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AT&T’s FirstNet Buildout to Put Band 14 on Tens of Thousands of Towers

The First Responder Network Authority has given AT&T the go-ahead to build out FirstNet, the nationwide public safety broadband network. This includes deploying public safety’s dedicated spectrum – Band 14 – across statewide radio access networks in states and territories across the country.

In the next five years, AT&T will be putting Band 14 on tens of thousands of new and existing sites nationwide.

“We are implementing the state plans and delivering on our commitment to first responders in each state and territory,” said First Responder Network Authority CEO Mike Poth. “We haven’t wasted any time in getting started. We plan to touch about a third of our cell sites this year alone.”

Band 14 is nationwide spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet, allowing dedicated priority access to and preemption.

“We’ll cover 95 percent or more of the U.S. population with Band 14, which will bring first responders access to even more coverage and capacity to help them support emergencies and day-to-day operations across the country – in rural and urban areas,” Poth said. “This is important as FirstNet will help to address rural coverage gaps, giving first responders greater access to the connectivity they need.”


FirstNet Public-Private Partnership Sees Momentum After One Year

As it turned one year old, FirstNet gave an update on its progress. More than 350 Agencies in more than 40 States and territories have subscribed to the nationwide public safety broadband network being built by AT&T in public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority.

“We’ve been working hard to build something great for first responders,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T-FirstNet. “While we have made strong progress, we still have work to do to create the specialized experience that public safety is looking for. To already see this kind of momentum from the public safety community is encouraging, especially since first responders in many states have only recently been able to sign up for service.”

The agencies using FirstNet make up nearly 30,000 connections on the network. These connections range from smartphones to in-vehicle modems and more.

“We’re just under a year into building out FirstNet, and the platform is already giving first responders access to critical capabilities they’ve long demanded,” Sambar said. “These include unthrottled domestic data speeds as well as access to priority and preemption.”

Evolved Packet Network Core to Come Online

AT&T said it is on schedule and only weeks away from launching its nationwide, dedicated evolved packet network core specifically for FirstNet, giving public safety a highly secure environment.

“Bringing the core to life has been a priority since March 2017. And we’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars behind its build. Creating a separate network core for first responders isn’t quick, easy or cheap. But it’s necessary,” Sambar said.

Built on physically separate hardware, the FirstNet core completely separates public safety’s traffic from all commercial traffic. It is encrypted from end-to-end, using FIPS 140-2 compliant VPN solutions. It will be monitored at all times by a dedicated Security Operations Center.  There will be multiple geographically distributed core sites nationwide for redundancy and performance.

The FirstNet core will connect into the state radio access networks, providing seamless interoperability from state to state.


AT&T to Launch Nationwide Mobile 5G in 2018

The race to 5G continues.

AT&T plan to offer mobile 5G to customers in a dozen cities, including parts of Dallas, Atlanta and Waco, Texas, by the end of this year. It will announce additional cities in the coming months.

The deployments will be standards-based, mobile 5G, according to AT&T, which is the only U.S. carrier that’s announced plans to deliver this ground-breaking technology to its customers in 2018.

“After significantly contributing to the first phase of 5G standards, conducting multi-city trials, and literally transforming our network for the future, we’re planning to be the first carrier to deliver standards-based mobile 5G – and do it much sooner than most people thought possible,” said Igal Elbaz, senior vice president, Wireless Network Architecture and Design. “Our mobile 5G firsts will put our customers in the middle of it all.

“AT&T continues to build the foundation of 5G. We initially launched 5G Evolution last spring and plan to offer this technology broadly by the end of the year. Additionally, last fall we launched LTE-Licensed Assisted Access (LTE-LAA) technologies in parts of Indianapolis and are now live in parts of Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

The carrier’s initial mobile 5G deployments this year will be based on 3GPP standards and operate over mmWave spectrum. It will use mmWave to provide mobile 5G in some areas, and then deploy the technology on additional spectrum bands.

“The way we are implementing 5G in the initial deployments will also seamlessly integrate with current LTE technologies using the non-standalone configuration outlined in 3GPP release 15. The equipment we are deploying today on our LTE network will allow us to easily migrate to 5G,” Elbaz said. “We believe 5G and SDN go hand in hand. A virtualized and software-defined network lets you develop, deploy, and protect new network applications faster than with a hardware-based model.”

The carrier plans to virtualize 75 percent of its network by 2020.  It reached 55 percent in 2017.


AT&T Launches Fixed 5G Trial in Waco, Texas

AT&T is kicking off its largest 5G fixed wireless trial in Waco, Texas, in terms of mobile traffic at the Magnolia Market at the Silos, a shopping district that features home décor, gifts, games, a garden store, food trucks and a bakery.

