While AT&T is meeting—or on track to meet—all of its contractual network coverage and adoption milestones for FirstNet, the wireless carrier is still lacking several key oversight elements, according a report by the Government Accounting Office.
AT&T is required to provide a current master schedule to FirstNet monthly, but the schedule falls short of a reliable schedule per GAO best practices.
“FirstNet uses a quality assurance surveillance plan to evaluate AT&T’s performance,” the report read. “However, FirstNet still lacks a reliable master schedule to review, communication with relevant stakeholders regarding contract oversight, and meaningful information on end-users’ satisfaction to gauge performance quality.”
Public-safety officials were dissatisfied with the quality of information received from FirstNet, according to the GAO, which noted that FirstNet had communicated few details on AT&T’s progress or FirstNet’s oversight.
“The lack of information has left stakeholders speculating about what, if any, oversight FirstNet conducts; sharing more information about the oversight FirstNet conducts could improve public-safety sentiment for and support of the program,” the GAO report said.
On the positive side, AT&T met the first coverage milestone, which was 20 percent of nationwide coverage by March 2019, and it is on track to meet the first nationwide adoption milestone by March 2020. However, progress in coverage varies from state to state, and adoption targets have been exceeded in most states but lag in others. FirstNet officials say differences from state to state are allowable, because the most important milestones are nationwide.
The GAO Report (https://www.gao.gov/assets/710/704058.pdf) was issued as AT&T faces competition from Verizon for the public safety community as evidenced by its emotion-tugging Super Bowl commercial, which was “not about what 5G can do” but about qualities of a public safety personnel.
On Verizon’s website you can find out what 5G can do, such as real-time intelligence, immersive training exercises, remote asset operations, and on-site augmented reality, using drones, mixed-reality lenses, smart-city sensors and other latency-sensitive IoT devices — all with the help of Verizon’s 5G network.
“[First responders] need to be ready…with a communications network capable of supporting next-generation technologies. So equipped, first responders could potentially help protect and save lives in entirely new ways—and be response ready,” Verizon’s website said.
June 20, 2017 —
FirstNet and AT&T provided the states and territories yesterday with individual State Plans, according to a statement released by FirstNet, which include information that will help the governors decide whether their individual state will opt in to the AT&T-designed FirstNet network. If they opt out, the states can use a different vendor and design their own network that is interoperable with FirstNet.
Delivery of the State Plans comes three months ahead of schedule, according to the agency. The network will modernize public safety communications and provide first responders with technologies to help them save lives and protect communities.
The State Plans were released via an online portal. States and territories can spend up to 45 days to review the plans. The states and territories will also have the opportunity to exchange feedback with FirstNet before an official 90-day clock starts for each state or territory governor to make an “opt-in/opt-out” decision on its State Plan.
A governor’s decision to opt-in will open the door for FirstNet and AT&T to immediately begin delivering services to that state or territory’s public safety community. It’s a decision that will also drive infrastructure investments and job creation.
If the governors opt in, FirstNet and AT&T will:
Public safety networks, supported by an information and communications technology infrastructure, are critical to the safety of citizens and first responders everywhere. Implemented across high-rise buildings, campuses, tunnels, shopping malls, airports and parking garages, the public safety network operates as a shared inter-organization, an information technology (IT)-enabled system and a wireless network used by emergency services organizations.
As the United States faces increased terrorist threats and natural disasters, public safety networks are becoming more highly prioritized. Over the past decade, there has been a substantial increase in national, state and local legislation requiring minimum coverage standards for public safety communication systems. And various public safety agencies in the United States have joined forces to collaborate, communicate and share information in the face of major public safety incidents. In fact, many of these agencies are collaborating to design, develop and deploy information and communications technologies to assist first responders and support criminal justice, policing and homeland security endeavors.
In support of these efforts, in February 2012, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The FirstNet board of directors is composed of representatives from the public safety community, from local, state and federal government, and from the wireless industry.
Seamless and reliable communications coverage inside buildings is becoming more vital for public safety purposes, to the extent that some municipalities require public safety coverage in buildings before issuing certificates of occupancy. When an emergency occurs in a building, clear, crisp internal and external wireless communications is essential; it allows different rescue teams to communicate with each other when they are inside.
