Public Safety Advocate Waiting for FirstNet

Fri Oct 14 11:12:00 2016

The news media appears to have started the countdown to November 1, 2016, when FirstNet plans to announce the Partnership winner. I am not so sure a final decision will be forthcoming on November 1, 2016. FirstNet has stated that its goal is to announce in early November, but several times members of the FirstNet C-level have said that there may, in fact, be circumstances that might delay the announcement.

Further, it is not clear, at least to me, that when FirstNet does announce the chosen Partner all of the t’s will have been crossed and i’s dotted. This is a complex system, and while the network will be built out on greenfield spectrum (band 14), chances are pretty good that the Partner will either be or have a nationwide operator and a number of rural broadband operators lined up as its partners. So while the network might be considered to be brand new, I have to assume that large portions will be additions to existing wireless broadband networks. Separate and apart from a commercial network’s existing LTE network there will be sharing of facilities where possible and practical, perhaps the same antennas, fiber, emergency power, and other aspects of a commercial network that lend themselves to being shared without impinging on the requirement for full Public Safety priority.

In addition to FirstNet’s announcement naming the winning bidder, there are many rapidly moving pieces to this evolving network. Many of these could directly impact the time it takes the FirstNet Partner to complete the basic network. Plans change as computer-generated coverage maps are sent to the field. A site may be deemed not acceptable, antenna placement less than ideal, or a tower already exceeds its rated wind loading. When this happens, FirstNet and the Partner will have to work out how to resolve the issues, how to keep the momentum going, and how to keep the project on track both from the Partner’s and Public Safety community’s perspective.

If each and every cell site change requires a change order to the contract or has to be approved “up the chain,” the network might never be built. There needs to be a reasonable way to move past the change orders and other things that could potentially delay the construction of the network. Hopefully, because LTE has been deployed by all of the major and most of the smaller U.S. wireless network operators, they have already dealt with the issues that plagued them when they started building out LTE. Things such as not being able to launch your own LTE network in a major city because city planners need to spend weeks and even months evaluating changing out antennas on towers or delays such as ordering a fiber circuit from your company or another and being told it will take three months to be installed.

In four or five years we will all look back at this coming November announcement and what led up to it and understand that was the easy part of this network’s deployment. While network construction is underway and states are deciding to opt in (hopefully) or opt out, there are many other things that need to be addressed, including:

• Multiple types of band 14 and other band-capable devices
• Vehicular repeater systems for extending the range of the network
• Satellite backhaul for additional rural coverage
• Training for those in the field and in dispatch and operations centers
• Multi-agency LTE interoperability, priority, and quality of service
• Much more

A great deal of work remains to be done by many different people and groups. I suspect that while I am at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference next week in San Diego there will be a number of sessions on FirstNet and about FirstNet. I also expect since there is little time between IACP and the November FirstNet Partner announcement date there will be many rumors flying around and lots of folks trying to coax those who work for and with FirstNet to spill the beans. However, there will be no definitive answers and rumors will continue until the announcement and FirstNet and the chosen Partner can begin working together in earnest.

We have all been through a long wait for this network, not only since FirstNet was formed in 2012 but years before that. After 9/11, Katerina, and Sandy, the public was made aware of the interoperability issues Public Safety has been facing for more than thirty years. The good news is that not only will FirstNet’s network help solve some of these problems but the Public Safety community has found ways to provide better interoperability on county, region, and even statewide systems. With the advent of FirstNet’s broadband capabilities, let’s not stop working to move our Land Mobile Radio systems toward more and better interoperability.

Andrew M. Seybold

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