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Commercial priority-service offerings promise to be eye-opening to carriers, public safety, critical infrastructure

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Wireless giants AT&T and Verizon both have announced plans to offer prioritization services to enterprises, public-safety and critical-infrastructure entities. Will these packages make FirstNet irrelevant?

During the past few months, the two largest U.S. wireless carriers—Verizon and AT&T—each have announced offerings that would enable enterprise, public-safety and critical-infrastructure customers to have their packets prioritized over normal consumer traffic, even during times of severe network congestion. Such offerings have raised eyebrows throughout the wireless community and could have significant implications in the near future.

There is little question that there is a market demand for such services. Many enterprises have business-critical applications that must run smoothly and efficiently—time is money, and any delay in operations can have a negative impact on the bottom line. For public-safety and critical-infrastructure entities, the stakes are even higher, as their successful operations can mean the difference between life and death for many.

Despite this market demand for such priority-service offerings, their announcement caught many off guard. After all, the carriers had long said that would not prioritize public-safety traffic, because doing so could result in regular consumer customers not receiving the kind of network performance they expect. It was a major talking point that public-safety representatives repeated on Capitol Hill as they spent years lobbying for legislation that resulted in the establishment of FirstNet.

In addition, the FCC early this year approved rules regarding net neutrality that basically said that carriers should treat all traffic on their networks equally, with concepts like “pay for play” supposedly being banned specifically. Given this, it appeared that carriers would not be allowed to charge enterprises and public safety more to get priority access, even if a carrier wanted to do it.

But the AT&T offering—known as Dynamic Traffic Management—is designed to comply with net-neutrality rules, according to Danessa Lambdin, AT&T’s vice president of mobility product management.

“This falls within the guidelines of the FCC net-neutrality rules,” Lambdin said. “As you can imagine, we have a lot of policy experts running around AT&T, and we leave that to them. But rest assured that they’ve been involved with us the whole way, and … they’ve assured us that that this falls within the guidelines.”

If the prioritization service does not fall victim to a legal challenge, what does the AT&T offering—as well as the “mission-critical” package unveiled by Verizon this fall—mean to enterprises, public-safety and critical-infrastructure entities?

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

Rod Hogg (not verified)
on Dec 29, 2015

What goes around, comes around.......
How many remember a couple decades or so ago with the analog cell service, we had the capability of programming them for an "access overload" feature. It allowed critical communications users to 'bump' others off the system. Never took hold around here. We never utilized it....Kansas

Mike Barney (not verified)
on Dec 31, 2015

Thanks for the great article Donny.

This service is an excellent on-ramp to FirstNet, with hope the carriers will work with FirstNet to help users understand what prioritization can and cannot do for their agency.

This offering will do a couple of things for Public Safety:

First, responders will have the ability to try priority broadband services in a mobile environment for incidents and events prior to the commissioning of FirstNet in their area. They can use this to modify concepts of operations and determine operational limitations and concerns which will improve their on-boarding experience.

Second, FirstNet has the opportunity to work with these carriers and subscribing agencies, using the resulting user experiences to better model the FirstNet solution for responders.

There is one open question: Will the carriers limit the number of users that can subscribe to the priority services? If they do, I predict a successful offering with excellent data helping FirstNet, the carriers and users who on-board to FirstNet. This clearly will help ensure the success of this much needed network.
Conversely, if the carriers do not enforce a reasonable limit and allow everyone to get priority status, then this service will be akin to boarding an aircraft with only ‘Platinum’ frequent flyers on board: Since everyone has priority and wants to go first, there effectively is no priority, but only unhappy users who paid for the service.

JRN
on May 17, 2016

Donny,

Good points all around. The question is ... who is leading with the technology? Are we (Public Safety) close followers? Market forces usually prevail in the long run ... that's what has driven broadband technology to where it is today. What market forces does Public Safety bring to the table? I think our D-Block spectrum is the golden cow but how do we correctly leverage that with carriers? I know what we should have in return, without re-creating what already is.

on Aug 21, 2017

I'd like to hear from anyone who has tried the Dynamic Traffic management service. We are a contractor for a government agency and plan to try the Public Service variant, but it would be useful to hear from other users. It is also not clear to me how Firstnet differs from DTM and servcies, equipment, and cost.

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Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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