Less than a year into the official Band 14 build, AT&T has added more than 50,000+ square miles to the nationwide LTE network footprint of FirstNet. AT&T and FirstNet are months ahead of schedule with already meeting 40 percent of the total rural and urban coverage targets the end of this year. The capacity of the network has been increase by 50 percent since the end of 2017 while simultaneously laying the foundation for a 5G future.
The added LTE coverage is a result of the ongoing network build initiatives to expand and enhance connectivity for consumers and first responders in both urban and rural areas on both indoor and outdoor sites.
Some examples of rural areas that are underway and currently benefitting from the network build include: the Black Hills of South Dakota, where nearly half a million people gather for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the farming communities of Tulare County, California, and tribal lands within the Chickasaw Nation in south-central Oklahoma.
In areas where coverage already exists, FirstNet is making sure first responders have the capacity they need to get the job done without interruption. Now, urban and suburban centers in markets like Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, among others, are getting a Band 14 boost.
In total, AT&T and FirstNet have deployed Band 14 spectrum in more than 500 markets further increasing the platform’s coverage and capacity across the country. The deployment touches 425,000 subscribers, which is a 60 percent increase in the number of subscribers since the end of October 2018, spanning more than 5,250 public safety agencies on FirstNet to date.
Taoglas has begun to market it Taoglas Response line of LTE antennas specifically designed for FirstNet applications, including the GuardianX , an 11-in-1 MIMO low-profile, adhesive-mount antenna, as well as the Synergy 9-in-1 MIMO screw-mount antenna, that deliver the best in FirstNet Band 14, LTE, Wi-Fi and satellite connectivity.
Adoptions of FirstNet, a dedicated (Band 14) nationwide broadband network for first responders in the U.S., continue to grow, driving demand for next-generation antenna technology to deliver the reliability and coverage needed to enable this crucial connectivity system. Key FirstNet applications include computer-aided dispatch (vehicle location), EMS electronic patient care reporting, vehicle-mounted RMS/citations/scanners, video streaming, and drones deployed by emergency services using FirstNet LTE.
“We’ve seen in the last six to eight months the rapid deployment of FirstNet in all types of first responder vehicles,” said James Bergner, fleet operations manager at ProLogic ITS, a premier first responder installer. “An excellent performing antenna is critical to the network.”
The Taoglas Response antennas are designed to work with FirstNet-ready routers from Sierra Wireless and Cradlepoint, with more to be announced in the future from FirstNet operator AT&T. The GuardianX 11-in-1 is the first low-profile, adhesive-mount, high-performing antenna to accommodate the Sierra Wireless MG90, with antenna combinations of 6 Wi-Fi, 4 LTE and GNSS.
“FirstNet is the go-to technology in the first response market,” said Ed Denmark, chief of police, town of Harvard, Massachusetts. “The performance of the antennas will be vital for optimum communications.”
Edward Parkinson has been named Acting Chief Executive Officer of the First Responder Network Authority following the recent resignation of Mike Poth, who had served as CEO since 2015.
Parkinson’s appointment was warmly received by the wireless industry, including the National Association of Tower Erectors.
“NATE congratulates Ed Parkinson on being named as the Acting CEO of FirstNet,” said Executive Director Todd Schlekeway. “NATE has worked closely with Mr. Parkinson for over four years and looks forward to continuing to collaborate with him moving forward. Ed understands the critical role wireless infrastructure and the industry’s technician workforce will play in the FirstNet build-out and is a great leader to hand the baton in order to ensure the network’s ultimate success.”
Parkinson joined the FirstNet Authority in 2013, after working on the House Homeland Security Committee for then Chairman Peter T. King. During his time with the committee, he drafted the initial bill that began the effort to create FirstNet. He was one of the first employees to join the FirstNet Authority, and served in a variety of leadership positions within the organization, most recently as the Executive Director of External Affairs. Parkinson led the organization’s outreach efforts that resulted in all 56 states and territories choosing to opt-into the FirstNet Network.
Mike Poth has resigned his position as CEO of the FirstNet Authority and accepted a position in the private sector. He will assist with transition efforts before leaving his position at the end of September. The FirstNet board will select a new CEO in coordination with the Department of Commerce, and in the interim, an Acting CEO will be named.
Poth guided the nascent organization through many stages, including issuing and granting an RFP to AT&T to build out the First Responders Broadband Network, gaining opt-in from all 50 states and territories for the design of the network, and the subscription of 1,500 public safety agencies to the network so far.
Poth has two decades of executive management experience with Hewlett Packard and Northrop Grumman in the technology sector, with expertise in business development and strategic and operational business planning. Poth is a former public safety official having served in police departments for 14 years, rising to the rank of captain.
In other news, the FirstNet Authority and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has reappointed Edward Horowitz to the FirstNet Board and named him Chair of the Board for a two-year term.
When any rule or regulation — from the highest law of the land on down — lacks unified standards or clearly defined guidelines, confusion and conflict soon follow. Anyone who has played a board game with someone who uses their own rules has no doubt experienced this, hopefully with grace and good cheer. But when the stakes are higher, the resulting turmoil has widespread implications.
That is the situation we have at present with public safety wireless communications. We have no nationwide standards — only a jumble of local standards and frequency bands (VHF, UHF, 800 P25). But over the next decade, that is all going to change.
The first standardized nationwide emergency responder network from the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) will use LTE high-speed wireless data communications technology in the 700-MHz frequency band and will eventually supplant the use of existing public safety frequencies. The FirstNet network soon will become available for use. This is a good thing, on the surface, but there are already challenges that will be caused by the network’s deployment.
