Upcoming Band 14 PTT devices ‘phenomenal,’ FirstNet Authority board member says
Not-yet-available push-to-talk LTE devices that are being evaluated in the FirstNet Authority laboratory should please public-safety users and are “getting very, very close” to the type of solutions first responders would want to replace land-mobile-radio (LMR) handsets, a FirstNet Authority board member said today.
Neil Cox, chairman of the FirstNet Authority board’s Network and Technology Committee, said FirstNet Authority board members have seen devices in the organization’s Colorado laboratory but are not allowed to disclose any information about them. Without sharing any details, Cox indicated that he was impressed with the devices he saw.
“I tell you, the next generation of push-to-talk devices on Band 14 LTE FirstNet are phenomenal,” Cox said during the FirstNet Authority board meeting, which was webcast. “I don’t know if they’ll go all the way to what public safety wants to replace LMR, but it’s getting very, very close.
“When we saw it, held it in our hands and looked at it, it’s amazing what this next generation of devices will do.”
Cox made the statements just two days after AT&T—the carrier partner responsible for building and maintaining the FirstNet system—announced plans to begin offering FirstNet Push-to-Talk service during the first quarter of 2020 that will include a “core set” of features that comply with the 3GPP mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) standard.
While Cox highlighted the capabilities of the devices in the FirstNet Authority lab, he did not discuss any LTE push-to-talk service that would be offered to FirstNet subscribers. Currently, FirstNet subscribers can use Motorola Solutions’ carrier-integrated Kodiak PTT technology or a variety of over-the-top PTT solutions.
Whether any of the devices referenced by Cox will be available to FirstNet users when the MCPTT service is launched is unclear, because no timetable for the rollout of the devices was provided. Cox also did not mention the name of any manufacturer or specify which features impressed him most.
Cox also outlined some principles surrounding plans for FirstNet 5G services, which he said will become available when it is “the right time for public safety,” as opposed to introducing 5G technology before affordable devices are in the market.
“I can assure you that it will be mission-critical 5G,” Cox said. “It will be standards-based, [which] will enable vendors and everyone to build toward this network. That’s one our strategies going into 2020, because you’re going to hear a lot about 5G in the upcoming year. A lot of what you hear now is just hype. It’s really not commercial 5G; it’s proprietary.
“One of commitments—and one of our responsibilities in the Act [passed in 2012 that established FirstNet]—is to have this network evolve. We will do that, and we will do that at the right time for public safety. But our first goal is to get that coverage out there today, get it working, make this network be the best network that it can be.”
At its previous meeting, FirstNet Authority board members approved the expenditure of funds to upgrade the dedicated FirstNet core in a manner that will enable it to support 5G services in the future. Cox cited the benefits associated with the FirstNet system having a physically separate network core.
“One of the wisest decisions that we made is to have our own dedicated core,” he said. I cannot stress the importance that this network stands on its own. This is a dedicated network for public safety with a dedicated core.”
As an example, Cox mentioned a use case cited in south Florida—the site of yesterday’s FirstNet Authority board meeting—involving broadband connectivity on school buses.
“I was blown away yesterday … by what they were doing here on the school buses—how they were using FirstNet and cameras to … control the Wi-Fi on a bus and go to the video, in case of an accident, over the FirstNet network,” Cox said.
“Those are the kind of things that make this invaluable. I can’t stress [enough] the fact that this is public safety’s network, and you can play with it like this. Nobody else’s network is going to let you do this.”