Public Safety Advocate: T-Band, FirstNet Updates, Laptops and Tablets

First and vitally important to eleven major cities and their metro areas, both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have introduced bills cancelling the T-band (470-512) giveback. House bill H.R. 451 is one of the simplest bills ever introduced in the House and it is almost exactly the same as the bill that languished in the House last year. This bill that was sponsored by Representative Eliot, a democrat from New York, now has nineteen sponsors. Three are Republicans and sixteen are Democrats who are primarily from areas that will suffer badly unless the requirement to return the T-band to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for auction is overturned. The original bill is presently under the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. 

The Senate bill, S. 2748, contains the exact wording as the House bill. It was introduced in the Senate by Senator Markey, a democrat from Massachusetts. The bill currently has a total of four co-sponsors including Senators from NY, MA, and PA, all Democrats. After it was introduced in early October and submitted to the Committee on Science and Technology where it currently resides. 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which provides cost estimates for most bills, has not yet weighed in on this bill, however, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that is in line with the reports from National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) concerning the cost of relocating first responders in the eleven metro areas that currently have access to portions of the T-band. That is if there was any spectrum available for relocating these agencies. Based on FCC data, there is none. There is a bill in both houses of Congress, as there was last Congressional session, and NPSTC and the GAO have both stated that moving first responders off the T-band would be a very costly and, in reality, impossible task. 

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and first-responder agencies in areas where the T-band is in use have been working with Congressional staffers and their bosses to make sure they understand the seriousness of the consequences if these bills do not pass in both houses and are not signed into law. 

It is time for everyone directly or indirectly involved to make their voices heard. If you are a first responder in any of the eleven metro areas, you need to reach out to both your House Representative and your Senator. If you are not in an affected area but still want to make your voice heard, find your House Representative’s and Senator’s contact information here. This issue is extremely important and time is running out for these eleven metro areas and their suburbs. If we don’t win the fight to eliminate the T-band giveback, public safety might have to fight to keep the spectrum it has. 

This bill must be passed during this Congressional session. Make your voice heard now! More T-band information here.

FirstNet Status Update

From time to time, FirstNet (Built with AT&T) releases a set of figures that report the current number of users and agencies, along with information about the deployment of Band 14. In areas where Band 14 has not yet been built out, through use of all existing AT&T LTE and 5G spectrum, FirstNet access is available with all its pre-emption and priority rights, and with its FirstNet network core. Last week FirstNet updated this information:

This is more good news for FirstNet. Having more users and agencies signed up and using FirstNet means better communications between local, state, and federal agencies that are most likely on different portions of the public-safety Land Mobile Radio (LMR) spectrum. This also means first responders are able to use Push-To-Talk (PTT) and exchange data and video with other agencies—which was the goal when FirstNet was first conceived. Through the efforts of many people, legislation to create this network made its way through Congress, the FCC, and the Executive Branch, and FirstNet became a reality. 

The number of FirstNet-approved devices (75) is a great number and it is growing. In the early years of FirstNet, a major concern within the public-safety community was that most vendors would think there were not enough first responders to justify an investment in FirstNet. As it turns out, when AT&T won the FirstNet RFP and opened all its LTE spectrum to the public-safety community, and then announced it would be building out Band 14, device vendors decided this market could, in fact, support multiple vendors and a host of different products.

Of the 75 devices that have earned FirstNet approval, 29 are laptops and tablets. These products are coming from traditional notebook and laptop vendors including Dell, Apple, Samsung, and Panasonic, which pioneered the hardened laptop with built-in wireless. Several vendors including Getac and Zebra appear to have developed interesting products that are new to this market.

Of the 29 laptops and notebooks, more than half are tablets or notebooks than can be used as tablets by removing the keyboard. I see this as a strong start since I believe tablets in vehicles are the best devices for input, display, and availability to the first Incident Commander (IC) on the scene. Public safety knows all too well that the first ten or more minutes of a major incident are chaotic as responders report to the scene, traffic needs to be managed, fire hydrants need to be located, and determinations of whether any citizens are in danger must be made quickly. 

