FirstNet staff members reiterated a commitment to ensuring that the much-anticipated nationwide broadband network for first responders will provide public-safety-grade reliability and local control during last week’s meetings of FirstNet's Technology Committee and the full board.

“Mobility, security and redundancy are our network-design cornerstones,” Jeff Bratcher, FirstNet’s deputy chief technology officer (CTO) said during last Monday’s Technology and Planning Committee meeting, which was webcast. “The network design must follow the way public safety works, and we will augment their existing land-mobile-radio systems initially.”

During the three months of preparing the organizational roadmap—approved by the full FirstNet board last Tuesday—technical staff personnel have been considering three basic network-deployment strategies to blanket the United States with broadband coverage with terrestrial LTE technology, mobile communications (mobile comms) and satellite technology, Bratcher said.

“We’ve looked at a range of traditional, cellular-based solutions, all the way down to a mobile-comms-based solution,” he said. “Some of the key ones we’ve looked at are:

  • A dense cellular design—35,000 sites, leveraging a lot of the modeling efforts done over the last year;
  • A middle option with 24,000 sites, leveraging more of those mobile-comms and satellite capabilities in the rural and wilderness [areas]; and
  • A hybrid approach with 14,000 sites—a very thin [terrestrial LTE] network with a much heavier reliance on mobile comms and satellite.”

Determining which of these options—or another combination of terrestrial LTE coverage and mobile/satellite coverage—is the best approach for FirstNet is critical, according to FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn, who noted the impact that the choice will have on the organization’s business model.

“Is this system going to need 35,000 cell sites or 24,000 cell sites [nationwide]?” Ginn said during the full board meeting on Tuesday, which was webcast. “We don’t quite know the answer to that yet. We’re working very hard on it. But how you answer that question would change all of the economics of the system.”