Urgent Matters

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


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.

No one knows what FirstNet pricing will be, but the story of Fairfax County, Va., has captured the attention of many within government circles. Instead of paying $16 million in upfront costs for a new LMR network, Fairfax County was able to avoid the entire capital expenditure and save about $2 million in annual operating expenses by migrating the county’s general-government workers to a carrier push-to-talk-over-cellular (PoC) offering, according to Michael Newburn, Fairfax County’s wireless manager.

It is important to note that this may not be a realistic option for everyone. Newburn has said that Fairfax County attempted this move only with its general-government employees—not public-safety personnel—and that the county had been using the AT&T network for years for data application, so the county was comfortable with the coverage provided by the carrier within its jurisdiction.

For this reason, these Fairfax County already had county-issued smart devices, so the PoC functionality could be added as an application for a nominal monthly fee. For entities that that do not already have such carrier subscriptions, the savings would not be as great. In addition, a lack of carrier coverage could make such a transition impractical, depending on the location.

These factors are even more important on the public-safety side, which also will require much greater information about the effectiveness of MCPTT. Testing of MCPTT is expected to begin later this year, and it should not be limited to the U.S.—both South Korea and the United Kingdom are pursuing public-safety LTE earnestly.

There are plenty of incentives for MCPTT to be developed and tested thoroughly. In the U.S., it is actually mandated in the law that created FirstNet. In addition, the idea of Fairfax County-like savings is appealing to governments at all levels, if—and this should be the important part—MCPTT meets public safety’s performance needs.

But even the most positive MCPTT test results will have little meaning if there is not a public-safety-grade network for it. That is why it is important for this lawsuit to be resolved as quickly as possible, no matter the eventual ruling. Only with greater certainty about FirstNet can the critical-communications community make informed decisions about its long-term future.




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.


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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