AT&T announces MCPTT-based FirstNet PTT, certifications for HPUE products from Assured Wireless
AT&T today announced FirstNet Push-to-Talk (FirstNet PTT), a solution based on the 3GPP’s mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) standard that is available to public safety nationwide for $10 per month and that two high-power user equipment (HPUE) products from Assured Wireless have been certified for FirstNet use.
“FirstNet PTT is designed to enable public safety to use their smartphones, feature phones, and specialized ultra-rugged devices like they would use a two-way radio, with highly reliable, high-performance calling,” according to an AT&T press release. “FirstNet PTT will also deliver new features that allow first responders to better react to changing events.”
Described as the “first-ever nationwide, mission-critical, standards-based solution,” FirstNet PTT was “developed from the ground up specifically for and with public safety,” according to the AT&T press release. FirstNet PTT was tested with public-safety agencies throughout the U.S., including the Cranford Police Department in New Jersey.
“Reliable communication is critical. It must work. It must be there when we need it. And it must be crystal clear because we don’t have time to repeat ourselves or introduce room for errors in fast-changing situations or when lives are on the line,” Capt. Guy Patterson of the Cranford Police Department said in a prepared statement. “Our experience with FirstNet Push-to-Talk has been excellent. On more than one occasion, FirstNet PTT allowed us to effectively communicate when our traditional systems failed.
“Testing FirstNet PTT was an intensely promising experience, showing us the future capability, quality and performance we can infuse into our response to enhance effectiveness and collaboration.”
Samsung’s Galaxy XCover FieldPro—a rugged Android smartphone with a dedicated push-to-talk button and a chipset optimized to meet MCPTT requirements—is the only device to support FirstNet PTT at the outset, although AT&T press release state plans to build “a broad ecosystem of devices, apps and accessories that will support FirstNet PTT.”
Samsung introduced the Galaxy XCover FieldPro in the U.S. last fall at the IACP 2019 event in Chicago. A version of the Galaxy XCover FieldPro has been used by first responders in South Korea.
The Galaxy XCover FieldPro is not one of the smartphones eligible under the new FirstNet “free smartphone for life” program announced today by AT&T.
FirstNet PTT will be available at $10 per month, with that amount being credited back to subscribers through August, according to the AT&T web site. The standard $10-per-month figure is half the price of the Enhanced Push-to-Talk (EPTT) Advanced service that AT&T offers business customers through its carrier-integrated PTT solution from Motorola Solutions’ Kodiak unit. The standard EPTT service costs $5 per month and can be coupled with prioritized data for $10 per month, according to AT&T’s web site.
FirstNet PTT currently is available in a “controlled introduction,” the press release states. FirstNet PTT is available nationwide to interested entities, but AT&T is still developing the feature set associated with the program, according to an AT&T spokesperson.
AT&T did not identify the vendor for the MCPTT interface, MCPTT software or MCPTT server in its press release. AT&T did not respond to questions from IWCE’s Urgent Communications about the vendor or vendors supplying these solutions in time to be included in this article.
For AT&T, the FirstNet PTT announcement is a significant milestone, as the carrier giant’s contract with the FirstNet Authority required it to make MCPTT available to FirstNet subscribers by today’s deadline. While AT&T met the deadline, the solution—like all milestones in the FirstNet contract—is subject to FirstNet Authority review prior to being accepted as a completed task.
“AT&T has delivered FirstNet PTT, which is now pending FirstNet Authority verification, validation and acceptance,” according to a statement from a FirstNet Authority spokesperson.
This FirstNet PTT announcement has been a highly-anticipated event within the public-safety community for years, particularly after AT&T officials previously indicated that it would be available by the end of 2018 and then targeted the latter part of 2019 for the MCPTT launch.
To date, FirstNet users have been able to subscribe to the carrier-integrated Enhanced Push-to-Talk PTT solution from Motorola Solutions’ Kodiak unit—now called Enhanced Push to Talk—or a host of over-the-top PTT applications that are available through the FirstNet App Catalog, but none of these are designed to be used to deliver the mission-critical voice communications traditionally transmitted via LMR systems.
In contrast, PTT solutions meeting the 3GPP standard for MCPTT are designed to meet or exceed the performance of public-safety LMR standards like P25 and TETRA when the user device is connected to an LTE network. In addition to meeting or bettering LMR standards for latency and call-setup times, MCPTT-compliant offerings are expected to provide notably better voice quality than LMR technologies, because more bandwidth is available in LTE and users are closer to the cell site, so higher-level codecs can be used.
Although the words “mission critical” are part of the name used to describe the MCPTT standard, officials for AT&T and the FirstNet Authority repeatedly have stressed that public-safety users and representatives should determine whether any PTT offering meets the mission-critical needs of first responders.
While MCPTT is expected to perform well in comparison to LMR when a user is on an LTE network—particularly one providing users with priority and preemption, such as FirstNet—there are significant concerns whether MCPTT can meet public safety’s expectations when a user is not on an LTE system.
Proximity Services (ProSe) is the 3GPP standard for direct-mode communications between LTE devices without the need for connectivity to the network core. One difficulty associated with ProSe is the lack of chipsets available in the industry that support the function. Samsung has publicly stated that it has a ProSe chip that has been used in South Korea, but no information about the performance of ProSe has been released to date.
Even if it works, whether ProSe can meet the needs of first responders has been a topic of considerable scrutiny within the public-safety community. After all, an LTE device with an internal antenna that typically transmits with 200 milliwatts of power is not expected to provide the type of direct-mode range that first responders have today with LMR portable devices that feature large external antennas and maximum power levels of 3 watts and 5 watts.
However, proponents of MCPTT have noted that the need for direct-mode communications for first responders could decrease in the future, as LTE and 5G networks increasingly become more available. In addition to larger terrestrial buildouts, the availability of various deployable technologies—from COWs and COLTs to “bring the network with you” solutions in Pelican cases and backpacks—become more prevalent could significantly reduce the need for direct-mode communications from LTE devices.
And, in the case of FirstNet, the range of its terrestrial system effectively could increase by 80% for users with high-power user equipment (HPUE).
As part of AT&T’s release today, the company announced that it has certified two HPUE products from Assured Wireless—a module that can be embedded in devices such as vehicle routers and a USB-connected modem—as being FirstNet Ready.
“Our collaboration with AT&T is a perfect example of technology’s power to do great things for public safety,” Assured Wireless CEO Tom Bilotta said in a prepared statement provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “The standards-based, HPUE solutions that we have brought forward build on the unique capabilities of FirstNet to further strengthen first responders’ ability to communicate, wherever their mission takes them.”
Typical cellular devices transmit signals using a maximum of about 200 milliwatts of power. However, a unique characteristic of the 20 MHz of Band 14 spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority is that devices operating the band are allowed to transmit using the 3GPP standard for HPUE that permits 1.25 watts—six times the normal cellular power level—which greatly enhances the effective range for users.
As with other cellular signals, HPUE devices do not radiate signals at maximum power under all conditions; the power level automatically is adjusted to ensure performance while saving battery life and preventing harmful interference.