Public safety communication networks include hardened sites that will continue to operate during power outages or water events, and they are designed to continue to operate for as long as possible in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. To that end, in-building wireless solutions for public safety may include repeaters (bidirectional amplifiers) or active distributed antenna system (DAS) infrastructure to satisfy minimum legislative standards and new public safety building codes implemented by International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Public safety DAS guarantees maintainable communication among first responders during a crisis, enabling them to combine efforts and produce a more efficient response to emergencies. A reliable DAS makes a world of difference during an emergency, and organizations such as the NFPA support a more reliable, efficient and life-saving communication system for emergency responders. The NFPA requires 99 percent coverage in designated critical areas and 90 percent coverage in general-use areas. A DAS typically does not provide coverage for areas such as stairwells, except in locations where public safety communication networks are integrated.
According to NFPA, enclosures that meet National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Type 4 or Type 4x requirements must be used to house equipment such as radio and power systems to protect against dust and driven rain. All public safety enclosures must be painted red to resemble fire equipment.
The fire protection association also has requirements for system monitoring alarms. NFPA requires real-time monitoring of the system’s readiness, including alarm requirements for power and battery charger failures, signal booster trouble, antenna malfunctions and battery capacity. The system must generate an alarm when battery capacity falls to 30 percent.
Minimum signal strength is also important to the NFPA, which requires at least −95 dBm within the coverage area, regardless of the radio frequency. The International Fire Code (IFC) has the same requirement.
To keep the public safety radio system operating when power to the building fails — or when it is deliberately interrupted during an emergency to prevent injury to first responders — the code requires at least 12 hours’ worth of battery backup for equipment supporting the public safety radio system. The NFPA specifies that systems supporting the public safety emergency responder radio coverage must support future frequency requirements. Further, the NFPA stipulates an antenna isolation requirement of 15 dB higher than the gain of the amplifier.
Enhancing the Network
Indoor wireless signal strength, signal degradation and interference can seriously affect public safety DAS performance. Therefore, preparation is key. The near-far performance problem, for example, is inherent in conventional DAS networks. Near-far is a term used to describe performance and capacity degradation when a mobile device is operating within a DAS coverage area but is not serviced by the DAS. When it comes to installing public safety coverage in a building in which a commercial DAS has previously been installed, designers need to ensure that the commercial DAS network does not interfere with the public safety system.
Westell Technologies, a provider of in-building wireless, intelligent site management, cell site optimization and outside plant solutions, offers an in-building wireless system called ClearLink. This system mitigates signal degradation and subsequent performance issues caused by near-far performance reduction.
Public Safety Repeater
In February 2016, Westell engineered and introduced its PS51080 public safety repeater to satisfy the future efforts of FirstNet to deploy and operate a common nationwide public safety broadband network. The repeater meets the NFPA 72 requirement when installed with NFPA-compliant battery backup. Additionally, the repeater has antenna and signal booster failure alarming and a NEMA Type 4 red enclosure.
The Westell repeater lets customers install an in-building repeater that will meet the existing public safety communication regulations and that will also allow them to prepare for future mandates and nationwide network deployments for emergency and disaster preparedness communications. Like the Westell repeater, all new DAS repeater solutions should go beyond simply meeting today’s stringent industry requirements and offer high quality, reassurance and planning. These three aspects are crucial to public safety network success.
Rick Good is senior vice president of in-building wireless at Westell Technologies.
Select NFPA Requirements for Public Safety Coverage
June 21, 2016 — Since its inception, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has been focused on a single outcome — the successful deployment of a nationwide public safety broadband network for use by public safety personnel.
During emergencies, nothing is more important than delivering the right help to those who need it most as soon as possible. This includes man-made catastrophes such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, natural disasters caused by extreme weather such as Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, or daily incidents and emergencies.
Communications and information-sharing are critical to saving lives. Many times, law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics who risk their lives for others every day do so without the situational awareness that today’s advanced technology could provide them.
That’s where FirstNet comes in. Imagine if all officers could receive a photo of a person of interest rather than a verbal description, or if all ambulances could instantly provide real-time traffic data to the emergency medical technician with the fastest route to the hospital, while at the same time transmitting real-time medical information from the patient to a waiting doctor. The ability to transmit high-speed data, location information, images or video could make a life-saving difference for first responders and the people they serve.
FirstNet is working with states, territories, native American Indian tribes and first responders to ensure the establishment of a reliable, interoperable communications system for public safety. We’ve taken significant steps toward this goal, which would bring more innovative tools to public safety, but a tremendous amount of work still remains.
