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Let FirstNet know what you think

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Last week, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board conducted its first meeting, where key members made presentations regarding proposed approaches for the network design and application development for public-safety users.

This week, FirstNet issued a notice of inquiry (NOI) to solicit feedback on those conceptual presentations. The FirstNet Nationwide Network (FNN) concept was presented by board member Craig Farrill and is available at http://tinyurl.com/8nyxspg. The FNN concept calls for the 700 MHz public-safety network to be built out by leveraging the assets of multiple wireless-network operators.

Traditionally, public-safety agencies have communicated on standalone LMR networks dedicated solely to first responders, but that approach is "unworkable," according to Farrill, who noted the high costs and extended construction time for such a deployment. Partnering with a single wireless carrier also was dismissed, because no carrier has ubiquitous coverage nationwide.

Working with multiple carriers can lower deployment costs and accelerate the network buildout, according to Farrill. In fact, network implementation could begin in 2013 or 2014 — a timeframe that is much more palatable to public safety than waiting until the five-year planning grant program proposed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is complete.

For the most part, most in the industry would agree with the concept outlined by Farrill. A standalone public-safety network does not make fiscal sense — from the standpoint of both deployment and ongoing operations — so partnering with others would seem to be the prudent path to pursue.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and that's where this NOI can help. Respondents are asked to identify opportunities and challenges associated with the FNN concept, and there are plenty of both. For instance, with partners appearing to be a necessity, those commenting could provide valuable input on the criteria regarding the partners FirstNet should seek, be it commercial wireless carriers or operators of private networks.

In addition to the infrastructure aspects of the network, the NOI seeks input on the application-development proposal that FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn presented at the first meeting. Ginn described an open-architecture platform that would allow developers from various backgrounds to create applications that would be useful to public-safety users of the network.

Again, few would argue with the concept, but implementing this applications approach could prove to be challenging, particularly with public-safety users being justifiably cautious about the security and reliability of any applications they would use over the network.

While such hurdles exist, none are insurmountable, particularly with the depth of expertise and knowledge available in this country that can help address whatever issues may arise. Hopefully, such people with thoughtful contributions — inside and outside public safety — will participate in this proceeding, which is a golden opportunity to help FirstNet get started in the right direction.

The deadline for comments is Nov. 1. Let your voice be heard.

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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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