“This is a meaningful and important step in bringing our 5G fixed wireless trials to Waco starting with the Silos,” said Marachel Knight, senior vice president, technology planning and engineering, AT&T. “Taking our 5G tests out of the lab and into real, high-traffic environments like the Silos will bring a fantastic customer experience while helping us learn even more about building a 5G network of the future for both consumers and businesses.”

The 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) system will distribute connections throughout the location of the Silos via Wi-Fi. The 5G trial service will be distributed through a number of Wi-Fi access points covering the entire grounds of the Silos, and it is expected to enable faster wireless speeds not just for visitors, but for employees and vendors who use mobile point of sale devices and wireless devices to manage their back-office operations.

“At Magnolia, we’re always looking for opportunities to implement innovative solutions,” said David Washburn, information technology manager, Magnolia. “We’re excited to see how this technology enhances efficiencies for vendor partners and employees alike.”

“The trial with Magnolia helps drive a path for businesses of all sizes to have access to massive capacity via 5G to serve their employees and their customers in ways we couldn’t have even dreamed of just a few years ago,” Mo Katibeh, chief marketing officer, AT&T business, said. “During 5G trials in Waco, AT&T will be testing mmWave spectrum and 5G radio and antenna prototypes. We’ll will use our network function virtualization platform, AT&T FlexWare, as the router for the 5G network.”

The 5G trial will be expanded to additional participants including small businesses, residential customers, churches and large educational institutions.

“It’s important for us to conduct 5G trials like this one and to learn how these technologies function in a real-world environment and help drive outcomes for businesses across all industries,” Katibeh said. “Results from these 5G trials will help speed up standards-based 5G deployment as soon as late 2018.”

Edge Computing Could Help Both Carriers, Tower Owners

By J. Sharpe Smith

Edge computing is becoming part of the network conversation as more companies go public with their solutions for wireless communications. Placing data center infrastructure, i.e. content, at the edge of the network will give immediate access to the internet to billions of mobile devices, such as smartphones, medical devices, industrial controls and IoT sensors.

But that vision of the future goes out a few years.

What carriers need right now is a way to cut their backhaul costs which have risen because of the increased traffic caused by unlimited data plans, Greg Pettine, founder and EVP of business development, said in a phone interview with AGL eDigest.

“The [carriers] know that if they can get some of the content out beyond their core data centers out to the wireless edge, they can significantly maintain their operating expenses regarding fiber to the tower. That’s big,” Pettine said.

Also important to today’s carrier operations is the performance of the network, which can be negatively affected by traffic congestion. “The [carriers] have admitted to throttling back users of certain applications, such as YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon,” Pettine said. “This results in churn, which they don’t want to happen.”

EdgeMicro’s answer to the traffic congestion problem is to locate the data from these websites in a micro datacenter positioned at the cell site or a central office or a mobile telephone switching office. Then, when a data request comes into the tower, the system redirects it to the micro datacenter to get the data, instead of backhauling it to the regional data center.

The organizations may take advantage of storing data in a micro datacenter because they are the ones driving the most content across the internet. Those companies including Facebook with Facebook Live; Instagram; Google with YouTube, Akamai Technologies, which is used by the ad networks; Amazon and Netflix.

Data traffic in EdgeMicro’s network-neutral micro data centers is managed by a technology known as Tower Traffic Xchange (TTX), which is a Local IPAccess (LIPA) solution that combines all the necessary LTE network components into a single, low-power, collocated appliance.

EdgeMicro gave a preview of its TTX and micro data center at the Competitive Carriers Association’s (CCA) Annual Convention earlier this year in Fort Worth.

The company’s medium-term plan is to deploy at 500 tower sites in the next five years. First, 30 micro datacenters will be deployed at busy multi-tenant towers that serve 100,000 people in the next 18 months in tier-two cities, which don’t have a lot of backhaul, content or ISP peering.

“That will provide us with the data to proliferate our micro datacenters,” Pettine said. “EdgeMicro’s prefabricated micro data centers will be deployed at ultimately thousands of cell towers globally.”

EdgeMicro’s collocation model is based on an 8-foot by 20-foot container with six racks. A quarter rack would be sold to each content provider, which works out to 24 customers in each container.

“We are in various stages with the [carriers], introducing it into their labs for testing. Ultimately, they need to start field test the acquisition of data,” Pettine said.

Micro Datacenters: Good for Towers?

What is in it for tower companies? Providing micro datacenters will make towers stickier, reducing carrier churn. Tower companies would make good strategic partners and could fund the effort as an alternative cash flow.

“Tower companies get increased rent and have the potentially to be strategically aligned in bringing in innovative cash flow,” Pettine said, “But they don’t know anything about data centers and that is where we come in. We understand the collocation model from a datacenter perspective: the cost-to-build and opex.”

