FirstNet will not unveil its network design for some time, but it is important that all public-safety personnel are able to utilize the dedicated broadband system, regardless of location, FirstNet officials said last week during a webinar conducted as part of the IWCE virtual trade show.

FirstNet board member Charles Dowd, a deputy chief for the New York City police department (NYPD), said that FirstNet must build and maintain a network that is useful well beyond the urban locations in the U.S.

“I’m from the largest police agency and the largest city in the country, but this has to work for everybody,” Dowd said. “This can’t just work in New York, LA, Chicago, Houston [and] Atlanta. This has to work in the rural areas, too. The solution has to satisfy public-safety needs everyplace.

“It’s not about the cities, it’s about public safety everywhere and getting this right and making sure that the solution makes sense in dense urban areas and in very rural areas.”

Indeed, 95% of the geographic land mass in the United States is “what you would call rural and wilderness area,” but FirstNet has to provide coverage to those areas, according to FirstNet General Manager Bill D’Agostino.

“This has to be a network that serves the nation and the territories and is a geographic-based network, not a population-based network,” D’Agostino said. “I say that, because you will see that we are looking at some very interesting design concepts to maximize our coverage expansion and to operate this network on a mobile basis to the greatest degree possible, and then to build—as we start to look at major cities and suburban areas—more of what would like a more traditional cellular network.”

In addition to covering rural areas, the FirstNet system must be accessible in a manner that integrates easily into the way first responders operate in those environments, D’Agostino said.

“If you think about the way public safety works today, they work in a mobile environment,” he said. “We have to come alongside the way they operate, and we need to build mobile solutions for them. ... A very, very critical element of our network architecture is to provide mobility for the 95% of the U.S. land mass and to really give them a way to operate, even when they’re outside of network coverage completely.

“So, we’re going to be looking at satellite options. We’re going to be looking at self-organizing-network [SON] options that communicate as first responders come up in a network environment that maybe are not connected to the core network, because they’re completely out of satellite or terrestrial coverage, but they can communicate with each other for safety and security reasons.

“Mobility will be a huge element of this. Suffice it to say, at this point, it’s a major focus area for us, and it’s going to help us cover a large portion of the land mass. And, we will also see the very traditional terrestrial-based network as a major component moving forward in that dense urban market.”