FirstNet aims to save money via 'operating partners,' issues RFI

Sue Swenson, board member of the First Responder Network Authority, made a pitch justifying the independent authority's reason for existing, noting a National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) will enjoy cost savings on devices and infrastructure.

Early Builders Making Progress

Source: FirstNet

There were only 2 million public-safety users on 10,000 uniquely managed networks in 2010. That means there were only 200 users on average per network, causing the cost per public-safety user to be some 20 times that of the average commercial mobile network customer, said Swenson during a presentation delivered at the Competitive Carriers Global Expo in New Orleans.

Interestingly, her comparison divided the full 300 million commercial mobile users in 2010 among only four networks--apparently referring to the four national operators: Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T), Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA.

Swenson also addressed "perceptions and reality," attempting to counter arguments that FirstNet will strip local public safety officials of autonomy and control and that the 700 MHz (Band 14) LTE NPSBN will cost too much to build and operate.

Although FirstNet will build a nationwide platform, public safety will set rules locally and maintain local management, she said.

Regarding costs, "FirstNet has substantial opportunities to partner to lower construction and operating costs," said Swenson. The authority will work with "operating partners" to lower construction and operating costs, yielding a lower cost of ownership to public safety, she added.

Update on FirstNet Next Steps

Source: FirstNet

Numerous vendors and public-safety officials have contended the board is not being transparent in its dealings, but Swenson sought to assure event attendees that FirstNet will make the NPSBN a collaborative effort. The authority's goal is to "finalize network design after full consultation with states/local entities and operating partners," she said.

According to Swenson, FirstNet will build a standards-based LTE platform; define the RF engineering (RAN Plan) and network core requirements; test and evaluate preemption technology; explore options for working with operating partners; understand coverage requirements by state; and define hardening requirements for public-safety-grade reliability.

Seven Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) public-safety projects continue to make progress in their LTE network planning, she indicated, noting negotiations remain on track for completion in May. 

FirstNet holds the single license for 700 MHz Band 14 public-safety broadband spectrum, which is why a lease agreement with each BTOP grant recipient is necessary to enable the BTOP projects to move forward using that spectrum. The seven projects were brought to a halt last spring when funding was partially suspended by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees FirstNet and was concerned that the BTOP projects might not be interoperable with the NPSBN.

In her presentation, Swenson also noted that simply using commercial 3G and LTE networks for public-safety communications is not acceptable because commercial carriers cannot offer priority or cost protection.

That issue was also addressed in a recent tech brief published by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC). "Although public safety regularly use cell phones, smart phones and other commercial wireless devices and services as a secondary form of communications, these devices and systems are currently not sufficiently suited for public-safety mission critical voice communications during critical incidents. Public-safety officials cannot depend upon commercial systems that can be overloaded and unavailable," said the document.

The document also argues that public-safety land-mobile radio voice systems must be maintained while the NPSBN is being built out because "the network will not be able to initially provide (for many years and maybe never) the mission critical level of voice service and dependability needed by public safety."

In related news, FirstNet this week issued a request for information seeking details about smartphones, tablets, applications, text and video messaging, security, device management and more from vendors that have demonstrated experience with public-safety-quality products.

According to the RFI, the NPSBN will initially focus on data applications but eventually will offer an alternative to the land-mobile-radio networks common among first responders.

Our sister publication FierceMobileGovernment reports that the RFI includes a spreadsheet for vendors to complete with separate tabs to gather information on smartphones, routers, apps, privacy and other types of offerings. The tab for smartphones lists dozens of questions about processors, sound, software, batteries, voice services, Bluetooth and accessories. Applications will come from either a commercial app store or a FirstNet app store, on top of the set of built-in apps on each device, said the

FirstNet will accept RFI responses until May 31.

For more:
- see this FierceMobileGovernment article
- see this NPSTC Web page
- see this Mission Critical Communications article

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