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Verizon Public Safety Core to Compete with AT&T’s FirstNet

By J. Sharpe Smith, Senior Editor

FirstNet had barely flipped the switch on its broadband network core when it began to face competition. Verizon turned on its public safety core on March 27, an LTE network with expanded products and services that is designed to compete with AT&T’s FirstNet broadband network core, which also went online at the end of last month.

Public safety agencies will receive preemption and mobile broadband priority services on the Verizon private core at no extra charge, as well as traffic segmentation, improved security, and enhanced service management and control.

The public safety core is connected to Verizon’s Radio Access Network (RAN), which has spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz Cellular, 1.9 GHz PCS, and 1.7/2.1 GHz AWS bands. The data traffic of public safety mobile users is recognized and separated from commercial users and given priority access at the tower and through the network.

Verizon is positioning itself as the preeminent public safety communications provider, and Michael Maiorana, senior vice president, public sector for Verizon, left no doubt that it intends to take on FirstNet, noting that Verizon’s 2.5 million square miles of LTE coverage is 400,000 square miles more than AT&T.

“This isn’t a new marketplace for us – this is what we do. We continue to make the investments necessary to give public safety access to the best possible network coverage, reliability and capability, whenever they need it,” Maiorana said. “Our public safety network will provide a comprehensive and cost-effective solution for public safety. A vigorously competitive marketplace where first responders have access to a choice [in LTE broadband networks] and competitively priced offerings is the best path forward.”

AT&T Powers Forward With FirstNet

The launch of the network core came one year into the FirstNet public-private partnership and it is moving forward on schedule, according to said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T – FirstNet.

“But bringing the FirstNet network core to life is one of the most exciting milestones yet,” he said. “While we’ve already given first responders access to the early benefits of FirstNet, the launch of the FirstNet evolved packet core is a major breakthrough for public safety. Built on physically separate hardware, it finally gives first responders their own separate, nationwide broadband network,” which is certified by the First Responder Network Authority.

The core creates and controls how public safety officials use FirstNet. It processes and carries public safety’s information and provides capabilities, like First Priority, which helps law enforcement, EMS and fire respond to unfolding incidents around them. Overall, it forms the basis for the unified, interoperable and nationwide communications system that is FirstNet.

FirstNet’s raison detre is to bring interoperability to all public safety agencies. One of the questions that came up in lieu of the Verizon public safety core is whether it will allow first responders on Verizon’s network to communicate with users of FirstNet. In statement provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications, Sambar said there would be no problems with interoperability between Verizon and FirstNet.

“Verizon knows full well that its customers will be able to communicate with FirstNet customers, and vice versa, because both networks interconnect per industry standards,” Sambar said. “The truth is AT&T-FirstNet and Verizon spoke to each other on this exact topic about six months ago. There is nothing else to discuss, as far as we’re concerned.”

AT&T’s FirstNet Buildout to Put Band 14 on Tens of Thousands of Towers

The First Responder Network Authority has given AT&T the go-ahead to build out FirstNet, the nationwide public safety broadband network. This includes deploying public safety’s dedicated spectrum – Band 14 – across statewide radio access networks in states and territories across the country.

In the next five years, AT&T will be putting Band 14 on tens of thousands of new and existing sites nationwide.

“We are implementing the state plans and delivering on our commitment to first responders in each state and territory,” said First Responder Network Authority CEO Mike Poth. “We haven’t wasted any time in getting started. We plan to touch about a third of our cell sites this year alone.”

Band 14 is nationwide spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet, allowing dedicated priority access to and preemption.

“We’ll cover 95 percent or more of the U.S. population with Band 14, which will bring first responders access to even more coverage and capacity to help them support emergencies and day-to-day operations across the country – in rural and urban areas,” Poth said. “This is important as FirstNet will help to address rural coverage gaps, giving first responders greater access to the connectivity they need.”


