Urgent Matters

Government officials anxious for FirstNet clarity while contemplating long-term plans

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Public safety may have the greatest interest in the outcome of a court decision that could clarify when FirstNet will be able to award its nationwide contract, but many other sectors also could be impacted.

This is a scary situation, as public-safety personnel are left trying to do their dangerous jobs with outdated equipment. If there is a communications failure, it could result in the loss of a life, be it a first responder or a citizen. Even if such a failure is avoided, maintenance tends to be needed more frequently on older networks, and finding qualified people to fix them may be difficult.

Meanwhile, the issue of whether to upgrade the LMR network will continue to be raised regularly. Each time, elected officials will have to decide whether to continue waiting for MCPTT or pay for the LMR upgrade, which still will take time to implement.

Nightmare Scenario #2: The decision is made to proceed with an expensive LMR upgrade with significant capital costs. At the same time, FirstNet and MCPTT prove to work great in a relatively short period after hitting the market as early as 2018.

Proceeding with LMR makes all of the sense in the world today; in fact, many see it as the only option, as MCPTT is just an unproven standard, and FirstNet does not even exist. Of course, the status of FirstNet and MCPTT could be very different by the time a new LMR system is engineered, procured and constructed.

If FirstNet and MCPTT prove to be a hit in the early 2020s, the circumstances of 2017 likely will be forgotten. Instead, elected officials may look for a scapegoat as they try to explain why they have make debt payments on a pricey LMR network for an additional 10-15 years.

If all goes well with FirstNet and MCPTT, personnel may only carry one device for data and voice usage. Meanwhile, the notion of monthly subscriptions to FirstNet as part of the operating budget will look much more attractive than the debt payments—not to mention funding ongoing maintenance in a radio technology that is not attracting young technical expertise—particularly in cities and counties facing significant debts associated with massive underfunding of pension plans.

Of course, there are all sorts of scenarios that fall between these two extremes—involving everything from opt-out variables to specifics for different types of first responders—but the reality is that many are far from ideal. As a result, we continue to hear stories about entities that have postponed making a decision until they know more about FirstNet. In other words, this is impacting LMR vendors, as well as public safety.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

bsterry (not verified)
on Mar 1, 2017

In scenario #1, this is not even a viable option. LMR for mission critical voice is not going to go away for some time. There is no PTT on LTE for Mission Critical Communications yet and is not anticipated for 10 years or so, also to build the FirstNet network to a point that it provides 95% mobile or portable coverage is a ways down the road. Then there is the issue of user to user communications off network which you have now with LMR systems. Dependable voice communications on FirstNet is still in my opinion 10-15 years out and that is the life span of a modern day LMR system.

CaptObvious (not verified)
on Mar 1, 2017

LMR is dying, the only question is when is it dead? It is technically obsolete, expensive, and lacks services needed for first responders. The obvious way forward for first responders is to maintain LMR at minimal cost while Firstnet gets up and running, then shut down LMR when Firstnet services are satisfactory.

Firstnet Watcher (not verified)
on Mar 3, 2017

FirstNet is, at this point, data only. The FirstNet folks are saying that the network spec'd on the RFP is data - not voice. Did this change?

Mr. C (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2017

Ah......how about the recent AT&T 911 outage? I would still rely on my old voice and some data LMR P25 Ph 2 system. We'll have to see as Firstnet builds out. A single CORE for the country? hummmm? I'm already worried.

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

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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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