Urgent Matters

MythBusters: A FirstNet edition

by Donny Jackson
Jun 27, 2017

Many things are being said about FirstNet, but not all of them are entirely accurate. Here's an attempt to clarify some potentially confusing statements that have been made about the much-anticipated nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

​Last week, FirstNet and AT&T released a plan for the proposed deployment of the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) in all states, triggering multiple timelines associated with governors’ decisions whether to accept the plan or pursue the “opt-out” alternative, which requires the state to build the LTE radio access network (RAN) within its borders.

There are a lot of items for state officials to consider as they prepare their governors to make this choice by the end of the year, as the best decisions will encompass all sorts of ramifications—legal, financial, political, etc. Hopefully, the ultimate decision will be driven by the answer to the primary question: What communications choice will best promote safety for our first responders and the citizens they protect?

These issues promise to be pondered for some time and will continue to be the subject of future columns in this space during the upcoming weeks and months. But there is a danger that some very legitimate topics do not receive the focus they deserve, because attention is deflected toward sources of information that are not completely accurate. These notions can distract governors and their staffs from the many legitimate items that should part of this important choice.

With this in mind, below is a list of some of the “myths” that are being shared about FirstNet, as well as my attempt to clarify/correct the information—“mythbusting” is a more common term today for such exercises.

This is not a complete list, and the items vary in significance, from the significant to the trivial. In addition, there are many types of myth: some are outdated pieces of information, some are misinterpretations, some are partial truths, some are rumors that just won’t die, some are errors of omission, and some are just wrong. Some are longheld beliefs, while others have surfaced just recently.

In no particular order, here are some of the notable myths about FirstNet that have been part of conversations during the past several weeks:

“FirstNet will be a data (or data-only) network”: This mantra has been repeated from the moment the law establishing FirstNet was passed—in fact, it was stated prior to the FCC’s failed D Block auction in 2008—and it continues to be repeated today by many, including executives at Motorola Solutions, which is part of AT&T’s winning FirstNet team.

As with many myths, there is an element of truth to the statement: FirstNet service initially will not support mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT), a standard that is scheduled to be implemented within FirstNet’s 700 MHz Band 14 coverage by March 2019, according to the FirstNet request for proposals (RFP). Of course, how long public safety takes to adopt MCPTT as a replacement to LMR radio systems—if ever—is a different matter and a subject that will be explored in future columns.

However, FirstNet officials have long stated that voice services will be offered on the NPSBN from Day 1. Most observers believe that the voice offerings initially will be used as a supplemental resource to LMR-based mission-critical voice, much like voice services from the now-defunct Nextel Communications once were used to provide non-mission-critical communications for logistical and support tasks associated with emergency responses.

But the future could include mission-critical voice communications across FirstNet. MCPTT is part of LTE Release 13, which is due to be operational in FirstNet by March 2019. At the very least, FirstNet is obligated to at least try to make mission-critical voice work over its network.

That is because, in the law creating FirstNet, Congress specifically tasks the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—in consultation with FirstNet and its Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC)—to conduct research that will “accelerate development of mission-critical voice” over LTE. Some MCPTT research projects were awarded federal funds this month and should yield findings during the next couple of years. Meanwhile, public-safety MCPTT solutions are being pursued in the United Kingdom and South Korea.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 6

AnonymousRadioNY (not verified)
on Jun 27, 2017

Please wake me up when its all over.. Nothing to see here except glorified cellular service and a tragic waste of publics money and time.

on Jun 28, 2017

This article brought to you by AT&T.

Mike Barney (not verified)
on Jun 28, 2017

Thanks for another poignant article Donny.
FirstNet is making good progress as states close in on the Opt-In / Out decision. I look forward to your next article, and to the Opt-In / Out session discussion at APCO in Denver.

98112 (not verified)
on Jun 28, 2017

The sad and tragic truth is that FirstNet is first and foremost about making a huge profit for one cellular provider. The Board has been stacked with conflicted insiders from day one. The whole process is under the Commerce Department not any direct public safety, intelligence, or military department. Talk about public safety being a priority is window dressing for the scheme, The entire FirstNet effort has been secretive, biased, and not in the best interest of any first responders. The foxes are in full control of the hen house. A total distortion of governance, and comprised of threats and arm twisting of the states.

on Jun 28, 2017

We need to keep our minds open about the FirstNet possibilities.
Are we stuck in our ways, unwilling to accept that the world of LMR is changing? Perhaps FirstNet might not work, initially for tactical or fire ground operations, but perhaps it would do well in dispatch operations. In time, it might be suitable for all operations. In the meantime, it might enable LMR users to improve their tactical and fire ground capabilities. If you look around many police and fire personnel are already making extensive use of their cell devices in performing their work.

With nation wide interoperability, the cost of LMR radio equipment going through the roof, and cell phone devices continuing to drop, how long before disposable ruggedized cell devices become the only solution especially for cash strapped users?

on Oct 8, 2017

The question for me is how can the nation keep pace with modern communications to include data and voice? The only way to make this happen is by jumping onto the LTE(Long Term Evolution ) train at some point so that the government is not held hostage by vendors overcharging for equipment that is tailored for a single market. Having space as needed for Public Safety while having subsidised operational cost should be good for many. Lets work out the bugs as we go.

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