FirstNet Public-Private Partnership Sees Momentum After One Year

As it turned one year old, FirstNet gave an update on its progress. More than 350 Agencies in more than 40 States and territories have subscribed to the nationwide public safety broadband network being built by AT&T in public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority.

“We’ve been working hard to build something great for first responders,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T-FirstNet. “While we have made strong progress, we still have work to do to create the specialized experience that public safety is looking for. To already see this kind of momentum from the public safety community is encouraging, especially since first responders in many states have only recently been able to sign up for service.”

The agencies using FirstNet make up nearly 30,000 connections on the network. These connections range from smartphones to in-vehicle modems and more.

“We’re just under a year into building out FirstNet, and the platform is already giving first responders access to critical capabilities they’ve long demanded,” Sambar said. “These include unthrottled domestic data speeds as well as access to priority and preemption.”

Evolved Packet Network Core to Come Online

AT&T said it is on schedule and only weeks away from launching its nationwide, dedicated evolved packet network core specifically for FirstNet, giving public safety a highly secure environment.

“Bringing the core to life has been a priority since March 2017. And we’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars behind its build. Creating a separate network core for first responders isn’t quick, easy or cheap. But it’s necessary,” Sambar said.

Built on physically separate hardware, the FirstNet core completely separates public safety’s traffic from all commercial traffic. It is encrypted from end-to-end, using FIPS 140-2 compliant VPN solutions. It will be monitored at all times by a dedicated Security Operations Center.  There will be multiple geographically distributed core sites nationwide for redundancy and performance.

The FirstNet core will connect into the state radio access networks, providing seamless interoperability from state to state.


Lack of In-building Coverage Requirements Jeopardizes FirstNet’s Effectiveness for Public Safety

By Jeff “JR” Wakabayashi

Configuring the FirstNet public safety broadband wireless network in a way that ensures comprehensive in-building wireless communications capabilities for public safety agencies will require advancing the necessary policies, ideas and technologies.

— from the pages of AGL Magazine

Emergency first responders finally saw some progress last year for the roll-out of the nation’s first dedicated wireless broadband network for public safety, administered by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). Although it is still early in the FirstNet network’s evolution, it is surprising to see that the topic of in-building coverage lacks any clear direction, so far.

Emergencies happen everywhere, and 80 percent of all emergency calls originate indoors, according to the 2016 National 911 Progress Report. When 911 operators receive emergency calls, most of the time they dispatch first responders. Therefore, public safety communications data coverage within buildings sufficient to guarantee the use of FirstNet services is critical to protecting the lives of members of the public and the lives of first responders.

When the U.S. Congress in 2012 established FirstNet, it gave the authority the mission to deploy a nationwide broadband public safety network to promote nationwide interoperability.

Over the past year, FirstNet and other stakeholders have made a lot of progress in bringing this network to life. In March 2017, FirstNet awarded AT&T the contract for building out the network. Since then, the FirstNet has been busy working out the deployment details. Each of the 56 states and territories have received a plan and, as of this writing, 31 states and territories have opted in to the FirstNet network. States and territories that participate will not have to cover the cost of the radio access network (RAN) for the next 25 years. Initially, the sale of communications airwaves spectrum will cover the cost of the RAN. This method of funding is designed to help start the network deployment. So far, Congress has raised $7 billion through the sale by FCC auction of radio-frequency (RF) spectrum, with none of the money coming from taxpayers.

However, a reading of initial public documents and the nature of discussions conducted during town hall meetings have revealed that the FirstNet network requirement of in-building coverage and what it takes for in-building wireless standards and strategy have received little focus. Overlooking the critical elements of standards and strategy for in-building wireless coverage will jeopardize the effectiveness of such a mission-critical service.

However, many buildings, especially new LEED-certified buildings, do not allow RF signals to propagate throughout the building. Building materials made for energy efficiency, such as low-e glass, can attenuate radio signals that pass through them and thus reduce the strength of wireless signals used for both commercial and public safety purposes indoors.