Tower companies have already shown an interest in micro datacenters. For example, Crown  Castle International is a minor investor in Vapor IO, whose Project Volutus enables cloud providers, wireless carriers and web-scale companies to deliver cloud-based edge computing applications via a network of micro data centers deployed at the base of cell tower sites.

“The cloud of the future will extend past today’s large, centralized data centers. The next generation cloud will follow your car. It will follow your phone. It will follow your sensors. It will be distributed and data driven and everywhere,” Alan Bock, vice president of corporate development & strategy, Crown Castle.

Vertical Bridge announced in late September that it has partnered with its sister company DataBank to host edge computing at the base of cell towers. Additionally, AT&T has announced it also has micro datacenter plans.

One pundit has claimed that the Cloud is “dead.” While that may be an overstatement, the global market for micro data centers is certainly alive and projected to be $8.47 billion by 2022, according to a report on MarketstoMarkets Research.

J. Sharpe Smith and the senior editor of the AGL eDigest. He joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: ssmith@aglmediagroup.com.

Florida Cell Towers Show Marked Resiliency

By J. Sharpe Smith

A temporary cell site rises above a crumpled tower on Marco Island, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico off of southwest Florida. (Photo: Verizon)

In face of the most powerful storm recorded in the Atlantic, the tower industry showed that it could take a punch and come back swinging.

Just five days after Hurricane Irma blew through Florida, Verizon’s network stood firm, with close to 97 percent of its facilities in service.

“Our network engineers have been working around the clock to restore service and make repairs to the network, and they won’t rest until the remaining 3 percent of sites are back serving customers,” Russ Preite, Verizon president – southeast market, wrote in a blog post.

The reason cell towers performed so well in the aftermath of Irma has to do with a corporate culture at Verizon that stresses preparedness, according Christopher Desmond, principal engineer for Verizon’s network and in-house drone expert.

“We have a formalized response to adverse weather preparedness with generators, backup generators, and partnerships with refueling and with drone companies,” Desmond said. “We devote an enormous amount of attention to resiliency and redundancy. We elevate equipment, shelters. We ruggedize antennas, electronics and towers, so the network will be available as the area recovers.”

As the storm approached, refueling and drone teams were staged and ready to go. Concrete and steel reinforced “super switches” across in Florida, built to withstand a CAT 5 hurricane, stood ready to keep the system on the air.

Hurricane preparations are a nationwide effort. Verizon brought personnel from South Carolina to support Florida and from Louisiana to support Texas. Network personnel were flown from California to the New York metro area back when Super Storm Sandy hit the Atlantic seaboard in 2012.

“Our Verizon technicians and personnel on the network side support each other across the country in the wake of any event,” Desmond said. “They were able to restore the network in record time.

Verizon’s long-term preparation with power generators and refueling allowed the majority of its cell sites to remain in-service without commercial power. In some cases mobile generators and temporary solutions were deployed for service. Microwave technology was also added where fiber was temporarily interrupted to some cell sites.

“We had hundreds of towers on generator or backup battery power at one point, but still providing service to our customers. That too is in the teens. The network resiliency is a testament to the team’s ability to go out and effect repairs,” he added.

Verizon continues to support government officials and first responders with ongoing recovery efforts statewide, as well as those in the community who need assistance with charging devices and Internet access.

AT&T Responds to Irma with Equipment, Personnel and Support for Public Safety

AT&T Response Team (Courtesy AT&T)

To restore communications after Hurricane Irma blew through Florida, AT&T deployed 3,000 personnel, 14 cells on light trucks, three emergency communications vehicles providing satellite-based VoIP, Ethernet and Wi-Fi service. The effort also includes mobile command centers, hazmat response vehicles and charging stations.

AT&T is supporting the more than 15,000 public safety responders to Hurricane Irma with priority communications through Dynamic Traffic Management. “We have firemen coming in from across the country and without our communications lines they cannot talk to each other. They are relying on our cell service,” one AT&T employee said. “If we are not placing the strand and cable in the air, no one’s got communications.”

One portable cell site is stationed at the state emergency operations center (EOC), two are positioned in Naples to specifically support public safety and another four of the portable cell sites have been deployed to the Florida Keys. Network assets are also being staged at a local EOC in Miami-Dade.

Even as Hurricane Maria and other events shift the nation’s focus, AT&T, Verizon and others will continue on helping the local populace pick up the pieces, according to Joe Nergon, AT&T Technical Field Services.

“We got a lot of work to do. Hurricane Irma was a huge hurricane,” Nergon said. “We are starting down here and we’re going to move to as many neighborhoods as we can to get this restored for our customers.”

J. Sharpe Smith is senior editor of the AGL eDigest. He joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.