Happy New Year to all, especially those who worked through the holidays so the rest of us could enjoy our celebrations!
Looking ahead to what 2020 will bring for public-safety communications, I see some musts, some things that carry a high level of importance, and then things that would be nice to have happen. I will start off my list with what must happen in 2020 as most of these require action as early in 2020 as possible.
- Congress must repeal the T-band giveback. Waiting any longer is not fair to those who use T-band channels every day to provide public-safety communications for their communities.
- A law must be passed to upgrade Emergency Communications Center (ECC) personnel to Public Safety status. This is vitally important as those serving in these positions need and deserve this recognition.
- The FCC must clear some of the issues currently before it including the following
- Leaving the 4.9-GHz band for public safety use exclusively, no sharing.
- Protecting the 6-GHz microwave band by denying unlicensed use. It is questionable whether a nationwide database will protect all mission-critical microwave already in the band.
- Issue Rulings
- That the FirstNet network will remain as it is today—a single, nationwide network as was intended by Congress.
- Permitting other commercial for-profit networks to interoperate with FirstNet is not in the best interests of public safety.
- Congress must fund the nationwide rollout of Next-Generation 9-1-1 (NG911).
- Land Mobile Radio (LMR)-to FirstNet Push-To-Talk (PTT) interfaces must be made simpler and less expensive to deploy.
- All approved push-to-talk vendors on FirstNet must be required to provide interoperability with all other approved push-to-talk FirstNet vendors.
- In addition, I would like to see FirstNet agree to use over-the-top PTT applications that provide network interoperability without requiring commercial networks to be fully integrated with FirstNet.
- FirstNet (Built with AT&T) must continue to build out the network and Band 14 ahead of schedule.
I am sure there are other urgent matters that need to be addressed but I wanted to limit the list to things public safety, FirstNet (Built with AT&T), the FirstNet Authority, and major public-safety organizations should view as priorities and spend time and effort on to accomplish them.
High Level of Importance
- FirstNet (Built with AT&T) and the FirstNet Authority needs to work with the public- safety community to provide applications that are interoperable with all public-safety agencies using FirstNet.
- Provide more public-safety devices of all types: vehicular modems, tablets, handhelds, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices (e.g., sensors).
- This should also include more devices that combine FirstNet and LMR systems into a single device. It is clear that the 3GPP ProSe off-network communications standard will not provide anything close to what public safety needs for off-network communications so it is up to the vendor community to provide public-safety off-network communications. Today there are a few full LMR-and-FirstNet devices covering either all LMR bands or one LMR band plus FirstNet. However, we need some less expensive LMR-and-FirstNet devices perhaps covering one LMR simplex band, some combination of LMR simplex frequencies, or full LMR operation and FirstNet.
- Rural Broadband
- Congress should sign a bill to combine all the many grants and loans for rural broadband from the many agencies, add operational funds to these grants and loans, and establish a centralized body to administer and coordinate the various rural broadband activities.
- Convince the FCC to back off its Phase II 5G-only funding for rural America and accept the reality that 4G LTE and 5G will co-exist for at least the next few years.
- Make it easier for rural counties to work with FirstNet and its network partners to add rural grants to the mix in order to build out more of rural America for everyone in addition to the FirstNet network (as required by law).
- Public safety should push for “Dispatchable Location” now that the FCC has passed the Z axis element of location, meaning height as well as location, and 3-meter accuracy. “Dispatchable Location” is defined as to the floor and the door of the incident.
As above, I am sure there are more high-level issues to be addressed. If we can complete these two lists in 2020, it will be a banner year for public-safety communications. This leaves us with items that would be nice to see happen or accomplished in 2020.
Nice to See
- Topping this list is to name a CEO for the FirstNet Authority. As stated before, it appears a CEO was approved by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) but has not been announced by the NTIA. The NTIA seems to be undergoing some personnel changes of its own, losing some and having others in acting situations. Hopefully, when these changes are resolved it will appoint the person the OPM approved for the position and is, I believe, the best qualified person working at the Authority.
- As commercial networks and FirstNet move toward 5G using the low-band, mid-band, and high-band, it would be nice to see these networks explain in plain language exactly what people should expect from 5G deployed on the various portions of the spectrum. It has been reported that some who have signed up for “nationwide” 5G on T-Mobile have been very disappointed because their expectations were for Gigabit speeds and their speeds are slower. This is because of all the hype those pushing 5G are spewing about high-data speeds without clarifying that Gigabit speeds depend on the portion of spectrum being used and the distance covered by each cell.
- In 2020, we need to continue working toward the ultimate goal for public-safety communications. This includes FirstNet, land mobile radio, and Next-Generation 9-1-1. Hopefully, our efforts might also include support for Public Broadcast Data Casting services that are up and running in a few areas. Regardless, it is vital that all these technologies be IP-based and that incoming information to emergency communications centers via voice, text, images, and video can be quickly and easily vetted and then transmitted out to first responders over FirstNet as they make their way to the incident. Land mobile radio should also become an IP-based set of wireless services so all these communications capabilities can be blended into one. By combining these services, those responding will not have to decide which device to use for what because the system will make that determination and make it happen. This is a tall order but I know some are working toward this goal and I applaud them.