Additionally, concrete, drywall and even free-air loss (signal loss that occurs as the radio wave travels through the air from the transmitter site to the receiving location) all contribute to RF attenuation. This makes it more and more difficult to create an optimal wireless communications system without some sort of signal booster, bidirectional amplifier (BDA) or distributed antenna system (DAS) to enhance the signals indoors.

If the first responders are unable to access FirstNet network services indoors, then is this service truly providing the value that was intended when it was first devised?

The service’s initial documentation contains little language addressing in-building coverage. The original directive of the network involves deployment on the macro network. Policies for regulating the codes for in-building coverage were not included.

However, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Fire Council (IFC) have developed model fire codes pertaining to in-building booster systems for public safety communications that apply at the national or global level. States, counties, municipalities and other jurisdictions make local decisions on how to interpret and apply these model codes. These organizations have created or have suggested specific public safety code requirements for in-building RF radio coverage for voice communications — from specifying minimum signal strength for emergency responder communications (−95dBm), to defining the coverage area (90 to 95 percent of the building), to 12- or 24-hour battery backup requirements for communications systems. The code bodies NFPA72 and IFC510 lead the effort to define the standards for public safety in-building communications at the local jurisdiction level.

One of these governing code bodies could introduce a regulation for the FirstNet network that would require LTE services testing similar to what is required for voice communications. For public safety voice communications, the building must meet a delivered audio quality (DAQ) score that meets the definition, “Speech understandable with repetition only rarely required. Some noise/distortion.” Testing would be carried out in every part of the building with each part of the building sectioned off according to a grid. Each grid section must meet the DAQ score for the whole building to be approved. The table on Page 00 shows the DAQ scale.

By requiring a similar data-oriented test for FirstNet network LTE services, first responders can rest assured that no matter what part of the building they are in, they will receive a sufficient level of signal service to be able to use the data services that are being delivered.

Although deployment of the FirstNet network has already begun for opt-in states, many see the lack of clear in-building network services coverage requirements as a big hole that needs to be addressed to ensure that first responders who would want to use its services would have ubiquitous access. Comba’s public safety CriticalPoint BDAs and soon-to-be-released fiber DAS are able to support FirstNet’s LTE Band 14 operations, but the next step is to ensure that authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) require such access as part of their codes. Although manufacturers will do their part to make sure that the FirstNet network will provide service inside buildings, nonprofit organizations such as the Safer Buildings Coalition, of which Comba is a member, also recognize the need for in-building coverage for FirstNet network services. Through their leadership, the nonprofit organizations are focused on advancing the policies, ideas and technologies that ensure comprehensive in-building communications capabilities for public safety agencies and the people they serve.

It is our hope that when the FirstNet network is fully deployed, it will fulfill Congress’ vision of a reliable nationwide, interoperable, secure and innovative broadband network for public safety not only for outdoor coverage, but also indoors.

Jeff “JR” Wakabayashi is the marketing manager at Comba Telecom, North America, where he promotes brand awareness by implementing strategic marketing plans for the region. Prior to joining Comba, he was the global marketing manager at Patriot Memory. He is a member of APCO, and he participates with the Safer Buildings Coalition as an Education Committee member.

New Hampshire Becomes First to Opt Out of FirstNet

By J. Sharpe Smith

Last week was not a banner week for the First Responder Network Authority. New Hampshire became the first state to opt out of AT&T’s FirstNet plan late last week, deciding instead to go with Rivada Networks. And Verizon quit the California RFP for the FirstNet RAN alleging it was unfair.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said that the Rivada plan was technically superior to AT&T and would allow the state more control over the network.

“Rivada has proposed a plan that has the potential to provide immense value to our state, including unparalleled public safety infrastructure investments that will lead to unmatched and near universal coverage for the new public safety network,” Sununu said. “New Hampshire will retain a level of control that it would not have enjoyed in an opt-in scenario.

