DENVER—FirstNet representatives have been receptive to the notion that the much-anticipate public-safety broadband network needs to operate cohesively with IP-based next-generation 911 systems, and 911 officials should work to ensure this vision becomes reality, a National Emergency Number Association (NENA) official said yesterday.

Trey Forgety, NENA’s director of government affairs and NENA’s representative on FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee, said he is encouraged by FirstNet’s recent progress, including the issuance of a draft request for proposal (RFP).

“I’d be lying, if I didn’t tell you that there is still a lot of hand-wringing and worry about exactly how FirstNet is going to work, if it’s going to work, and all of these sorts of things,” Forgety said during a session at the NENA 2015 annual conference. “As a member of the PSAC, I’ve had many of the same concerns—and still do, to some extent.

“But now that FirstNet has a staff that has been working much more actively and quickly on getting to the network buildout, I’m much more confident now than I ever have been before that it will actually get built and that will not create any problems [for plans to deploy next-generation 911].”

FirstNet and next-gen 911 systems should interoperate as seamlessly as possible to provide the most benefit to first responders. This means that myriad interfaces should be coordinated, including the voice codecs used for FirstNet voice offerings that ultimately are expected to provide a mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) alternative to existing land-mobile-radio (LMR) networks, Forgety said.

NENA officials asked FirstNet’s technical staff to align its voice-codec plans with next-generation 911 standards that call for the G.729 and G.722 codec to be used, with the potential of using an ultrawideband codec in the future, Forgety said. Using consistent codecs on both FirstNet and next-gen 911 would save money, because there would be no need to spend money translating disparate codecs, he said.

“We’ve been very aggressive in making sure that the engineers at FirstNet are aware of what’s going on in NENA’s standards processes, so that they’re not engineering things that break anything,” Forgety said. “We don’t want them inventing new boxes or new data types. We want everybody to be using the same sort of standardized stuff, and I think we’ve been very successful with that.”

Forgety said he believes FirstNet can share physical network-infrastructure elements used for next-gen 911 systems.

“An ESINet [used in next-gen 911] is a logical network, so it doesn’t necessarily have its own independent physical existence,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be separate; it can be on transport networks that have other functions, effectively working as a virtual network on top of that physical layer.

“Our expectation—and, I believe, the expressed expectation of FirstNet—is that much of that same physical infrastructure will also be used by FirstNet.”

Such an arrangement makes sense for FirstNet, which likely will not have enough money to build out a completely separate broadband network nationwide with $7 billion from Congress, user fees and revenues generated from commercial leases of secondary excess capacity on the network, Forgety said.

“That is not nearly enough money to build a network that is sort of physically distinct,” he said. “The best estimate that it would take to do that sort of thing is on the order of $50 billion, which Congress was never going to appropriate for FirstNet.

“Instead, the approach that’s going to be taken is that—during the state-consultation process—FirstNet will identify state assets. So, if the state has fiber, microwave, copper Ethernet service … if there are things that the state can contribute to FirstNet to help make that [broadband network deployment] go faster and cost less, they will be invited to do that.”