Urgent Matters

MythBusters: A FirstNet edition


Many things are being said about FirstNet, but not all of them are entirely accurate. Here's an attempt to clarify some potentially confusing statements that have been made about the much-anticipated nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

How is room made within the cell sector for the preemptive public-safety user? In most cases, it would involve reducing the bandwidth available to some of the commercial users in the cell sector to redirect the bandwidth to the preemptive public-safety user. In some cases, commercial users would be moved to other AT&T commercial spectrum bands to create room for the public-safety user.

In short, the commercial user may get moved to another spectrum band without realizing it or receive less bandwidth that could result in degraded service, but they typically would not be lose service entirely. However, if the only way to provide public safety the service it needs is to cut service entirely to a commercial customer, AT&T has stated that it is be willing to do that—a process known as “ruthless preemption.”

This is functionality that is not available to public-safety users on commercial networks today, particularly at the price that is being offered through FirstNet.

“FirstNet is not a dedicated public-safety network”: It is true that there will be commercial users on the FirstNet system, so it is not a public-safety-only network. But that was a major point of the law that established FirstNet—let commercial users use the spectrum and bandwidth that is remains after public-safety users get what they need.

From a public-safety user’s perspective, the preemptive access is designed to assure bandwidth performance that delivers an experience akin to the public-safety user being the only person on the network (credit to Rivada Networks co-CEO Declan Ganley for this description). As long as this level of performance is met for public safety, does it matter whether commercial users get to use the “leftover” bandwidth available on the network?

Meanwhile, a major benefit to this arrangement is the device ecosystem. In a cellular arena that has been supporting more connected devices than people in the United States for years, the idea of building chipsets, antennas and devices for a few million U.S. public-safety users is not going to get vendors excited, meaning the devices will cost more and innovations happen slower than in the commercial market. However, with more than 100 million AT&T customers also accessing Band 14, device manufacturers should be more than happy to play ball.

“States and territories are being told that they cannot pursue the ‘opt-out’ option”: This rumor keeps popping up in conversations with various sources, although it is puzzling. I’ve yet to speak to a state official who has been told that the ‘opt-out’ alternative is not a legal option by anyone from FirstNet or AT&T.

Pursuing the “opt-out” alternative includes some notable logistical challenges, and it may not be practical for many states for various operational, financial and/or political reasons. But the legal option certainly exists, and stakeholders on all sides of FirstNet—FirstNet, AT&T, states, vendors, potential public-safety subscribers, etc.—are taking great pains to address the possibility that “opt-out” states could emerge. Hopefully, key state stakeholders understand this.

“Rivada Mercury has submitted bids in all states that have issued RFPs to build a public-safety LTE RAN, if the states decide to pursue the ‘opt-out’ alternative”: This is very close to being an accurate statement, but it technically is not.

Led by Rivada Networks, Rivada Mercury is the consortium of companies that submitted a bid to be the nationwide FirstNet contractor—the contract that was awarded to AT&T in March. Rivada Mercury was established solely to pursue the nationwide FirstNet deal and the same consortium of partnered companies is not being used to pursue state RFPs to construct RANs.

That said, a Rivada Networks-led entity has bid in all state RAN procurements to date. There is “overlap” between many of the companies partnering with Rivada Networks for these state RAN deals and those that partnered with Rivada Networks in pursuit of the nationwide FirstNet contract, according to a Rivada Networks spokesman. However, no group of companies partnering with Rivada Networks in pursuit of a state RFP has been identical to the group that formed Rivada Mercury, the spokesman said.

Discuss this Blog Entry 6

AnonymousRadioNY (not verified)
on Jun 27, 2017

Please wake me up when its all over.. Nothing to see here except glorified cellular service and a tragic waste of publics money and time.

on Jun 28, 2017

This article brought to you by AT&T.

Mike Barney (not verified)
on Jun 28, 2017

Thanks for another poignant article Donny.
FirstNet is making good progress as states close in on the Opt-In / Out decision. I look forward to your next article, and to the Opt-In / Out session discussion at APCO in Denver.

98112 (not verified)
on Jun 28, 2017

The sad and tragic truth is that FirstNet is first and foremost about making a huge profit for one cellular provider. The Board has been stacked with conflicted insiders from day one. The whole process is under the Commerce Department not any direct public safety, intelligence, or military department. Talk about public safety being a priority is window dressing for the scheme, The entire FirstNet effort has been secretive, biased, and not in the best interest of any first responders. The foxes are in full control of the hen house. A total distortion of governance, and comprised of threats and arm twisting of the states.

on Jun 28, 2017

We need to keep our minds open about the FirstNet possibilities.
Are we stuck in our ways, unwilling to accept that the world of LMR is changing? Perhaps FirstNet might not work, initially for tactical or fire ground operations, but perhaps it would do well in dispatch operations. In time, it might be suitable for all operations. In the meantime, it might enable LMR users to improve their tactical and fire ground capabilities. If you look around many police and fire personnel are already making extensive use of their cell devices in performing their work.

With nation wide interoperability, the cost of LMR radio equipment going through the roof, and cell phone devices continuing to drop, how long before disposable ruggedized cell devices become the only solution especially for cash strapped users?

on Oct 8, 2017

The question for me is how can the nation keep pace with modern communications to include data and voice? The only way to make this happen is by jumping onto the LTE(Long Term Evolution ) train at some point so that the government is not held hostage by vendors overcharging for equipment that is tailored for a single market. Having space as needed for Public Safety while having subsidised operational cost should be good for many. Lets work out the bugs as we go.

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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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