AT&T, Motorola collaborate on second MCPTT offering for FirstNet
FirstNet subscribers should have a choice of mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) services this winter, when a new offering from Motorola Solutions is expected to be available following a collaborative development effort with AT&T, the contractor building the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).
Scott Agnew, AT&T’s assistant vice president for FirstNet products, said that Motorola Solutions was selected as the second MCPTT provider—the first offering, FirstNet PTT, was launched in March 2020—through a competitive procurement process conducted by AT&T.
“When we evaluated who the second [MCPTT] provider would be, Motorola Solutions had the premier solution,” Agnew said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “They had the best solution. They won in a fair fight. So, we think that we’re bringing—in concert with Motorola—a very strong solution to the marketplace.”
Agnew declined to share any information about subscription cost of the Motorola Solutions MCPTT service but clarified that AT&T will make the final pricing decisions.
“We’re going to distribute it, so we put the price in the marketplace,” Agnew said. “Of course, there are elements of the vendor—there’s the cost of goods sold and those elements—that drive what the end price becomes. But at the end of the day, we are going to be the distributor of it. You will buy it from FirstNet, built with AT&T.”
Motorola Solutions owns the Kodiak technology that is used by AT&T, Verizon and several other wireless providers to deliver push-to-talk-over-cellular (PoC) services that are integrated into the carrier’s network, as opposed to over-the-top offerings from vendors like ESChat. While Kodiak-based offerings like AT&T’s Enhanced Push To Talk (EPTT) are “carrier-integrated,” the new Motorola Solutions MCPTT offering will be “core-integrated,” because it will be embedded more tightly into the FirstNet network, as the FirstNet PTT service is today.
“Across the board, what we are doing is that we are truly making mission-critical push to talk a feature on the network—like voicemail, like text messaging—where it just inherently works, and we know about it, if something is wrong,” Agnew said.
“We’re listening to the voice of public safety, and I can tell you that a hosted-only solution as your long-term approach is not [going to be fully embraced]. It’s got to be integrated into the network—we’re convinced that that’s where it needs to go.”
Derik Mortlock, AT&T’s director of FirstNet mission-critical product management, echoed this sentiment, noting that much of the collaboration between AT&T and Motorola Solutions has been focused on this tight integration of the new MCPTT product.
“What was critical for us was to deliver mission-critical push to talk as an integrated service in the FirstNet network,” Mortlock said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “This platform has typically been a vendor-hosted and -operated solution. We’re actually integrating this platform into—and distributing it across—the FirstNet network, standing it up in our data centers and operating it as a critical, integrated solution within the FirstNet network.
“So, we’re able to kind of take that core platform and enhance it with the availability, reliability and resilience of being part of the FirstNet network, and that’s where a lot of the development is focused.”
Mortlock said the new Motorola Solutions MCPTT offering on FirstNet will meet the low-latency and other performance metrics associated with the 3GPP standard for MCPTT through Release 14, as FirstNet PTT does today.
Although AT&T is naming Motorola Solutions as its second MCPTT vendor for FirstNet, the carrier giant still has not identified the vendor behind the existing FirstNet PTT offering. Multiple industry sources and media reports have indicated that FirstNet PTT was developed by Samsung—the vendor with the lone handset that was deemed MCPTT-capable when FirstNet PTT was launched—but AT&T officials have declined to comment on the matter for the past 16 months.
One aspect of the MCPTT that is not offered with FirstNet PTT and will not be included in the Motorola Solutions MCPTT service is Proximity Services (ProSe). ProSe was designed to be the LTE version of direct-mode communications, but it is largely being abandoned by the industry and most chipset vendors are not supporting the feature.
Samsung has a ProSe-capable chipset and has demonstrated that the technology works, but the range of ProSe on low-power LTE devices is only a fraction of the direct-mode performance that public-safety users experience when using higher-powered LMR devices with large external antennas.
Mortlock said that neither FirstNet PTT nor the Motorola Solutions MCPTT are expected to include ProSe, but AT&T is seeking to provide FirstNet users with technology to meet their needs when the FirstNet terrestrial network is not available.
“[ProSe is] not currently part of the roadmap, but we are certainly looking at solutions on the roadmap that address that kind of direct-mode use case for both platforms,” Mortlock said.
FirstNet PTT currently is only an option on Android smartphones, but the Motorola MCPTT offering will work with devices operate on both iOS and Android operating systems as soon as it is available, Agnew said.
“That’s a big factor in the U.S., as most [FirstNet public-safety] subscribers are iPhone subscribers,” Agnew said.
