FirstNet may soon decide fate of suspended BTOP-funded networks

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) got down to business at its second board meeting with a full agenda that included laying the groundwork for an impending decision on how jurisdictions that received federal grants can move forward with their public-safety LTE deployments as well as addressing the types of devices and applications that may be available for the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN).

A major topic on the agenda was the future of LTE rollouts by jurisdictions that were previously awarded Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grants but were told in May to rein in their deployments by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department charged with overseeing FirstNet. NTIA put the brakes on $380 million in federal grant funding that had been earmarked to help local jurisdictions roll out public-safety LTE networks using 700 MHz spectrum leased from the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) because it feared the networks those jurisdictions were planning might not be compatible with the future NPSBN.

Device Classification and roadmap

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Board member Ed Reynolds provided an update on some of the grantees' deployment efforts. He said Adams County, Colo., has four sites that could begin operating within a month of receiving permission. Reynolds added that Mississippi has 134 sites for its planned LTE network that could support other tenants but cannot until approval is received from FirstNet, according to MissionCritical Communications. Reynolds indicated FirstNet could make a decision on the BTOP networks' fate in January.

"I think one of our issues over the next few months is to get these things resolved," Sam Ginn, FirstNet board chairman, told RCR Wireless.

Wellington Webb, FirstNet board member and former mayor of Denver, as well as Chuck Dowd, FirstNet board member and deputy chief of the New York City Police Department, each indicated that letting BTOP recipients move forward with their planned networks could be a crucial step in ensuring local cooperation on the nationwide network.

The Adams County network could be particularly helpful in testing and evaluating technical solutions given its proximity to the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) team in Boulder, Colo., noted Craig Farrill, FirstNet board member and acting general manager.

Peters Suh, CEO of the Wholesale Applications Community, made a presentation to the board describing what FirstNet can learn from the existing device and applications ecosystem.

Citing a device classification scheme and roadmap, Suh noted cited four main device types for the nationwide 700 MHz Band 14 public-safety LTE network: commercial, mainstream portable, mainstream in-vehicle and specialized/customized. In the commercial category, which includes off-the-shelf smartphones and tablets, there are currently no available devices with Band 14 support.

Suh noted that the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) ecosystem "highlights the need for a development environment, platform based solution, pervasive devices and real-time access to relevant information."

He said the next steps FirstNet should take include completing a local inventory of existing public-safety applications and detailed user requirements; developing an application platform architecture and roadmap, as well as user device specifications and roadmap; creating an application "store" distribution business model; completing a security architecture and roadmap; and developing support and operations processes.

For more:
- see this NTIA Web page
- see this MissionCritical Communications article
- see this RCR Wireless article

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