FirstNet will let two more BTOP grantees use its 700 MHz spectrum for LTE networks

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board approved spectrum-lease agreements with two more public-safety entities, allowing them to restart their LTE network deployments, which had seen their grant funding suspended following the creation of FirstNet.

Though the state of New Jersey and the Adams County, Colo., ADCOM 911 will now have access to FirstNet's 700 MHz spectrum, they both must ask the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to lift its partial suspension of their funding before they can resume the affected public-safety communications operations.

With approval of these agreements, FirstNet now has four separate spectrum-lease pacts with public-safety Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grantees. FirstNet previously signed spectrum-lease agreements with the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS) and the State of New Mexico, both of which have already regained NTIA funding.

BTOP grantees that failed to reach lease agreements include Charlotte, N.C.; the executive office of Mississippi; and the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (BayRICS)/Motorola Solutions.

FirstNet said the ADCOM 911 project is particularly notable because it will be one of the first systems able to provide advanced mobile data services to a major airport complex (likely referring to Denver International Airport) and link adjacent public-safety entities to airport public-safety operations. Further, Adams County's proximity to the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) center in Boulder, Colo., will make it a pilot demonstration project for testing interoperability with FirstNet's nationwide network. 

In the case of New Jersey, the state has revised its original project plan to focus on using 37 deployable cell sites on wheels (COWs).

The FirstNet board voted to extend spectrum-lease negotiations through Feb. 24, 2014, with the State of Texas for Harris County, a non-BTOP recipient operating an LTE network on FirstNet spectrum under FCC-granted Special Temporary Authority (STA). That STA is slated to expire Feb. 24, unless it is renewed.

In related news, FirstNet is delaying discussions with state officials until more staff are hired, pushing back discussions likely beyond January, said TJ Kennedy, deputy general manager. These consultations will be critical to designing a customized business plan and radio access network (RAN) design for each individual state, which will be able to opt in or out of the FirstNet network.

Meanwhile, some pundits have raised alarms regarding the ultimate capabilities of FirstNet's LTE network. A recent report by Public Intelligence noted that privacy advocates are concerned that applications for use on the network will enable mobile biometrics, including facial recognition technology, mobile iris scanning and fingerprinting devices, automated license plate recognition and more.

"These capabilities will be facilitated by a network that is interoperable with federal and state authorities including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and even the Army National Guard," Public Intelligence said.

For more:
- see this FirstNet release
- see this MissionCritical Communications article
- see this Public Intelligence article
- see this Governing article

Related articles:
FCC pushing 600 MHz broadcast incentive auction to mid-2015
FirstNet releases RFI on apps, kills BTOP negotiations
Three BTOP grantees will not get to deploy LTE over FirstNet spectrum
FirstNet: Mississippi halts BTOP program, Motorola Solutions accused of unsavory lobbying
FirstNet OKs first spectrum-lease pact, short-term staffing strategy
Los Angeles is first BTOP grantee to approve FirstNet spectrum-lease pact
PSCR labs ready to share test results with FirstNet