FirstNet staff yesterday presented board members with a new roadmap for the organization that includes a technological commitment to support mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) technology across the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) by March 2019.

One of the most-discussed aspects of FirstNet is the implementation of MCPTT over LTE, because its effectiveness could impact decisions associated with the future investments that local and state public-safety agencies make in the LMR systems currently providing mission-critical voice communications for first responders. MCPTT is part of LTE Release 13 that was approved last year and is slated to be implemented in FirstNet by March 2019.

“What this means is that the [MCPTT] technology—the software and hardware--will be in place,” FirstNet president TJ Kennedy said during the board meeting. “It doesn’t mean that everyone is just going to flip a switch and all of sudden say, ‘This is perfect,’ or ‘This does everything that we need it to do.’

“What they’re going to do is they’re going to have those capabilities, and they are going to start utilizing that alongside the other mission-critical-push-to-talk capabilities that they have and really start to build trust in it, test it and use it in the ways operationally that they need to.”

While MCPTT is slated to be part of the FirstNet system in March 2019, Kennedy emphasized that its adoption rate will not be dictated by FirstNet. FirstNet’s technical staff is committed to conducting significant testing of MCPTT before it is deployed on the NPSBN, he said.

“When a public safety agency decides that the mission-critical push to talk over LTE is good enough is really up to them—it’s up to public safety to make that decision,” Kennedy said. “What [CTO Jeff Bratcher] and the FirstNet team are going to do is validate that it is meeting the international standards, that it’s done in an open-standards way, and that it is meeting the testing capability.

“Also, we’re not going to go forward with it, if it’s not ready. We want to make sure it’s ready for public safety and that they have the ability to bang on it in an operational capacity.”

Other key technological target dates on the roadmap include:

  • Availability of FirstNet/AT&T deployable solutions in September;
  • Completion of the FirstNet LTE core in March 2018, is in June 2019;
  • Onboarding and interconnection of the Public-Safety Enterprise Network (including support for next-generation 911 systems) by the end of 2018; and
  • Implementation of updated FirstNet location-based services in June 2019.

FirstNet Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson said he believes the location-based services—including information about the vertical location, or Z axis of personnel and assets—promise to have a tremendous impact on public safety, particularly in the fire sector.