FirstNet proves to be valuable during Super Bowl week in Atlanta, Georgia official says
FirstNet service worked well for agencies helping to secure areas of Atlanta during the Super Bowl and throughout the week of events surrounding the championship game, according to a Georgia state official who participated in the effort.
Warren Shepard, manager of the critical-infrastructure and key-resource unit for Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA) and the FirstNet coordinator for the state of Georgia, applauded the performance of the FirstNet system throughout the week, even in locations with heavy congestion.
“We were seeing speeds in and around Centennial Olympic Park—during high-traffic times at some of the events—in excess of 85 MB/s down [download speeds] and 26 MB/s up [upload speeds] on Thursday, and there were probably 5,000 to 8,000 people there,” Shepard said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “On game day, I was on Northside Drive that runs outside of the stadium, and we were getting 58 MB/s down and 26 MB/s up.”
Not only did the FirstNet system provide the expected data connectivity, it also helped fill unanticipated gaps in connectivity from other providers, Shepard said.
“We had a minor hiccup at the ops center on the Sunday a week before the Super Bowl, when we lost the wireless LAN [WiLAN]. We reverted to our FirstNet hotspots on our phones, and we were able to run our computers, get our uploads and downloads, and still carry on our voice conversations at the same time, without any interruption,” he said. “We did that for about a three- or four-hour period, and then we went back to the WiLAN [when it became available again].”
Similarly, plans to use drones to provide real-time streaming video of activities in the downtown Atlanta area appeared to undermined on the Thursday before the Super Bowl, when it became clear that the wireless provider that was expected to serve the drones would not be able to meet the throughput needs, Shepard said. Once again, FirstNet connectivity proved to be an effective alternative, enabling the command staff to have access to real-time video from the drones, he said.
“We probably would not have had those drones deployed, if we weren’t able to make that connection with FirstNet,” Shepard said.
Shepard said he was impressed by the quality and real-time nature of the video observed on his device.
“We have access to some of our other camera systems that we were able to livestream on our portable devices,” Shepard said. “I was able to look at some of the camera systems in the mid-town area and livestream those, without any distortion, pixilation or jumpiness in the video.
“We noticed almost zero delay in the signal. At one point, we had one of the drones in the office while they were servicing it. They were several miles away from us, and we wondered, ‘I wonder what kind of delay we’d get,’ so we told them to hold up a number of fingers and we would tell them, to see was the lag time was. It was almost instantaneous; you really didn’t notice it—and that was streaming on my phone.”
Beyond video, multiple agencies working during Super Bowl week used FirstNet connectivity to track the location of personnel and other assets, as well as sending images, alerts and texts, Shepard said.
Representatives from all providers of wireless and wireline communications providers, utilities, fiber companies, Fulton County, the city of Atlanta and a federal cybersecurity team were housed on the command post near the Super Bowl venue, according to Shepard Although some have speculated that there could be interoperability problems with entities that subscribed to providers other than FirstNet, that never proved to be an issue, he said.
“We just know that whenever we needed to communicate, we were able to—there wasn’t ever really a concern about that,” Shepard said. “I know that, if I needed to talk with the operations center or they needed to get ahold of me, we had instant communications.
“We had no issues with communications. We were able to talk back and forth. Luckily, it was mostly just check-ins … we didn’t have any incidents during the Super Bowl or the week of, which is very good.”
Shepard said his agency uses AT&T’s Enhanced Push to Talk (EPTT) service that leverages the Kodiak push-to-talk-over-cellular (PoC) technology owned by Motorola Solution. Although none of the carrier PoC services support interoperability between each other, Shepard said he has been very pleased with the voice quality and performance he has experienced with speaking with another EPTT user.
“It’s almost cellular quality—even landline,” he said. “There’s very little garble; voices are clear and very easy to understand.
“In the old days with Nextel, I remember struggling to hear what they were saying—the garbleness of it, the premature cutoff, whatever you want to say. With Enhanced Push to Talk, the people you are speaking with are just crystal clear.”
When he used Nextel Communications’ push-to-talk service while in Central Florida, Shepard said he remembers often failing to be able to secure a connection as the service became more popular in the area and capacity on the network was strained. That has never happened to him with the EPTT service, he said.
“I’ve always gotten a connection on the first try,” Shepard said. “Alerts go out to the phones, and messages go out. I’ve not experienced any issues.”
Shepard said that the Super Bowl communications setup this year did not include a bridge to link LTE and LMR communications, but “that’s something we’ll look … to make happen in the future.”