FirstNet PTT also is expected to work in the iOS arena in the near future, although Agnew did not provide a specific timetable for this capability to be available.
“We are very close on FirstNet PTT,” he said. “I don’t want to give any dates, but we are progressing very well to have that shortly.”
One of public safety’s primary concerns with MCPTT has been interoperability between MCPTT services, based largely on experience with push-to-talk offerings from wireless providers—for instance, an AT&T push-to-talk user cannot talk with a Verizon push-to-talk user, even though both carriers use the Kodiak technology owned by Motorola Solutions.
Agnew said that the Motorola Solutions MCPTT offered on FirstNet eventually will be fully interoperable with FirstNet PTT—with no need for gateway technology—but that will not be the case when the new MCPTT service is made available.
“It will not be interoperable at launch,” Agnew said. “There’s some development that needs to be done—it will happen. We attempted to launch it to be interoperable, but the timing wasn’t where it needed to be. More development needs to occur, but it will be interoperable.”
When asked if public-safety agencies could utilize some sort of gateway to link FirstNet PTT and Motorola Solutions MCPTT talk groups in the meantime, Agnew said, “Not at this time.”
Another interoperability issue involves the ability for FirstNet push-to-talk services like EPTT and MCPTT to interoperate with public-safety land-mobile-radio (LMR) systems that are used for mission-critical voice communications today. In conjunction with the new Motorola Solutions MCPTT offering, AT&T announced that FirstNet will support Critical Connect—the cloud-based interoperability platform from Motorola Solutions—as a link between LTE and LMR systems.
AT&T’s Mortlock said that the Critical Connect announcement is much more straightforward than the MCPTT collaboration, in that it does not require a lot of new integration or development work.
“There’s no change to the Motorola Solutions’ Critical Connect offer that’s on the market today,” Mortlock said. “The availability of Critical Connect is really intended to enhance the options that are available for interoperability, with Critical Connect being one of those solutions. We still intend to support direct connection through the P25 standards—ISSI and CSSI. We’ll have an IWF [3GPP’s Interworking Function solution] in the future that supports both platforms, … and we’ll continue to support RoIP [radio over IP].
“So, Critical Connect becomes another option for folks who may a Motorola Solutions LMR network user and want to use the Critical Connect solution for interoperability; that’s now available to them. But it won’t replace the options to do interoperability through the IWF, a direct connection using the P25 standards interfaces, or RoIP.”
Agnew said it is important for public-safety users to have interoperable communications between the FirstNet system—a network that has seen significant adoption growth—and Motorola Solutions, which is the dominant public-safety LMR vendor in the United States.
“You’ve got the power of the FirstNet network, which is up to 2.5 million connections—it continues to grow, and public safety continues to adopt,” Agnew said. “And then you have the power of Motorola Solutions, and this is where the collaboration comes in. They are the leader in land mobile radio, which is another type of public-safety network.
“It was just so important to bring those together and to bring [them] where most of public safety is currently—land mobile radio on Motorola Solutions–and to have a solution with FirstNet to drive that interoperability, whether it’s through Critical Connect or another technology like ISSI, to give public safety a choice. So, it’s meeting public safety where it is, and that’s really the power of this collaboration—listening to our customers and what they need.”
John Zidar, senior vice president of Motorola Solutions’ Global Enterprise & Channels business unit, echoed this sentiment.
“We are pleased to be expanding our work with AT&T and FirstNet through a shared commitment to interoperable radio and broadband communications,” Zidar said in prepared statement provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
“AT&T’s upcoming MCPTT solution, built on the industry-leading Motorola Solutions platform, will bring a more robust feature set and greater intelligence to emergency response. Its seamless connection to mission-critical land-mobile-radio networks through our cloud-based Critical Connect service will support essential collaboration within and across public safety agencies.”
Many in the industry have questioned whether MCPTT eventually could replace LMR as public safety’s primary mission-critical-voice technology. Agnew said that AT&T officials currently consider MCPTT to be complementary to LMR, and that it will be public safety’s decision whether to make a change eventually—a position that FirstNet Authority and AT&T officials have taken for years.
“From our perspective, we’re supporting public-safety communications,” Agnew said. “We know that voice continues to be primarily with land mobile radio. However, as you can see with 2.5 million connections, public safety does trust the FirstNet network.
“Our perspective is that this is going to augment land mobile radio. With the interoperability, it’s going to allow more people to communicate, more people to have mutual aid, and just respond more effectively because of the data. I think we just need to wait for public safety to decide if … they’re in a position where this technology is their primary voice option.”