Public Safety Advocate: NPSTC, Z-Axis, MegaRange

Last week I listened to a webinar sponsored by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) that was presented to the LTE/LMR Integration Committee, which I am a member of, and the EMS Committee; two of the many NPSTC working committees.

The purpose of the webinar was to provide both committees with updates on two new technologies that are now available on the FirstNet (Built with AT&T) network. The first part of the webinar covered the Z-Axis location technology designed to provide 3-D location with which FirstNet responders can be tracked not only to their current location but to their height above the ground as well. The second part of the webinar focused on High Power User Equipment (HPUE) as implemented on the FirstNet (Built with AT&T) network, which has been trademarked “FirstNet MegaRange.” These two technologies will have a significant impact on plans being formed by both committees.


The program included speakers Kim Coleman and Jonathan Lewin from FirstNet and The FirstNet Authority; NextNav CEO Ganesh Pattabiraman and Founder and CEO of Intrepid Britt Kane, representing two companies that are providing Z-Axis information; and Jared Vandenheuvel from the Texas Department of Public Safety who discussed drive tests using MegaRange technology.

I think a statement made early on in the webinar by AT&T’s Scott Agnew, AVP Product Marketing – Public Sector, sums up where FirstNet is today and where it is headed.

He indicated that from 2017 until now, AT&T has been heads-down developing the key components of the network: Band 14 cell deployment; development of the core, or central brains, of the FirstNet network; encouraging vendors to produce smartphones, tablets, and other devices for use by FirstNet agencies;  and encouraging development of applications designed for the public-safety community. Next, he predicted that this year we would start seeing additional features and functions to enhance the network. Included in these are Z-Axis technology, MegaRange, the launch of smaller deployables known as FirstNet Compact Rapid Deployables,™ and FirstNet PTT based on the Mission-Critical PTT standard that provides the ability to interoperate with Land Mobile Radio Push-To-Talk (LMR PTT) systems. 

During the Z-Axis portion of the webinar, Ganesh Pattabiraman walked us through today’s NextNav offering and then spent time talking about future enhancements and work that needs to be done to map as many buildings in metro areas as possible. Z-Axis, as developed by NextNav, is designed for metro areas. As the technology is enhanced and buildings have been mapped, responders using the FirstNet network will be able to pinpoint where people are and on what floor they are in multistory buildings. 

Then Britt Kane explained how Intrepid converts location data into location on a map. In addition to its mapping capabilities, Intrepid offers several modules that are designed specifically to assist first responders in their day-to-day incident responses. 


During the MegaRange portion of the webinar, the discussion was led by several people from The FirstNet Authority and then turned over to The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) representative Jared Vandenheuvel, who discussed drive tests and provided mapping details of their routes. The results showed that the advantages of using MegaRange are twofold. First, from the normal edge of a Band 14 cell site where data rates are not normally capable of providing solid video (for example), MegaRange technology provides data rates comparable or better than rates provided by a standard FirstNet device near the center of the cell site. Further, MegaRange systems provide additional coverage beyond the normal cell edge and continues to provide high data throughput beyond the point where a standard FirstNet device is not able to communicate with the cell site. 

Jared Vandenheuvel did say they have not tested MegaRange in structures such as parking garages or tunnels, but the tests they have run show that MegaRange not only extends coverage of existing Band 14 cell sites, it also increase data rates beyond what today’s standard devices provide.

National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC)

As mentioned above, this webinar was produced by NPSTC. If you are not familiar with this organization you should visit its website. For many years, NPSTC has been providing important reports created by committees made up mostly of volunteers from the public-safety community, the vendor community, consultants, and others. These reports have had and continue to have a positive impact on public-safety technology.

After the creation of FirstNet, I worked on a committee that produced a document that detailed requirements for public-safety grade networks and this report is more relevant today than ever before. The report was turned over to the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) which, in turn, reviewed it and provided recommendations to The FirstNet Authority board of directors. 

Other reports from this committee that have had a tremendous impact on public safety and others include two deep-dives into why the T-Band giveback mandate created by Congress at the time FirstNet was approved was a bad idea for both economic and spectrum management reasons. These reports were valuable in convincing Congress to nullify the requirement for public safety to vacate the T-Band spectrum, which would have been a crippling blow to eleven major metro areas and their surrounding counties.

The non-profit NPTSC organization, which is maintained by tax-free donations, was also responsible for naming interoperability channels nationwide, and for producing many other excellent reports. 

The Public Safety Technology Alliance (PSTA), which was founded much more recently, was the other organization that worked on public-safety open standards, but it recently ceased operations.

We need to continue to support the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council’s efforts. The committees listed on the website are open to anyone who would like to join and contribute to NPSTC’s ongoing work.  

Winding Down

We will not be publishing an Advocate next week but will return the following week.

In the meantime, there is a new Inside Towers podcast in which I discussed a number of issues concerning public-safety communications issues. You can listen to this podcast here.

As I become used to new ways of keeping up with news and events, as well as new ways of creating my own content, my goal is to resume publishing the Public Safety Advocate on a weekly basis. I appreciate all the comments and well wishes I received from readers. They mean a lot to me. 

I am still hopeful I will be able to attend some of the public-safety conferences this coming fall and I hope to see many of you at one or more of them. The past fourteen months of everything being virtual has been an interesting experience but it has slowed down some of the developments I expected to see for better communications and interoperability in the public-safety community. 

I also hope that as we all become vaccinated and are able to once again travel to conferences, we will get back on track and continue working toward being able to provide the public-safety community, and perhaps the critical-communications community, with more tools to aid them in both their day-to-day duties and during major incidents. 

When I look back to the start of FirstNet in 2012 and to The FirstNet Authority contract award for building out the FirstNet network only four years ago, I am amazed that so much has been accomplished in such a short time. There is much more to do and scores of people are working to advance the many aspects of public-safety communications. 

The ultimate goal is still for one Nationwide Public-Safety Broadband Network that every agency can use along with their own LMR networks. Hopefully, nationwide Next-Generation 9-1-1 will ensure that public-safety communications will not fall behind the technology or operability curve as it has for so many years before FirstNet and broadband services. 

Until next week…

Andrew M. Seybold
©2021, Andrew Seybold, Inc.


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