AT&T will meet FirstNet’s requirements for its nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), but the carrier is “hesistant to say that there is complete definition set in stone” about what constitutes a public-safety-grade system, according to a statement released by AT&T on Tuesday.

“We fully recognize and acknowledge the great work public safety has done to build requirements around broadband for this community,” according to a prepared statement provided by an AT&T spokesperson to IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “It not only informed the RFP that FirstNet put forth, but it also informed the customized State Plans the states are now reviewing. So we want to be very clear here – the FirstNet network will meet the requirements set forth by FirstNet. 

“We recognize that FirstNet, NPSTC and other public-safety stakeholders and organizations like APCO will continue to work on and evolve requirements and standards. We’re hesitant to say that there is a complete definition set in stone. We look forward to working with FirstNet, NPSTC and public safety to continue to deliver services over a network designed for the unique needs of public safety.”

AT&T issued the statement to IWCE's Urgent Communications on Tuesday afternoon in response to the National Public-Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) last Friday criticizing multiple assertions that a definition of “public-safety-grade” systems does not exist. On Wednesday, AT&T clarified that the statement had been shared previously with other media outlets.

Chris Sambar, senior vice president of AT&T – FirstNet, most notably made the statement while testifying during a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing.

“Senator, I will tell you that I have not seen, and nor do I believe, there is a specific definition for ‘public-safety grade,’” Sambar said during the subcommittee hearing.

FirstNet CEO Mike Poth echoed Sambar’s statement during the hearing, but FirstNet CTO Jeff Bratcher acknowledged that Poth “misspoke” on the topic during the hearing as he addressed a question about network hardening and resiliency during a panel discussion last week at APCO 2017 in Denver.

“That is in the build plan and hardening, determining which sites need additional capabilities,” Bratcher said during the session. “AT&T has already hardened their network—believe it or not—based even just five years ago on what they’ve done on their buildouts and adding technologies to the network.

“That was a misstatement … That was not lost on anyone, and [network hardening] hasn’t lost any traction. It’s driving a lot of the discussion we’re having with the technical teams on deployables in certain parts of the country that need additional hardening above and beyond what happens on the existing wireless infrastructure today.”

In its statement, NPSTC noted that 16 public-safety-related associations on May 22, 2014, jointly published a 115-page definition of public-safety-grade systems and facilities for broadband. In March 2016, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) initiated a process to create a formal American National Standards Institue (ANSI) standard for the public-safety-grade definition.

“APCO anticipates the standard to be published [in] Spring 2018,” according to the NPSTC statement. “NPSTC is disappointed that FirstNet's commercial partner, AT&T, has on numerous occasions stated that it is not aware of a single agreed upon definition for public-safety grade.

“It is clearly apparent that numerous NPSTC-generated public-safety broadband requirements submitted to the PSAC have significantly influenced FirstNet's RFP for which AT&T's contract was awarded. Public-safety stakeholders have spent thousands of hours developing broadband requirements and expect a public-safety-grade system. Public safety and the protection of our nation deserve no less.

“NPSTC continues to work on additional public-safety broadband requirements as issues are identified. The public-safety community expects FirstNet to listen to its needs and requirements, and ensure its partner strives to build the best public-safety-grade network possible. NPSTC is counting on FirstNet to hold AT&T accountable.”

Although Bratcher noted that Poth “misspoke” about the lack of a public-safety-grade definition, he said that it “has to be pointed out” that the network architecture of an LTE system is very different from an LMR network, which can impact the manner in which resiliency is built into a communications system.

“There are a lot more [LTE] cell sites versus LMR sites,” Bratcher said. “It’s a different hardening and resiliency aspect. You don’t have to harden every cell site. If you lose a cell site, the other cell sites—with the technology now—can fill in those coverage holes when that site goes out.

“So, it’s a different architecture. We’re working through those aspects as we move forward.”