Urgent Matters

FirstNet's task isn't rocket science—more like calculus


The most important lesson I learned in college came from a class that I didn’t want to take. Unfortunately, I needed so many hours of math and science courses to graduate, so I found myself trying to comprehend differential calculus. I took to this course like a sea gull takes to an oil slick. I hated the class and hated the professor who taught it even more. He may as well have been speaking in a foreign language—come to think of it, he was.

This disaster worsened when I flunked the course—the only time that ever happened. I registered again the next semester, carefully avoiding this particular professor. Imagine my horror when he walked into the classroom on the first day. Our scheduled teacher had been gored by a rhino during an African safari—of all the luck.

I was stuck. So, I decided to get to know my adversary better—and maybe suck up a little—by scheduling private tutoring sessions with him. Initially, the sessions were 90% math and 10% social; by the end of the semester, the ratio completely reversed. At one point I bemoaned the fact that I had to take the class, explaining that I was going to make my living with words, not numbers. He responded, “You will learn things in my class that you will use the rest of your life.”

I dismissed this as a bunch of self-preservationist nonsense until a year later. I was in my first job, and I was buried in a project that was making me crazy—not only did I have no idea how I was going to meet the deadline, I had little notion of how I was going to pull it off at all. Then it hit me—my professor wasn’t talking about math when he offered the above perspective. Rather, he was talking about finding a way to get the job done when struggling to figure things out. As the adage goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

What got me thinking about this after so many years is an advertorial supplement that appears in our October print edition. In this section, four major technology vendors—Alcatel-Lucent, Cassidian, Motorola and Harris—share their perspectives on the nationwide broadband network for first responders that will leverage Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology. Sprinkled throughout these pages are numerous references to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the entity within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that will oversee the buildout of this network.

I suspect that the FirstNet board of directors will have days when they feel exactly as I did in that differential calculus class. Never before has any entity tried to build a nationwide broadband network for first responders, a task made more complicated by the fact that commercial technology, rather than the more familiar land-mobile-radio technology, will be utilized. It will be challenging, and at times vexing.

Fortunately, FirstNet will have plenty of help, from the aforementioned companies and others, as well as a phalanx of experts and analysts. That's a good thing, because failure isn't an option.

A bright future awaits public-safety communications. Smart, capable people are leading the effort. We are confident that they will find a way—because there’s no substitute for “want to” or, in this case, “need to.”

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

D W Winters (not verified)
on Sep 28, 2012

With over 40 years of system acquisition experience including developing complex airborne and space systems, two "truths" we're persistent. First define the system's requirements definitively--that requires sound systems engineering. Second find a contractor who also provides program management based on Integrated Process and Product Development (IPPD) practices.

Without adhering to those truths, PSBN will be using, not repaying, Treasury funds for decades and never satisfy the users.

on Dec 27, 2012

Insightful reading. I can also say that my most important life lessons came from the professor I hated the most, still he managed to get into my brains and change my visions on a lot of things. Today I am not scared that the payroll service will send my a small salary, I have so much to be thankful for.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.


Donny Jackson

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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