Next week’s issue marks twelve years since the first Public Safety Advocate was published. Because we will be out of town for meetings, we won’t be here to publish the June 6, 2022, anniversary issue. Considering the circumstances, I thought it might be interesting to take a trip back in time and see what the hot topics were for the public-safety community as we progressed to where we are today.
Prior to starting the Public Safety Advocate, I irregularly posted articles to two different columns on our website (not every week). The first column was called, “Tell It Like It Is,” and the second was “Commentary by Andrew Seybold.”
My last Commentary was published on December 7, 2009, and the title was, “Public Safety Needs Your Help.” The first two paragraphs read, “As you know, the most significant issue for the public safety community is the lack of interoperable communications during a major incident. This has been a problem for at least forty years but was finally brought to the attention of the general public during and after 9/11 and then Katrina. Some progress has been made in solving many of the problems that plague the public safety community, but not enough.”
The article continued, “The public safety community, many of the private sector network operators, rural power, and Telco companies have proposed the following:
Remove the D Block from the auction pool and assign it to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (holder of the current public safety license) to provide public safety with 20 MHz of spectrum rather than the 10 MHz now assigned.
a. This spectrum will be needed in most urban areas on a full-time basis and will provide the public safety community with better access to information needed in the field. In rural America, it will be used as part of the shared network mentioned above.
b. This will require action by Congress to remove the spectrum from the auction pool.
The FCC then needs to
a. Permit those who have filed waivers to start building their pilot and test systems.
b. License the D Block to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST).
c. Provide the PSST with the mechanics to allow access to the spectrum by the regions, states, and cities that have committed to build the network in their area.
d. Charge the PSST with responsibility for the integration of all of these networks into a common nationwide public safety network.”
As you can see, we were just initiating our efforts to persuade both Congress and the FCC to re-allocate the D Block (10 MHz of spectrum next to the 10 MHz already licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust). I ended this last Commentary with these closing remarks:
“Between now and February 2010, you have the opportunity to make the public safety nationwide wireless broadband network a reality. But time is short and there is much to be done. By way of this letter, I am asking that you treat this issue with the priority it deserves.”
That was my last “Commentary” before I changed the name to the “Public Safety Advocate.” This change in the name also marked a change in my focus from commercial and public safety clients to concentrate on the public safety community.
As things progressed, we found that not only were several commercial broadband operators not willing to support our efforts to acquire the D Block for public safety, some within the FCC itself were not in favor of what we were trying to do either.
During the month of June 2010, the FCC issued a white paper followed by the FCC’s release of its broadband report. Among other things, the white paper stated, “The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has performed a technical analysis of the capacity and performance of the public safety broadband network assuming that the National Broadband Plan recommendations concerning this network are implemented. This analysis includes examining different emergency situations based on actual experiences and as submitted in the record of the National Broadband Plan. This analysis shows:
- The 10 megahertz of dedicated spectrum allocated to public safety in the 700 MHz band for broadband communications provides more than the required capacity for day-to-day communications and for each of the serious emergency scenarios set forth below.
- For the worst emergencies for which public safety must prepare, even access to another 10 megahertz of spectrum would be insufficient. Accordingly, priority access and roaming on the 700 MHz commercial networks is critical to providing adequate capacity in these extreme situations. Moreover, priority roaming is a cost-effective way to improve the resilience of public safety communications, along with its capacity, in a way that a single network cannot provide.
- The capacity and efficiency of a public safety broadband network will far exceed the expectations of someone who has only experienced narrowband land mobile radio (LMR). This is because of the system architecture, density of cell sites, density of cell sectors per site, network and spectrum management, and the use of new and emerging technologies.
- Public safety can make more capacity available when and where it is needed by using all of its spectrum resources appropriately and effectively, no matter how much spectrum is available (e.g., use the 700 MHz band for mobile devices and other frequency bands for fixed devices).”
Note: This white paper was authored by a PhD on loan to the FCC from a well-known University and it should also be noted that neither he nor any other FCC personnel involved with this report had actually taken a ride-along with any public-safety agency.
As you can see, the FCC’s own Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau was trying to prove that public safety really did not need the “extra 10 MHz” of spectrum we believed were needed. However, things sometimes have a way of working out. In this case, my company was approached by the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority (EBRCSA), which was in the process of having Motorola install and test a 5X5 MHz broadband network as authorized by the Public Safety Spectrum Trust.
