inexpensive way to tie them together on a full-time or as-needed basis. We need to be able to use backhaul for NG9-1-1, LMR, and FirstNet to tie things together while at the same time making sure they can also function as standalone networks.

I am a believer in FirstNet. As many of you know, I have dedicated ten+ years of my life to FirstNet and will continue to push and prod as it is built, as new devices and new applications are brought online, and as we finally find ways to provide bridges between LMR and FirstNet. There are those—most whom have never been on an incident, with an EMS crew, or in a patrol car on a Friday night—who see the work being done by the 3GPP standards body when it comes to mission-critical voice and Proximity Services (ProSe) off-network voice that believe LMR will no longer be needed once these standards are implemented and the networks have multi-cast capabilities.

I do not believe ProSe or off-network LTE will ever live up to the requirements of the public safety community. A lot of work has to be done and even then, providing devices that can talk to each other without a network while in network range or out, deep into basements and building interiors, is a daunting task. Whether ProSe ever sees the light of day in the public safety community will depend not only on the 3GPP specifications but on the willingness of vendors to incorporate these specifications into their devices. I will not say it will never be accomplished, but I don’t believe the results will be what public safety really wants and needs.

I have stated this before for other 3GPP advances including Mission-Critical Push-To-Talk and now ProSe off-network communications. Those driving these standards make great claims about how once they are finished FirstNet will be all that is needed. Over the years, I have called a number of technology advances correctly but I have missed on some big ones, too. None of us have a crystal ball that is not clouded over, and engineers and others have made astonishing strides in technology. But these do not happen overnight, and within the public safety community such strides must be proven over and over again. My final comment on this subject is one I have made many times before: It won’t be public-safety-grade until the public safety community is willing to trust their lives to it.

Moving On

Over the past few months, we have learned a lot about the resiliency of FirstNet. So far, it has earned four stars in my book for its response to both of the recent hurricanes. Meanwhile, other carriers have faltered in bringing their networks back online. I have seen pictures, which I assume are true representations, of citizens in long lines waiting to enter an AT&T store to change their service to AT&T. I have been thinking about this for a while and have come to the realization that because FirstNet is building and restoring FirstNet during these storms, citizens are benefiting from the work being done on the FirstNet side because it is also bringing the entire AT&T network back online with it.

I know some of the Cells On Wheels (COWs) are Band 14-only, but I have also seen that when you bring a site back online, you bring the entire site back online, not only the FirstNet element. AT&T’s choice to implement FirstNet is, in reality, a boon for others during incidents such as these. The result of AT&T’s work on behalf of FirstNet is not only to bring as much of its network back up as fast as it could but to also provide communications where LMR systems failed. Likewise, LMR works sometimes when FirstNet is off the air. Which is why I am a believer in two networks for redundancy and for coverage when there are incidents that impact one or both networks.

An Open Letter to the FCC Commissioners

When I wrote the following letter last week, I put a copy in each of four UPS envelopes and addressed each to one of the four Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioners. I had no idea UPS would not be able to find “Washington, District of Columbia,” but four identical notices were in my email this morning saying UPS could not recognize the city to which the envelopes were addressed. So, I decided I would add it to this week’s Advocate. Let me preface this by saying I have been opposed to what the FCC has been doing with our spectrum, and that citizens seem to be more important than public safety or other spectrum users. Going after the 6-GHz microwave spectrum to make it also a license-free band for WiFi is irresponsible to say the least. If there is an interference issue today, it can be tracked down because all microwave systems for public safety and industry are licensed. Adding unlicensed radios to the spectrum means two things. First, in the case of interference, how can you track down the interfering transmitter when it is not required to be licensed? Next, how do you protect the noise floor at 6-GHz when you start adding all of these unlicensed devices? All you have to do is look at 2.4-GHz WiFi to see the impact thousands of nodes have had on the noise floor.

My other issue is the FCC’s efforts to reconfigure the public safety 4.9-GHz band, again for either auction or providing citizens with more spectrum. At some point we will need the FCC to stand up to those who clamor for more unlicensed spectrum and tell them they have all they will get until there is a master plan.

Regardless of these feelings, in the letter I sent to each Commissioner (below), I commented on the fact that some Commissioners were quoted in an article in CNET as stating that, “FCC Leaders say we need a ‘national mission’ to fix rural broadband.” I hope their realization of the fact that we need a nationwide focus on rural broadband and we have to find a better way to coordinate all the different players lasts beyond November 6.

“October 25, 2018

Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman
Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner
Brendan Carr, Commissioner
Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20554

Chairman Pai and Commissioners:

I have followed rural broadband issues for many years. I have also written many of my Public Safety Advocate articles about rural broadband and how to accomplish our goals in a timely and economical way not only for public safety but for everyone. Therefore, I was heartened to see the recent article in CNET stating, “FCC Leaders say we need a ‘national mission’ to fix rural broadband.”

I have been promoting rural broadband since 2009, and during the time I was working with the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) pushing the FCC, Congress, and others to assign the “D” Block to public safety, I spent a great deal of time on the issue of rural broadband. In detailed reports to those in Congress who opposed what we were trying to accomplish or were sitting on the fence, I looked deeply into each of their districts and pulled out the number of rural areas that were not covered by broadband. I then proposed that if the Representative or Senator supported what is now FirstNet and worked with rural providers including rural power companies and carriers, he or she could provide rural coverage for his or her population and gain additional votes. Frankly, I do not know if my strategy worked but some of those opposed to the D Block eventually voted for it.

I have been writing article after article about rural broadband. These can all be found at www.allthingsfirstnet.com but I have attached two of them for your review. I have been calling for Congress to create the type of mission you are saying is needed. We follow all the grants for broadband from many, and I do mean many, different federal agencies. If these grants were aligned with each other and the criteria was the same, there would already be enough additional funding to do most of the work needed to deliver broadband to rural America.

I have also advocated that FirstNet, which is required by law to cover rural America and which has excess spectrum in rural areas for business’ and citizens’ use, should be a great catalyst to covering rural areas. I believe adding grants to what FirstNet has committed to build out, either for more FirstNet coverage or in partnership with smaller carriers and ISPs, is a plan that will provide what you are seeking.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and the attachments. Rural broadband is a key to so many different opportunities for the citizens and businesses in these areas that it must be considered a priority.

Respectfully submitted,
Andrew M. Seybold
CEO and Principal Consultant

I attached two of my Advocates:

Public Safety Advocate: FirstNet and H.R. 3994 July 5, 2018

Public Safety Advocate: Rural Broadband, the Headless Horseman”

I sent the envelopes via UPS and posted them from Phoenix. That is all I can do. Hopefully, they will proceed according to the article in CNET.

Winding Down

November will be a busy month for me. I will be at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) in Chicago November 6 and 7, the following week I will be at the FirstNet Association event in Denver, and fly from Denver to New York for the Radio Club of America (RCA) board of directors meeting, technical symposium, and annual banquet. Awards will be presented to deserving individuals who have been selected including a special award for Chief (Ret.) Harlin McEwen, who is considered by many, including me, to be the father of FirstNet. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) always presents its DeMello Award at the RCA banquet and this year will be honoring Sue Swenson for her tireless work on the FirstNet board and then as chairperson of the FirstNet board of directors. Both of these individuals have been instrumental in moving FirstNet forward and I am looking forward to the event.

Next week’s Advocate will be delayed a few days due to my travel schedule!

Andrew M. Seybold
©2018, Andrew Seybold, Inc.

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