The more information the first-in IC has, the better prepared he or she will be. However, this information cannot be simply thrown up on a map all at once. It must be made available on an as-needed basis. Applications that build layers of information (just one example) for an incident appear to be best for organizing the data. These applications can be hidden or called forward as needed so they don’t clutter the screen with too much data. Some of the most important information for the first IC on the scene is who else has been called, where they are, and where they need to be directed upon arrival.

Other layers can show location of fire hydrants, perhaps a floor plan showing location of hazardous materials, and other information such as location of the main power shut-off. A layer could show the area surrounding the scene so the IC can request local law enforcement to block off streets or intersections. Videos of the scene from many angles and/or from UAVs can be provided. Most important, this layered approach to information organization could be set up so the IC can call up whatever is needed whenever he or she wants to see it. 

This information should also be capable of being sent to others on the scene or back to the Emergency Communications Center (ECC) using only a few commands or screen touches. Recently, there have been a number of contests around the country that pit bright and willing “coders” to work on applications that will make first responders’ jobs easier. The number of coders who come to these events is very encouraging because like the fear that the public-safety market was not large enough to interest device vendors, so too was a fear that good, solid applications might be few and far between since developers would never become rich writing them. As it turns out, developers are interested and we are seeing more and more great applications.

Seeing its success, venders that did not bid on the FirstNet project now want a piece of the pie. In their efforts to attract public-safety users, you may see new offers over the coming weeks and months. Expect to read about such things as free 5G wireless service, unlimited smartphone voice, text, and data, and more. The questions are if the vendor provides priority and pre-emption (one vendor says it does), what the data rates will be, if public-safety users will have a dedicated and secured network core, if users will have access to Band 14, if users will have free access to 4G LTE networks, if the vendor can provide the same level of services and customer care as FirstNet, and more.

Winding Down

Well, once again, issues I found to be of interest to the public-safety community have impacted my ability to follow up with product reviews. I am sitting on two devices from GPSLockbox, one that is mounted to a tablet in a vehicle to add PTT services, and one to put virtually any FirstNet-approved phone into a mobile configuration. I also need to update my Motorola LEX comments and I just received a new Kyocera phone and several devices designed to add more functionality. I will carve out a future issue to discuss FirstNet-approved hardware, it just seems both good and bad news keeps popping up to delay the device evaluations. 

It was interesting re-read some Advocates I wrote starting in 2010. I am using some of the material in our book, which is coming along all too slowly, and I keep finding more interesting details in articles I and others wrote prior to and during the early years of FirstNet. Hopefully, over the holidays I will be able to devote some serious time to the book. 

So far, I am planning on next week being my FirstNet device week. However, almost weekly, a lot happens in the public-safety communications space. These continue to be exciting times for first responders as more devices, applications, and FirstNet uses are being added. For example, the world of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones) is exploding within this community. Drones are being used to find missing persons, track vehicles from the air making high-speed chases unnecessary, deliver medical aid, and in many instances become the “first eyes on the scene.” 

Public-safety communications using broadband has certainly grown from the time when many commercial network operators did not believe it would be a worthwhile business segment to today when we have FirstNet and a few pretenders that did not have the foresight to become a part of the process. Today, these commercial network operators are quick on the trigger to complain and want to change something that is working well (FirstNet (Built with AT&T)). Network interoperability is real today using more than one vendor’s push-to-talk across networks for voice between agencies on different networks. 

Until next week…
Andrew M. Seybold

©2019, Andrew Seybold, Inc.

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2 Comments on "Public Safety Advocate: T-Band, FirstNet Updates, Laptops and Tablets"

  1. Nice column this week, Andy! Yes a lot is happening right now. I just heard that some Congressional Democrats have come out AGAINST the unlicensed 6 GHz plan, and bills are now moving in the House AND Senate to repeal the T-band give-up! Nice job!

  2. Dennis thanks and we need to get more from Congress to fully understand the ramifications of both the T-Band and the 6 GHz microwave spectrum. I just saw that WISPA is sending out a sample letter to members to get them to write to their Senators to get the unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum. This could be a really bad situation. As I have mentioned before if all users are licensed then you can identify which one is causing interference and work with them to mitigate it, if there are both licensed and unlicensed users in the band there is no way to know who is causing interference. The FCC does not seem to realize that point-to-point microwave vital to many services including public safety. As always thanks for your comments.

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