During the recent Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference in Anaheim, Calif., FirstNet General Manager Bill D’Agostino spoke with UC Editor Donny Jackson during a one-on-one interview about issues associated with efforts to make the nationwide first-responder broadband network a reality. The following is the third in a series of articles based on the interview.

Regardless what business model FirstNet pursues, a key component will be the ability to prioritize users — including the ability to preempt secondary users entirely during times of emergencies — so first responders can have access to as much bandwidth as possible at these critical moments.

While such capabilities are part of the LTE standard, they have not been tested much in a real-world environment. Officials with the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program have expressed a desire to conduct testing to ensure that prioritization and preemption will work as planned under a variety of scenarios.

To date, the PSCR program has signed Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) with vendors that stipulate that test results will not be shared in a manner that identifies the vendor, even to FirstNet officials. D’Agostino discussed the need to modify this arrangement to allow more open communication between the PSCR and FirstNet, particularly as it relates to testing associated with prioritization and preemption.

On FirstNet’s relationship with the PSCR program:

“I believe there is a way we can extend those results and extend the CRADA relationship in conjunction with what the vendors are willing to do that will allow us to have that kind of information. We’re going to have those conversations with the vendors, because we need to be utilizing the PSCR labs to even a greater extent than we are today.

“There are some priority technologies they’ll be testing for us. For example, they’re going to test preemption for us, and that is an absolutely essential functionality for public safety that we need to make sure is built in the network. We need to be able to test that with all vendors, with all types of solutions. So, we need to solve that problem quickly with what need to be modified in the CRADA … or what new agreements have to be in place that allow us to do that.”

On the manner in which priority/preemption will be executed manually or automatically, based on policies:

“I think you’re going to see both, but I think we have a little ways to go to sort that out.

“There are quality-of-service levels in the standard, which can be more policy-based. I think that will be the approach more for user identification and to determine the types of services they can use.

“But there are also some hard-and-fast rules that I call PRLs that can be uniquely assigned to each set of users, so that — in the event that you do need to put your hand on the dial and eliminate secondary and tertiary users from the network — you have that as a fallback [option].

“There are also other technologies out there that purport to have a ruthless-preemption capability that will automatically shut down secondary use of the network and add local control. I think we ought to look at all of that.”

On in-building coverage:

“It’s up pretty high in the plan. We need to have first-wall penetration. This is not an on-street network; this is going to be first-wall penetration. Then, through what we call portable hotspots, we have to give public safety the ability to take that network further, in the event that the first-wall penetration is impacted somehow.”

On the possibility of carriers opposing FirstNet if prime enterprise customers — such as governments or critical-infrastructure entities — opt to move to FirstNet:

“I think we see it a little bit today. I think we see some carriers today pushing hard to maintain those enterprise bases. It’s important to them; I get it.

“But this will always be, first and foremost, a dedicated public-safety network. And, before we expand to the secondary and tertiary users on that, we have to make sure we’ve delivered on that [public-safety mission].”