By Richard Mirgon, Public Safety Consultant
Once again Verizon made the news and it’s not in a good way. It would appear Verizon (along with U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile) have overstated their 4G coverage in rural areas (https://allthingsfirstnet.com/fcc-wont-punish-verizon-and-t-mobile-for-exaggerating-their-coverage-maps/ ). However, this time it wasn’t to customers it was to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Commission decided not to penalize the carriers since there didn’t appear to be a “clear rule violation”. Well that may be, but I think most would agree, if you are going to provide false information to the FCC then it would put into question what other statements are you making that aren’t true. This is a great lead into what Verizon has been telling customers.
I am still amazed on a daily basis as to why public safety, assuming coverage is comparable, would select any carrier other than FirstNet as their public safety LTE provider. We all understand that coverage is king but there is a huge difference between FirstNet and any commercial carrier. With this being the end of 2019 let’s take a look at some of the things Verizon is telling public safety.
There is nothing special about FirstNet. Let’s start with the fact that FirstNet is an independent public safety network. Not a shared core and not some sort of routing scheme within an existing network. FirstNet has its own Public Land Mobile Network ID (PLMN). (For more info on PLMN ID go to https://allthingsfirstnet.com/fcc-wont-punish-verizon-and-t-mobile-for-exaggerating-their-coverage-maps/). That is what makes it your public safety network. Verizon is a commercially shared network that they are trying to push off on public safety as “the same” as FirstNet. Instead of building a dedicated network they made some software changes on their network and called it “the same.” It is that PLMN ID, the dedicated core and the spectrum that are part of the key to FirstNet being unique, independent and truly a fifth carrier.
Band 14 is “no big deal.” I keep hearing that from Verizon along with “oh, we (VZ) have Band 13 and it’s better.” Wrong again. First, public safety has Band 14 and the license holder is public safety via the FirstNet Authority. Band 13 is Verizon’s commercial band. It’s not better. All things being equal it has similar propagation characteristics but all things aren’t equal. Band 14 is the only LTE band authorized for high power. What that means is better coverage in building and out of building and that feature should be coming in the near future. Verizon can’t do that. Also, as I have said, you, public safety own Band 14. You, via the FirstNet authority decide how it is used, and that 25-year contract with AT&T along with the legislation controls, is part of how it can be used for the benefit of first responders.
There should be core to core interoperability. Verizon claims it’s needed and some of their sales people have gone as far as to tell customers you can’t even call a Verizon customer from a FirstNet phone. I could go on about this for pages but the short version is you can call, text, send files, and use apps across networks today and that include FirstNet. And to top it off, as I have said many times, Verizon is on the record with public safety and the FCC calling out why core to core is dangerous. To quote Verizon “While FirstNet may benefit from sharing some infrastructure, it should not share core network components (i.e., the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and Evolved Packet Core (EPC), as in doing so would undermine its ability to provide secure, high priority communications for first responders (https://allthingsfirstnet.com/a-verizon-recommendation-you-might-have-missed-one-firstnet-public-safety-core/).” I didn’t say that, Verizon said it, and they were right and many have agreed. So, don’t get sucked into this argument that core to core interoperability is good for public safety. Look at all the problems we have had trying to interop our own LMR networks.
Verizon has better priority. Wrong again. Let’s start with one key issue. Their version of priority exists within commercial network using commercial spectrum operating with a logically separated core. Look, this isn’t much different than sharing a thumb drive and being told you have your own directory. You may have your own files or directories but it’s still shared. FirstNet, once again, is public safety’s designed network and you own it. Your spectrum, your core, your network. Remember FirstNet is built to public safety specifications that came from months of hearings and input from public safety. For more information on the priority issues go to (https://allthingsfirstnet.com/true-priority-and-the-firstnet-network/). Also, to understand how weak their solution is all you need to do is read their literature. Words like “temporarily reallocate network resources” and “as needed” are all there in print (https://enterprise.verizon.com/resources/solutionsbriefs/2018/public_safety_preemption_sb.pdf). These sales statements without specifics should be troubling to everyone. For those who haven’t done a deep dive let me help you out. FirstNet’s Priority and Preemption are ALWAYS ON. Let’s face it. Whatever Verizon has isn’t what we in public safety would design. If we did it would look like FirstNet. Oh, that’s right we did set those specifications via the FirstNet Authority because it’s our network.
Future Guarantees. The Fact is with Verizon there are NONE. I can show you case after case where they have left public safety over the years because it didn’t fit their future business model. That is exactly why they no longer are in the NG911 business. That is why they discontinue cell service in some communities. (https://allthingsfirstnet.com/verizon-its-not-the-solution-its-the-problem-part-2/) AT&T has guaranteed FirstNet and public safety, service, growth, expanded cell coverage, new technology, and support for 25 years, with a binding contract.
Did Verizon bid? I am told again that there are Verizon sales people telling public safety they did bid on FirstNet. I would guess they say that to try and show their love and commitment to public safety. The fact is there is no record of them biding on FirstNet or participating with any other vendor who bid. If they did they need to stand up, say so and show the documented proof. This whisper campaign in private meetings to try and win over public safety might be working in some places but it isn’t true based on published documentation. Next time you hear this have the Verizon representative give it to you in writing.
Deployables. AT&T gets two thumbs up on cool factor and commitment as we bring 2019 to a close. As we can all see, the “FirstNet Built with AT&T Response Operations Group” is kicking butt with no time to take names. AT&T promised public safety deployables and they delivered. Just last week they announced their new aerostat airborne cell site known as “FirstNet One.” No hot air here! It’s all Helium designed for longer deployment and greater coverage. (https://allthingsfirstnet.com/reaching-new-heights-in-network-disaster-recovery/) If you are a FirstNet customer and need a deployable, just call, no charge, but you have to be a FirstNet customer. Yep, another plus and commitment met under the 25-year contract.
To wrap this up, let’s go back to my first point about Verizon filing inaccurate coverage reports with the FCC. Only Verizon can tell you why they did that but my view is that they didn’t think anyone would notice because there is no oversight. Just like their public safety offering, NO OVERSIGHT. FirstNet has a commitment and guarantee that they must deliver on. AT&T has shown in the last several years that they are committed to public safety and that the 25 year contract has made AT&T and Public Safety better. There are a lot of great people inside AT&T (https://allthingsfirstnet.com/reaching-new-heights-in-network-disaster-recovery/ ) moving the ball forward every day for public safety. They aren’t just innovating with deployables they are innovating with apps, devices, network technology, local control and dozens of other areas in support of you, the first responder.
When FirstNet has a good year, public safety wins.
Richard Mirgon is a Public Safety consultant focused on FirstNet. He is a Past President of APCO International and has over 35 years of public safety and first responder experience. For more information about the author please go to http://www.next-paradigm.com/about/
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this company or any company with whom the author may be associated.