In December 2015, FirstNet announced its consultation approach for 2016. We moved quickly on this plan, meeting with 55 of the states’ designated single points of contact within the first five months of the year. We are also working with the states and territories to establish consultation task teams to help address key network policies such as local control, and we are meeting with key executives from each state and territory.
In January 2016, FirstNet took a major step toward the deployment of the network by releasing a request for proposal (RFP) to create a first of its kind nationwide public-private partnership. The objectives-based RFP resulted from years of stakeholder engagement with public safety officials, state governments and industry representatives.
Last year alone, FirstNet conducted an outreach to tens of thousands of public safety and private partners through more than 300 stakeholder events. We completed 55 state and territory initial consultations and collected detailed data from over 11,600 public safety entities representing 1.6 million personnel. Meeting with stakeholders and receiving actionable data from them allowed us to listen and learn about what they need most from the FirstNet network.
The RFP marked a major milestone for FirstNet, but there is still much work to be done. During the next several months, FirstNet will continue outreach with public safety and prepare for the delivery of state plans for radio access network deployment as early as mid-2017. FirstNet will also be assisting public safety incumbents through our spectrum relocation grant program, further developing network policies, and positioning our organization for the network partnership.
FirstNet has set the stage for a successful network by moving forward with urgency and listening to public safety. We are now much closer to having a nationwide public safety broadband network. It’s an ambitious goal, but an honorable challenge – FirstNet will strive to provide the best communications system possible to the men and women who respond to calls for help each day.
TJ Kennedy is president of the First Responder Network Authority.
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January 22, 2016 — Last week the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) released its final Request for Proposal (RFP), which establishes a public-private partnership to build, operate and maintain a standards-based LTE Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). Among other things, the RFP includes a national acquisition approach to building and operating the NPSBN.
FirstNet adopted an objectives-based approach in the RFP, rather than a traditional requirements-driven model. The RFP contains 16 objectives, including deployment and provisioning of a nationwide core network and radio access network, backhaul, aggregation, national transport networks and operation centers, apps, and a device ecosystem.
“Normally RFPs signal exactly what they are looking for,” Anna Gomez, partner Wiley Rein, said. “This RFP gives the bidders the flexibility to tell FirstNet how they would build out the network to meet those objectives. Additionally, the bids will hang on the ability to use infrastructure that the bidders already have, because the $6.5 billion FirstNet has to invest in the network is not nearly enough money to deploy a nationwide network.
FirstNet has a number of tools to make up for that budget shortfall. One of which is the use of 20 megahertz of vastly underutilized spectrum. In exchange for building out the network and annual payments totaling at least $5.6 billion over 25 years, FirstNet will allow the winner to use the excess capacity in the network, and collect payments from the public safety agencies.
“The spectrum has to be worth it for the bidder, minus the $6.5 billion, to build out the nationwide broadband wireless network,” Gomez said.
Proposals to the RFP are due April 29, and now the question is who will bid for FirstNet. No one entity can cover all 50 states and five territories, so there will be partnerships and commercial agreements to fill out the primary bid. AT&T has stated it plans to bid, and Rivada was very active in the FirstNet proceeding. Black & Veatch has been involved in helping states plan for FirstNet. Gomez believes there will be a play for smaller and rural companies as part of the coalitions.
“FirstNet will look at small business, and rural contracting as part of its review. There will be opportunities and incentives for regional and rural companies,” Gomez said. “Parties need to be talking to each other now. Look at the likely bidders. Talk to carriers, aggregators, tower companies and spectrum arbitragers about how you might participate.”
One of the complications of the RFP is that any state can opt out, which would lower the buildout cost and reduce the benefit of the spectrum and potentially delay the bidding process. So, instead of waiting the states to make their decisions, FirstNet required bidders to break down their bid state by state, in terms of costs and revenues.
“FirstNet will reduce reduce both costs and revenues from the winning bid, if a state opts out,” Gomez said. “That enables FirstNet to have a more accelerated awards schedule than I initially thought could be possible. I thought they would not be able to award until sometime in 2017 and instead FirstNet has announced a November 1, 2016, award date.”
Once there is a winning bid, FirstNet will go state by state to explain how the network would be deployed and how much money would be spent in the state, which will then have 90 days to make its decision to opt out.
“This way the state can make an informed decision on the benefits of opting into FirstNet and compare that with the cost of building out the network on their own,” Gomez said. “The state can’t opt out and not do anything. They are obligated to have an alternative plan for deployment of the public safety broadband network.”