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FirstNet Board Member Sue Swenson Delivers Remarks to CCA Conference

April 18, 2013

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NEW ORLEANSFirst Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Board member Sue Swenson provided an update yesterday on FirstNet’s work to prepare for a nationwide public safety broadband network.  The following remarks are a summary of those delivered at the Competitive Carriers Association Global Expo in New Orleans on April 17.

“We all know and appreciate the heroic acts displayed by the men and women who make up our emergency responder communities. On Monday, after the Boston Marathon, we were reminded of their vital role and how much their effectiveness depends on having reliable wireless communication.

Unfortunately, when you have spectrum fragmentation and defacto standards that have not been enforced, you end up with a lack of interoperability between networks.   When emergency responders can’t talk to each other, you can’t optimize emergency response.

Emergency responders have also been walled off from accessing the latest technology. Essentially, the pipe is too small and the pressure is too weak to pump data through.  While current public safety LMR systems provide some capability, many emergency personnel resort to using their own smartphones to get the benefit of higher bandwidth and faster speeds.

What they need, and can get with LTE technology, is the ability to:

  • download aerial videos of an incident to enable more effective planning and strategy before responders enter the scene;
  • stream video of a patient from a remote location to get medical assistance during a long ambulance journey to the nearest hospital;
  • review architectural drawings before entering a burning building.

Public safety has been walled off from scale advantages, too. Without scale advantage, networks and devices do less but cost more.  Hardening and redundancy cost more. Upgrades cost more. So do operations and maintenance. The network cost per public-safety user is some 20 times more than the average commercial mobile network customer.  Two million* users won’t give public safety the scale advantages that commercial carriers have with 300 million customers.  Still, one nationwide network would enable public safety to improve reliability and capture savings they are missing out on today.  

I think it’s important to remember that the public safety community recognized the need for having dedicated spectrum and one technologically advanced network.  They worked together for five years to make it happen, demanded it and got it. Frankly, I think they are a shining example for the rest of us who have the responsibility to build this dedicated, nationwide, broadband network to guarantee emergency responders get priority access and capacity in emergency situations.

FirstNet is chartered with providing emergency responders with the first nationwide, high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety. We have no other motives. We aren’t competing as a new wireless carrier. We aren’t building a network for social media or games.  We exist ONLY to serve the public safety community! 

FirstNet Update

Much work is underway.  User requirements are driving everything we do.  FirstNet is a network platform supported by a number of assets.  The platform will enable FirstNet to meet a wide range of user requirements. We’ve used color coding to provide a status update. Green means we are on track.  Yellow means we have some traction and visibility on what’s required.  Red indicates we have don’t have the answer yet.  We won’t be in a position to finalize the network design until we have consulted with the states and local entities and potential operating partners.

We have secured the spectrum and will be building to LTE standards.  We know that testing and evaluation of preemption technology is core and critical.  Hardening must be done to meet public safety grade reliability.  We have identified key components, taking into account geography and weather parameters.  We are working collaboratively with the public safety community to develop an approach for hardening. 

We plan to blanket the country using a mix of terrestrial, deployable and satellite solutions that meet the specific coverage needs of each state. 

We initiated an RFI on devices this week. It’s in the Federal Register. We want to understand the capabilities of potential suppliers and will be issuing additional requests for information in the coming months.

Work with the early builders will also help us understand what it will take to meet user requirements.  You may recall that the BTOP grants were halted last year by NTIA to allow time to consider the projects in light of FirstNet.  Since then, FirstNet visited with the early builders and subsequently the Board authorized negotiations to begin in February for FirstNet spectrum leases. Discussions are going well, and we’re fairly optimistic that we can come to agreement on the spectrum lease within the 90-day period.  These projects still need to work directly with NTIA to request lifting of the funding suspension.  FirstNet is very interested in these projects.  We expect to learn a lot from their key focus areas.  Some projects may work on commercial carrier interoperability and priority access – two key areas that we all need to learn more about.

Several important, sequenced activities are underway.  In mid-May, FirstNet will begin its formal state consultancy outreach. Working in partnership with The National Governors Association, we will host regional meetings where we bring together policymakers representing a cross-section of state, local and tribal governments. What we learn about user requirements and priorities will help FirstNet design and conduct an effective vendor RFI/RFP process, which will drive the timeline for delivering the state-level, FirstNet build-out plan that states need to determine how they will work with FirstNet.  

FirstNet will also benefit from vendor forums that the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Program plans to host. These meetings will focus on a set of broadband technology topics crucial to a successful nationwide deployment.  Topics might include network resilience, satellite integration and inter-system integration. These forums will help identify areas in need of additional research, testing and standards development.  FirstNet has been asked to present and discuss how each of the technology areas might fit into the FirstNet deployment strategy.  Meetings will be open, listed in the Federal Register and held in Boulder.  Planning is underway.  Visit the website to obtain the latest information.

We understand why FirstNet is so important to public safety and are working all aspects of the requirements so that we deliver this dedicated, nationwide, high-speed broadband network at a reasonable cost. The FirstNet board is working to balance the need for input with the desire to make progress.  Sequencing of activities is key. We have to spend time understanding user requirements, supplier capabilities and potential operating partner arrangements.  We also understand that what we’re doing is unprecedented so we need everyone pulling in the same direction to get this done.  Very simply….it’s time to put on the same color jerseys so that we can deliver to our emergency responders what they need and deserve!”

CCA Presentation