New Hampshire announced a public/private partnership with Rivada Networks back in September 2016, saying that it had concerns that the rural, mountainous nature of the state “would not get the attention from FirstNet that [it] felt was deserved.” State officials also wanted to be prepared with a backup plan in case they chose not to accept the FirstNet State Plan.

“If the decision was to opt-out; however, the responsibility would then be New Hampshire’s to build the network to support FirstNet initiatives,” wrote John T. Stevens, state single point of contact (SPOC) for New Hampshire. “FirstNet will then require that such a plan be forwarded to FirstNet for approval within 180 days. It has long been the understanding by many that producing such as plan in 180 days is absolutely impractical and unachievable.”

Verizon, which is working with Rivada, has stated that it supplies communications to two-thirds of the public safety market in New Hampshire.

Also last week, Urgent Communications broke the story that Verizon decided not to bid on California’s procurement seeking an alternative vendor to FirstNet, claiming that FirstNet and AT&T are “rigging the game to stifle true competition.”

On the brighter side, Missouri became the 36th out of 56 states and territories to opt in to FirstNet.



Antenna OEMs Gear Up for FirstNet With Panoply of Products

By J. Sharpe Smith

With the deployment of the First Responders Broadband Network (FirstNet) beginning next year, the antenna industry is ramping up with production and the orders are beginning to roll in. OEMs, such as CommScope and Kathrein, have introduced families of base station antennas designed to support FirstNet site configurations, including 4X4 MIMO, in single and dual antenna configurations with multiple port counts and antenna lengths.

“There is a lot of interest in the market regarding FirstNet deployment,” Farid Firouzbakht, senior vice president, RF Products, CommScope, told AGL eDigest in a phone interview. “We already have a backlog of FirstNet orders from companies that are anticipating a ramp of activity building FirstNet in 2018.”

Kathrein has anticipated the FirstNet rollout and has been proactively stocking inventories during the past few months for AT&T.

“We have seen the first wave of orders over the past month and anticipate more in Q1 2018,” Capriccio Martin, vice president of marketing and product management of Kathrein, told AGL eDigest in a separate interview.

New Lines of Antennas

CommScope’s FirstNet antenna portfolio includes 12 models that operate in the D Band, featuring from six to 12 ports in four-, six- or eight-foot models. The choice of which antenna is appropriate will be a function of the different deployment strategies of each region, as well as the loading on each tower, Firouzbakht said. The OEM expects volumes of sales to differ for each model, with some of them serving niche applications.

“The kind of antenna they deploy may be a function of how crowded the tower is or whether the carrier wants to replace the existing antennas or if the want to add to the existing antennas. We designed so many variant of the antenna, because we need to cover the entire nation and there is no one size fits all strategy for every tower,” Firouzbakht said.

Kathrein’s line of 4×4 MIMO/FirstNet antenna offers four-port, eight-port, 10-port and 12-port units. Adding ports, especially in Band 14, requires additional space inside an antenna radome, which required the use of wider antennas for FirstNet or the use of a “two-antenna” solution, according to Martin.

“New intermodulation combinations were introduced with Band 14, so PIM [passive intermodulation] is a special consideration,” Martin said. “With the introduction of 4×4 MIMO into the LTE networks, a significant capacity/spectral efficiency benefit is realized along with close attention to mitigating PIM within an antenna solution.”

For AT&T, FirstNet and Beyond

CommScope’s custom-designed product, which needs to be integrated into the AT&T’s entire network of cell sites, was developed during the last 12 months in concert with the carrier.

“We have long standing relationships with the operators in North America,” said Firouzbakht. “We work with them as partners and advisors to develop specifications through design, prototyping and simulations. We are not guessing what AT&T will need. We have negotiated with the carrier on the different requirements.”

The new line of antennas will have applications and markets well beyond FirstNet, according to Martin.

“AT&T is paving the way in terms of the number of ports and bands needed in their markets for densification and FirstNet,” she said. “However, Kathrein antennas are not just for AT&T, there is worldwide demand for our broadbanded 4×4 MIMO 12-port solutions.”