The proposed nationwide 700 MHz broadband public safety network to be established by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) promises to bring together companies from the different areas of the wireless industry, including cellular carriers, utilities and public safety entities. In one of the first of such alliances, wireless engineering giant Black & Veatch is teaming with public safety insider The Digital Decision (TDD).
Together Black & Veatch and TDD will offer governance, planning, network design, financial modeling, program management and implementation services to state and local governments, Paul Miller, Black & Veatch vice president of telecommunications, told AGL Bulletin.
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to establish a single, nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network. Congress earmarked $7 billion for network deployment, as well as $135 million for new state and local grants administered by NTIA.
The development of a nationwide public safety network is a daunting goal that requires unprecedented cooperation between various state and local first responder organizations, not to mention cellular carriers, utilities and equipment vendors.
“The initial money, $7 billion, earmarked for this project will not fund an all-new build out for public safety,” Miller said. “[Public safety] will have to leverage existing assets, maybe from the carriers and utilities or other entities in addition to what they already have.”
Along with infrastructure sharing, public safety may achieve advantages in sharing the 700 MHz D-block spectrum with cellular carriers and utilities, especially in rural areas. Public/private partnerships are being studied as a possibility.
“The key is providing priority access for public safety communications. They will want and need that. Will that be tolerable for carriers and utilities?” Miller said.
Partnership Unites Industry Players
Black & Veatch brings to the partnership a focus on the other side of the planning process — doing asset inventories of the current public safety communications infrastructure and analyzing how public safety communications can best be transitioned to an LTE broadband network.
“Initially, we will need to perform conceptual design, some planning and estimating of what it will take to get them from what they have today to the FirstNet nationwide broadband network,” Miller said. “We are trying to leverage our nationwide footprint that we have achieved through working with the carriers. Also we have experience and skills designing and implementing robust, hardened networks with utilities and public safety.”
With states having the choice whether to opt in or out of the FirstNet, one of the first orders of business will be to convince them of the benefits of being part of the network. States and their local partners will need to be informed about financial, regulatory and general network factors. TDD has experience developing and negotiating statewide public safety broadband network governance models among all 57 counties and the State of New York, as well as among the State of Louisiana and Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
“TDD has helped different entities, including states, set up agreements and MOUs that will support interoperable networks. They have that background and we felt that was a gap for us at Black & Veatch,” Miller said. “With FirstNet’s near-term focus on the state planning process, we felt like we needed a teammate that had that experience from putting organizations together, the governance models and outreach. TDD is known for those activities. We thought it was a good team to put together.”