On Tuesday the week before Thanksgiving, I flew to Denver to speak at a FirstNet Association (FNA) event and on Wednesday I flew home. Then on Thursday, I started out on what became a two-day trek to New York City due to weather delays. When I finally arrived in NYC, it was late on Friday so I was only able to join the Radio Club of America (RCA) board of directors meeting for the last thirty minutes. This was my last board meeting and I regret I could not have been there for the entire meeting but stormy weather and flying don’t often go well together.
FirstNet Association (FNA)
The presentation I gave for attendees who came to hear the latest about FirstNet focused on coverage and the PowerPoint slides can be found here. The first slide set the level of expectations versus today’s progress. It shows that at present we are in month twenty of the contract between AT&T and FirstNet the Authority and outlined RFP-stated FirstNet milestones that would have to be met for the bidder to be compliant and on-track for building the network. When the RFP was developed, conventional wisdom was that a bidder would win the contract and deploy Band 14 (20 MHz of spectrum) for public safety over a five-year period.
Instead, when AT&T was awarded the contract, it provided public safety with full access to all AT&T LTE spectrum along with a plan to add Band 14 to its sites. The slide for month twenty states that at the end of twenty-four months of contract, “Achievement of 60% of contractor’s proposed Band 14 coverage in non-rural areas” should be complete. While only 60-percent of non-rural areas are required to be covered by Band 14 now, the FirstNet (Built with AT&T) footprint is much broader.
I did acknowledge that coverage goals had not yet been reached and suggested the following additional coverage is needed:
- Fill in dead spots (in process)
- Extend network overage (in process)
- Roll out Band 14 (in process)
Next came a discussion about rural coverage that is required of FirstNet, but that is more difficult to accomplish. Additional funding from the many government agencies could be used to augment the rural broadband coverage being provided by FirstNet, and there is a methodology in place to find the proper people within a county to drive this effort, work with FirstNet (Built with AT&T), and apply for one or more federal grants for which funding for rural broadband has already been set aside.
I hoped those in the room left with a better understanding about how and in what timeframe the FirstNet network is being built, FirstNet’s commitment to building it out, and the fact that in some cases, FirstNet can provide the basis for increased coverage in rural areas with other partners and funding.
Back to the RCA Event
On Saturday, I attended and presented at the RCA Technical Symposium that is held every year before the awards banquet. John Facella, a board member, works tirelessly to draw interesting speakers each year and this year was no exception. The first panel was led by Dr. Chip Cohen with presentations by Dr. Ted Rappaport of NYU and Jonathan Levine of Mobile Inc. The panel was entitled, “The Science and Technology behind 5G,” a subject that is very important not only for increased broadband speeds and capabilities for citizens but is also of great importance to public safety since FirstNet (Built with AT&T) has stated that public safety will have access to 5G as it is rolled out along with the LTE spectrum now in service for FirstNet (see below).
Dr. Rappaport has spoken previously about 5G and he, his colleagues, and students have worked extensively on 5G, including some amazing ways to extend the distance from a 5G cell. I was ready to learn more about 5G when Dr. Rappaport started by saying 5G was pretty well established and he wanted to introduce us to the upcoming 6G technologies. What followed was a look into the future as 6G is based on spectrum that no one ever thought could be used for wireless broadband as it continues up the spectrum beyond 5G into the 100-GigaHertz range and above. It was fascinating to listen to what may become possible right on the heels of 5G. His presentation is posted on the Radio Club of America website.
The youth presentation is one of my favorite parts of the Technical Symposium. Carole Perry organizes and runs these youth sessions and is a long-time RCA member and board member. Carole starts each year with a number of presentations by students at the Dayton Hamvention and then selects the best of the best to bring to this event. This year the two young adults who presented had both worked on and perfected a standalone digipeater. This device is self-contained, includes batteries and solar panels, and is easily deployable during disasters when there is a scarcity of communications. Having the ability to send and receive text-based messages when using this device can mean the difference between no communications and at least text-based messaging. The two students did a proficient job of explaining how they decided on this type of project, how they got it off the ground, and the results of real-time deployments. And they brought an actual unit for us to see. We need more students who are interested in communications. Thanks to Carole Perry and her support from the RCA, we are making progress.
There were many other panels and sessions of interest, and later in the afternoon I moderated a session that included panelists Mike Worrell from The FirstNet Authority, Mary Doherty from Motorola Solutions, and Roman Kaluta from JPS Interoperability. Since those attending the RCA sessions are not necessarily focused only on public safety and LMR but are interested in broadband, TV, satellite, and virtually all forms of wireless communications, the first few slides (presentation can be found here) walked through the history of FirstNet starting with Morgan O’Brien’s speech at an International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) event, followed by Chief (Ret.) Harlin McEwen’s early involvement and, as I pointed out, other members of the RCA who were also working on this project. Then we discussed FirstNet (Built with AT&T) coverage and ended up with a lively session of questions for the panelists who were able to answer all of my questions and those from the audience as well.
As part of the RCA Banquet each year, a number of awards are presented to deserving individuals and RCA elevates selected members to the level of fellow. This year was a special year for public safety. First, the Patron Award was presented to Robin Sorley. Tom Sorley was dedicated to establishing FirstNet and making it work. He passed away while still in his fifties and was a big loss to all of us who had worked with him. Robin Sorley, his widow, has continued his efforts by helping with the Tom Sorley fund, which supports the RCA.
Chief (Ret.) Harlin McEwen was called up to the stage to receive a special recognition award for his many years of service to both public safety communications and the RCA where he served as a board member for a number of years. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) always presents its highest award at this event and this year Sue Swenson was the recipient of the DeMello award. The banquet program listed Sue Swenson this way:
“For contributions to advancing public safety communications and the Nationwide Broadband Network known as FirstNet. Ms. Swenson has provided vision, leadership, and technological expertise in her roles with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). Largely due to Ms. Swenson’s leadership, the FirstNet Authority, in partnership with AT&T, is now delivering the long sought-after Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN).”
The tribute goes on but I don’t think it could reflect the amount of work Sue has contributed to public safety and her driving commitment to make this network a success. She is no longer on the board but still is and will continue to be involved because like many of us on this journey, service to the public safety community is now in her DNA.
It is interesting that only ten or so years ago there were pauses in the wireless communications business world during the summer and at this time of year. Those days are gone. A lot is happening, there are many moving pieces, and more departments are rolling out or evaluating FirstNet to see if it meets their needs. I used to know when I came home after the RCA event I would be home for the balance of the year. Today, I don’t know that for certain. Like everyone associated with the public safety communications community, we respond and go where we are needed, when we are needed.
Andrew M. Seybold
©2018, Andrew Seybold, Inc.