We were asked if we could run tests on this very early network installation north of San Francisco and we agreed. We put together a set of tests measuring bandwidth and capacity and then ran real-world tests using video and data streams in both directions. We ran a large number of tests close to the center of the cell sites, in the middle of their coverage areas, and then again at the very edge of their coverage.
Capacity-white-paper report, which can be found here, clearly indicated that the FCC was looking at broadband spectrum usage of commercial systems where traffic is generally spread out among a number of cell sites. Most of public safety’s spectrum needs are clustered around a single cell sector or cell site. Thus, network capacity for public safety should be calculated based on how much capacity is available for public safety as compared to commercial use.
Once the report was written and delivered, the FCC stopped trying to prove public safety did not need all 20 MHz of spectrum and moved on to other ways to try to “prove” that public safety was “over reaching” in its request for more spectrum.
The public safety community and “friends” of the public safety community continued to work tirelessly toward the goal of a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. Their efforts paid off in February of 2012 when the then president of the United States signed the bill that created the FirstNet Authority and started public safety on its way to seeing the results of many years of work.
I will end this week’s look back into the history of FirstNet with several paragraphs from the March 26, 2012 Advocate:
“Now that the 700 MHz D-Block has been reallocated to Public Safety to provide a total of 20 MHz (10X10 MHz) of nationwide broadband spectrum, funding, and a new governance organization, how do we measure the success of this new network? I believe it is important for there to be a way to measure the level of success as the network is built and put into operation for both those who doubt the networks’ viability and those who might be interested in forming public/private partnerships.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced the membership of a committee to define the requirements for interoperability that need to be incorporated into the network. Once this task has been completed, the FCC will review the resultant recommendations and if it agrees with them it will forward them to the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) for use by the new governance organization known as FirstNet. I hope the FCC and the committee will draw on all of the great information that came out of the Waiver Recipients Working Group and several of its broadband committees within the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO International) with its Broadband Committee. Thousands of hours of work were put in on the FCC charter, especially with the short deadline the law imposed on the FCC. In my mind, it would be counter-productive not to make use of all of the information that came out of these efforts.”
“FirstNet has its work cut out for it in the areas mentioned above and many more. There is no way that those who authored the bill could have addressed all of these issues as well as others that will pop up once the system is underway. The bill could have been ten times longer and still not have covered all of the issues that will need to be dealt with. Therefore, it will be up to FirstNet to move forward and I hope its members will keep in mind that the goal here is to build the first ever, fully-interoperable, mission-critical broadband network for public safety.
There is no doubt in my mind that this group will have to be made up of very dedicated individuals with a broad range of knowledge including public safety requirements, network technologies and capabilities, and, of course, the financial aspects of getting this done. It will be a daunting task and the public safety community will need to stay unified in its effort to help FirstNet accomplish this goal in the fastest, fairest, and most financially sound way possible. I look forward to learning who is on the FirstNet board and how they plan to move forward. They will, in large part, determine the success or failure of this network. We cannot allow it to fail and I trust they will fully understand that as well.”
It goes without saying that the number of public-safety professionals, and many, many others, helped us reach the point at the end of this Advocate for this week. If you are interested in following more of the progress, delays, and successes of FirstNet, you can look back at all of my Public Safety Advocates on allthingsfirstnet.com. If you want to go back further, my earlier columns and blogs are archived at andrewseybold.com.
Public safety, FirstNet (Built with AT&T), the FirstNet Authority, the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) and the FirstNet board of directors started where my narrative left off. What FirstNet has become, how many agencies and individual users there are on the network, and the results so far are a tribute to everyone who put in so much effort along the way.
Fast forward to June 2022, FirstNet (Built with AT&T) is nearing completion, AT&T is adding 5G access, there are hundreds of approved FirstNet devices and applications, and as of the end of May, there were more than 3 million active users on the network. A lot of hard work was put in by lots and lots of people who understood that this endeavor is about public safety, the customer, and this network is being built specifically for public safety.
Back in two weeks…
Andrew M. Seybold
©2022, Andrew Seybold, Inc.