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What to expect at APCO 2017

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This year's APCO conference marks a turning point, as attendees arrive for the first time with FirstNet as an operational network in parts of the U.S. Here is one analyst's take on what we are likely to see—and not see—at APCO 2017.

A wave of new Band 14 devices. Mobile network device suppliers are a conservative lot. Costly investment in device design, test and approvals will not ramp up until device builders become convinced a new band is, in fact, getting deployed at scale in real networks. Considering that the FirstNet PPP contract was only signed in March, it is not surprising that Band 14's footprint remains scant. Furthermore, selection of AT&T as a partner looms as a potential impediment to Band 14 device designs. The national operator is signaling that it may not deploy Band 14 widely until it is needed. That could be a troublesome issue that can hobble interoperable communications near the border or in jurisdictions looking to deploy Band 14 nodes for coverage gaps.

Clarity on a FirstNet application framework. A large part of FirstNet's mission revolves around fostering a rich set of public safety applications that go beyond commercial off-the-shelf cloud-based applications on the market today. Both FirstNet and AT&T point to a coming application store serving as a trusted source of software functionality for mobile devices serving a public-safety mission. This goal, however, requires a large effort to address gaps and establish the type of application-development environments that drove the success in the Google Android and Apple IoS application markets. Developers require comprehensive Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), toolkits and development sandboxes. FirstNet will need to find a way to have its application store co-exist with a closed Apple application environment. And, of course, the non-trivial identity-management-and-authentication framework will need to be in place and proven. Clearly, a FirstNet application framework is in very early days.

APCO 2017 visitors will gather to consider the new world of public safety communications in a FirstNet era. While not all questions will get answered during the conference days, the rich set of professional development sessions, plenty of opportunities for face-to-face discussions, and an exhibition floor filled with creative offers will make this event a must-see for anyone who cares about the future of public-safety communications.

Ken Rehbehn is the founder and principal analyst for CritComm Insights, an industry analysis firm focused on the intersection of mobile broadband and disruptive critical-communications technology. A wireless-technology analyst with more than 30 years experience tracking IP-based technologies, Rehbehn began his public-safety career as a 911 dispatcher and has served as an active firefighter/EMT since the 1970s.

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