New Opportunity, New Challenges
Initially, the FirstNet network will be deployed as a macro network. Although signals on FirstNet’s dedicated frequency, 700 MHz penetrate buildings better than signals at some higher frequencies, many midsize and large buildings will not be able to obtain the usable signal strength needed for indoor penetration and coverage.
Although the FirstNet network represents an attempt to unify the national public safety communications infrastructure, it doesn’t initially address specific in-building wireless communications needs. Despite the current use of lower frequencies (150 MHz to 850 MHz) to support public safety radios, many buildings experience insufficient radio coverage. Even at these low frequencies, building construction materials can block outdoor radio signals from penetrating indoors.
Underground areas, such as basements or tunnels, are impossible to cover from the outside, and energy-efficient buildings with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification that use low-emission windows that block exterior cell signals make matters worse. LEED-certified buildings already enclose 2.5 billion square feet, and approximately 45 percent of nonresidential building construction this year will be green (environmentally responsible and resource-efficient).
Many local governments mandate the use of in-building wireless communications systems for public safety wireless communications systems in buildings over a certain size, but even existing systems will be in for a revamp as the FirstNet network comes online.
In many instances, it will be necessary to rip out and replace existing public safety (or even commercial, in some cases) in-building wireless systems to facilitate the support of the network — and that means buildings need a system that works not just now, but well into the future.
Solving Challenges with DAS
A DAS network is one option for public safety agencies and building owners to use to ensure that they are ready for the FirstNet network and ready to meet current challenges of indoor coverage.
DAS comprises cabling, small remote units and antennas that are distributed throughout a building and linked to a central distribution hub. This hub in turn connects to the RF source used by the mobile operators. Through a DAS, the wireless signal is distributed to all parts of the building.
Because the signal used to support a DAS is separate from outdoor cellular towers, capacity is dedicated to the building, and because the cellular signal brought into the building is operator-provided and operator-supported, users receive a guaranteed level of service, as opposed to unguaranteed performance of a voice-over-Wi-Fi service, for example. Plus, calls can seamlessly hand off from the inside network to the outside network as users move from the inside to the outside of the building.
Six Qualities of a FirstNet DAS
When buying or upgrading an in-building wireless communications system to a DAS, make sure it has the basic functionality for use with the FirstNet network.
First, it should support 700-MHz FirstNet frequencies while still supporting existing cellular and internet of things (IoT) frequencies. In addition to the current lack of a unified standard, public safety wireless communications systems vary by city and county across the nation. Some systems use 150-MHz and 450-MHz frequencies (which penetrate buildings well), while others use 800-MHz frequencies (which do not).
A building might be using 150 MHz, 450 MHz or 800 MHz today, but when the FirstNet network arrives, the building will have to transition to 700-MHz frequency bands. It is probable that all these frequency bands will be in use until the complete FirstNet transition occurs, which may take several years.
A truly wideband DAS can support any frequency from 150 MHz to 2700 MHz. So it could support many different frequencies with a single layer of equipment, including the 700-MHz FirstNet network, as well as seamlessly supporting future services with no need for additional hardware, such as cabling or remote antenna units. This will simplify both deployment and maintenance while keeping costs down.
Second, it should use fiber infrastructure. Different fire jurisdictions mandate either coaxial cabling or fiber as the transport layer of a public safety wireless communications system. Although most public safety systems today employ coaxial cable, as commercial networks evolve toward fiber, and as FirstNet LTE can be most efficiently deployed on the same layer as commercial LTE, a public safety transition to more fiber is natural. Fiber ensures high signal quality and strength at each remote unit and often can make use of existing spare fiber in a building to connect the public safety wireless system.
Third, it must comply with fire, life and safety standards.DAS components should be certified for use in public safety deployments by the National Fire Protection Association and should comply with various international fire codes. They should be protected bythe appropriate enclosures to shieldremote units from dust, smoke and ash.
Fourth, it should offer a low total cost of ownership. Although a public safety wireless communications system is typically in the budget for new building construction, existing buildings will have to retrofit these systems to support FirstNet frequencies, and they will have to find the money to pay for them. Combined with the previously mentioned synergies with commercial deployments, it can further reduce the costs of deploying the FirstNet network.
Fifth, it must offer symmetrical performance. First responders must have a clear, strong signal wherever they are in a structure, especially in places where signal is not typically critical for commercial users, such as in stairwells and elevator banks. A DAS must provide a uniformly strong signal at every antenna.
Sixth, it must be future-ready.A DAS shouldsupport today’s and tomorrow’s public safety frequencies. Users should not have to install special remote units or modules to support one frequency or another, or upgrade remote units when the FirstNet network comes.
Moving Closer to FirstNet
The FirstNet network represents both a challenge and an opportunity. Many in-building wireless communications systems will have to be upgraded or deployed — some existing systems support other frequencies but not the new 700-MHz FirstNet frequencies, and some buildings lack any kind of indoor coverage.
There is a positive angle, however. As building owners begin looking at the technologies that will allow them to support the FirstNet network and comply with regulations, they have a chance to deploy a single, converged in-building wireless communications system that supports all wireless traffic.
Although the FirstNet network will take several years to roll out, getting ready now with a future-ready, full-spectrum in-building DAS is a must for ensuring clear and consistent radio coverage for both building occupants and first responders, both now and years down the line.
James Martin is vice president of operations at Zinwave.