NTIA releases LTE grant funds to LA-RICS; RFP expected today
Potential LTE partners and vendors soon will be able to submit bids to the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS), which will issue a request for proposal (RFP) for its public-safety LTE system, LA-RICS officials told the FirstNet board today.
On Sunday, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released the $154.6 million in federal grants that LA-RICS needed to fund the 232-site LTE network that is expected to serve more than 34,000 first responders and 17,000 municipal “secondary responders,” according to John Lenihan, battalion chief for the Los Angeles County fire department.
“I know that [secondary responder] is a little bit of a loose term, but a secondary responder to me is someone that is statutorily responsible that assists or cooperates in an incident,” Lenihan said during the FirstNet board meeting, which was webcast. “When we have fires in Southern California and the subsequent rains and we get mud and debris flow, public works is integral to the mitigation of the incident. They are quite an active participant.”
After legislation created FirstNet last year, NTIA froze funds from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) that were earmarked by LA-RICS and six other entities planning to build public-safety LTE networks. Earlier this summer, LA-RICS became the first jurisdiction to negotiate a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet, and it is the first to receive permission to spend BTOP funds for its planned LTE project.
LA-RICS Executive Director Patrick Mallon said the LTE project is critical for public-safety communications, because L.A.-area jurisdictions are required to vacate their LMR operations from the T-Band spectrum (470-512 MHz) by 2021, and there is not enough spectrum available in other bands to simply migrate existing narrowband systems. Instead, LA-RICS hopes to offload enough non-mission-critical voice traffic to the LTE system to allow mission-critical voice communications to be carried over narrowband public-safety channels in the UHF and 700 MHz bands.
NTIA has extended the execution deadline for the BTOP grant funds to September 2015, which promises to be a challenging timeline for LA-RICS, so officials are moving as quickly as possible on the project, Mallon said.
“The lifting of the [NTIA grant] suspension on Sunday served as tremendous motivation, and my staff assured me as late as midnight of last night that we will be out with an RFP today,” Mallon said during the FirstNet board meeting. “We expect contract negotiation to occur immediately after the first of the year.”
FirstNet board member Charles Dowd—assistant chief of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), which also has to vacate the T-Band in 2021—applauded the LA-RICS vision.
“The issue of voice is something that FirstNet is acutely aware of,” Dowd said. “Voice capability of this is going to be just as important as the data is in the long term.
We’re not looking to rush anything from mission-critical voice capability—we know LMR will be around for a long time. We know we're going to need [voice over broadband] ultimately, as we move forward, and we want to see if we can develop more sophisticated voice capabilities on this system.”