FirstNet starts to develop BYOD policy for devices on public safety network

FirstNet said it is taking steps to develop and implement an effective bring-your-own device (BYOD) policy for the nationwide public safety broadband network it is building.

"The BYOD policy must provide adequate security and control of the device, while still providing an acceptable user experience when accessing the NPSBN," FirstNet said in a blog post. "It must also operate in real time to analyze BYOD access and identify anomalies."

The group acknowledged that many within the public safety community have personal smartphones that run on commercial wireless networks and are interested in accessing the NPSBN from their personal phones when the NPSBN is operational. Additionally, the FirstNet CTO Devices Group noted that many existing public safety devices are highly specialized and costly and could benefit first responders by working over the NPSBN as well.

Consequently, FirstNet said it is planning to support personal devices on the NPSBN through a BYOD policy that is being developed as part of the overall network architecture. FirstNet said its policy will cover a variety of different scenarios, including letting public safety users use their personal devices to access his or her agency's email and public safety applications on his or her personal smartphone or tablet while using the NPSBN.

"These users may be accessing the FirstNet band 14 or roaming to a commercial partner as coverage allows," the blog post said. "A significant core public safety group in this category is the volunteer firefighter community, which represents a large percentage of all firefighters in the U.S."

Additionally, the BYOD policy is intended to cover a public safety agency that may own devices that are not part of the FirstNet-approved device portfolio and that it wants to transition from its existing commercial broadband provider to the NPSBN. Some of these devices may be Band 14-enabled, but most will require access to the NPSBN through other commercial partner bands, FirstNet said.

The BYOD policy will also aim to cover devices accessing FirstNet service through an intermediate connection. The blog noted that public safety users may want to use the NPSBN while using devices (such as smartphones, tablets, laptops or USB modems) connected locally to an in-vehicle router or mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

"These devices would connect to the NPSBN using an intermediate connection such as Ethernet, Wi-Fi or other commercial wireless networks," the blog said. "It is expected that all FirstNet approved devices will be Band 14 enabled so that any devices requiring an intermediate connection for NPSBN access will be supported under the FirstNet BYOD model. Many popular smartphone and tablet devices will likely fall under this BYOD scenario prior to their support of band 14."

FirstNet CTO Jeff Bratcher told FierceWirelessTech last month that he hopes public safety's LTE push will also influence device innovation as well. Bratcher is hoping that smartphone vendors like Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) will include FirstNet's Band 14 700 MHz spectrum in their upcoming smartphones, a move that would increase the number of devices that first responders could use.

Bratcher said the organization "would love" iPhones to support the network's Band 14 spectrum, but says implementing the technology is a "chicken and egg discussion."

"The device manufacturers really won't put a frequency band in unless they have the volume of quantity needed to support that," Bratcher continued. "Because it's limited space on all our phones."

The lack of Band 14-capable devices then makes it more difficult to promote the band, as users have limited options to choose from, many of which don't meet the myriad requirements needed by first responders.

FirstNet acknowledged that there are also "associated security risks concerning the sharing of information and loss of data on the device." For example, devices can be purchased that have malware in their software or in preloaded applications (e.g., via distributors, integrators, etc.) without the individual's knowledge, or through malware within downloaded applications before any enterprise security protection has been installed. With malware present on the device, FirstNet's security solutions (e.g., encryption, credentials, and container products) can be circumvented.

To address security concerns, FirstNet is considering a range of technical services that can be used to support public safety users who wish to bring their own device, including Mobile Device Management/Mobile Application Management (MDM/MAM) that can help remotely secure, manage and support personally owned devices. FirstNet might also use security container applications, where data is contained within a separate environment to help to manage information flows between personal and public safety areas of a device. The organization is also exploring device certification and carrier acceptance testing processes, designed in conjunction with selected partner(s) that provide detailed analysis of a BYOD category or device type and identify weaknesses or concerns. Additionally, FirstNet is looking into firewalls that prohibit the applications in the personal area of the device from reaching the network assets of the public safety area of the device.

However, FirstNet noted that these technical solutions still depend on the integrity of the underlying device and can affect its usability.

For more:
- see this FirstNet blog post

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