- From a historical perspective, I would like to see an organization or group of organizations found and fund a Public-Safety Communications Hall of Fame. There are so many commendable people who have contributed to what we have today who should be inducted into this Hall of Fame, which would seem to be a natural extension of the public-safety community. FirstNet would not have become a reality without the efforts of scores of dedicated public-safety individuals and organizations and these should be documented in its history. They were told time and again not to waste their time with Congress because they would never succeed, yet they did persist and they were successful.
- On the way to FirstNet, we need to stop and honor those in public safety and the vendor community who helped shape our land mobile radio systems that are still relevant today. Many creative people have worked for the benefit of the public-safety community and it is time to recognize them.
- Finally, it would be nice to see fewer major incidents in 2020—fewer wildland fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and other disasters natural or man-made. Along with this goes the desire for California power companies to stop their long-term power outages during high-fire dangers and to do what they should have done all along: Upgrade their systems to help mitigate the possibilities that their high-tension lines would start fires in the first place.
I have been reviewing topics I want to cover this year and, of course, I will follow and comment on events effecting the items listed above. The first issue I will address in the next Advocate is the several types of radio interference including on-channel, adjacent-channel, harmonic, noise-floor, and more. The FCC helps control interference with guidelines and protection for some services even though not all licenses are issued as exclusive-use. It is fairly easy to determine and work with those responsible for interference when licensed systems interfere with other licensed systems. Other interference issues are not that easy to resolve.
I then plan to write about a new FirstNet (Built with AT&T) push-to-talk vendor that was supposed to be unveiled last year but is now scheduled for sometime in early 2020. I will look at what impact this new PTT will have on the other approved FirstNet PTT vendors, if it will provide for PTT interoperability, or if it will be yet another proprietary offering. Along with this will be another look at how LMR and FirstNet PTT interoperability is gaining momentum and what could lie ahead.
I will publish more reviews of devices on the market and take on new devices as they are announced. I will also report on more road tests of FirstNet and other LTE providers’ coverages and how they stack up with existing LMR coverage in given areas.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) runs from January 7 to Friday, January 10, 2020. This is one show I miss on purpose as it has become too big and it is almost impossible to navigate. I know FirstNet (Built with AT&T) and others will be there, and I will write about the show after I read the various reviews after the show.
I will be at IWCE March 30 to June 3, and this year, plans are for me to participate in one panel a day starting on Monday with, “Next-Generation Emergency Services,” and Tuesday will be, “Bring the Network with You: Deployable Networks and Off-Network Communications.” Since I am vice-president and board member, my Wednesday will start with an open board of directors meeting of the Government Wireless Technology and Communications Association (GWTCA). Later in the day, I will be on the panel of “Financial Realities of Private LMR vs PoC and MCPTT,” and Thursday, “Getting to MCPTT: When Will It Be a Reality?” This is a consultant’s roundtable so there should be plenty of consultants countering my “maybe never” comments. All in all, I am looking forward to IWCE and I hope to see more new products announced.
Phoenix is a great place to live and work for nine months out of the year, not so much during the summer, but as we watch the weather in the rest of the nation, we see how is brutal it is out there. This extreme weather means our public-safety personnel have to spend more time outside their vehicles helping others who have been involved in accidents or fighting fires where the water quickly becomes ice. It is clear they are dedicated to their profession and truly want to help others, otherwise they would not be able to endure such conditions and work holidays and long shifts when needed. We all owe our gratitude to you and those who handle the calls and dispatches.
My bet is that 2020 will be exciting for public-safety communications with more technology advances, more human factors assessments and updates, and the integration of our existing communications technologies. There will also be some surprises I am sure. It is not possible to sit at a desk writing this Advocate the first week of January looking out over the entire new year and not miss some of the most important things that will drive or change how we communicate.
We know drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAVs) are playing increasingly important roles within the public-safety community, and as you may have heard, during the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square in New York, the police department had a number of specialized drones complete with cameras and IR detection equipment monitoring the event from the air. Throughout this year, I expect to hear about many new ways these devices are assisting public safety and other related fields for tasks such as wireless tower inspections and much more.
This will be a great year and I predict that when I write my last Advocate of 2020 I will once again be pointing to the strides FirstNet, NG911, and LMR systems made during the year. I have never seen a single wireless or otherwise communications that was truly “finished.” There is always something more to be added or to be tweaked to make it work better, thus I don’t foresee a time when FirstNet will be “finished.” Perhaps the first sixty months of RFP build requirements will be declared “completed,” but the network itself will continue to grow with more LTE and services, the addition of 5G, more devices, more applications, and more uses for these capabilities to make life better and safer for public-safety personnel. Stay with us in 2020 and let’s discover together what this year brings.
Please note: Next week I will be out of the office on assignment so the Advocate will be a few days late.
Until next time,
Andrew M. Seybold
©Andrew Seybold, Inc, 2020