July 20, 2017 —
When someone places a call to 9-1-1, the call-taker needs to know the caller’s location — and quickly. It is usually the first or second question the call-taker asks, according to Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association. The association, which identifies itself as NENA: The 9-1-1- Association, is a membership organization of people who work in 9-1-1- call centers and others who seek to improve 9-1-1 emergency number service.
“We live in a connected world, and it is going to become more connected with the internet of things,” Fontes said, speaking during a conference session at the Las Vegas Convention Center in March. “We need a sea change from what has previously been done to identify the location of someone placing a 9-1-1 call.”
Fontes recalled that in the 1990s and early 2000s, 9-1-1 systems used two methods of automatically determining a caller’s location when the call came from a wireless device. One involved direction-finding using intelligence in the network, along with radio signal triangulation with the cell phone and cell towers. The second, which came later, used the Global Positioning Service earth-orbiting satellites to provide locations, which used more intelligence in the handsets, although some intelligence remained in the network. But, Fontes said, callers remain tethered to their service provider, and therefore to whomever the service provider is, in turn, tethered to, to provide location accuracy.
The most recent efforts to improve location accuracy move beyond the world of the carrier, Fontes said. He reported that, even though the FCC rules are placed upon the wireless service providers, the most current rules enacted by the FCC take a look at indoor location. Fontes cited the statistics that there are 240 to 250 million wireless calls to 9-1-1 annually, 70 to 80 percent of or which are wireless. He said that more than 50 percent of U.S. households are wireless-only homes, not counting offices and other locations. “The number of calls coming from indoor locations is certainly a factor to be dealt with when you’re trying to locate somebody making a 9-1-1 call,” he said.
Fontes said that wireless carriers, NENA and Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) have agreed to steps that carriers can take to look beyond their networks to improve location accuracy. “That’s a big risk, because once you move outside of a network, the control that the carriers have slips away,” he said. “And yet, the requirements for location accuracy imposed by the FCC are imposed on the carrier. So now, what can be done and what is being done?”
Wireless devices connect through a variety of technologies, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, sensors and beacons. Fontes explained that within their environment, wireless phones have the capability of interacting with many other wireless access points that can provide better location capabilities.
“Earlier, I checked to see how many Wi-Fi hotspots in the convention center my phone was detecting,” he said. “I think there are about a dozen, maybe 14. Each of those has various levels of strength that provide some capability of determining where I am vis-à-vis those hotspots. In addition to that, we should take a look at the advent of beacons and sensors. The price of beacons and sensors is decreasing, making it much more affordable to be included in a variety of products.”
Fontes spoke of the possibility of having sensors dispersed in a transient type of environment to provide some location capabilities for a particular event.
Fixed Location and Address
He said he bought a microcell to use in a secondary residence to improve wireless coverage. The microcell registered with the wireless carrier’s database, providing its fixed location and address, which greatly improves 9-1-1 location accuracy. “As part of the agreement with the carriers, the FCC recognized and codified in its regulations the use of a database that’s being developed by the carriers to provide that list, the National Addressing Database, whether it’s Wi-Fi hotspots, picocells, beacons or sensors,” Fontes said.
As the database becomes more populated, Fontes said, the capabilities of working to improve location accuracy for the individual advances remarkably, particularly in comparison with the technologies of location accuracy — whether network-based solutions or GPS — especially indoors.
Outdated Voice-centric Service
Fontes said that in large part, technology from the previous century supports 9-1-1 service, and that means it is voice-centric. “How ridiculous is that?” he asked. “The voice call is the start of a series of responses in the public safety family of services that provides the response to emergency situations.”
With the eventual establishment of a nationwide public safety broadband network based on Long Term Evolution (LTE) high-speed wireless data technology, Fontes said the goal is to provide seamless links among the smart technologies that all of us have at our fingertips, smart technology in the 9-1-1 center and the smart technology used by the field responders via the new network. The new network is being built by AT&T under a contract awarded by a federal agency, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).
LTE technology supports video and texting. Fontes said that when an audio-visual component is added to any type of communication, it is possible for experts to pick up cues that others’ eyes may not detect. “When that 9-1-1 call comes in — perhaps it’s a horrible situation in a school or a mall or whatever — with a video and voice component, you may be able to push that video, that voice off to others who are experts in detecting what’s going on in the environment, while the 9-1-1 professional is dealing with what needs to be addressed in the dispatch context.”
Fontes said texting is critically important. He said only 10 to 15 percent of 9-1-1 centers enable texting. “We have 37 million to 42 million Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired who rely on texting,” he said. “In addition to that, we know of unfortunate situations where texting would be safer than speaking — whether it’s a mass incident type of a situation, such as a mass shooting, or domestic violence.” He said in such situations, a caller with texting might be better able to survive than if the caller had to use voice.
“We have a long way to go,” Fontes said. “It’s politics. It’s money. The easiest part of all of this is technology. I’m grateful for all of those who have worked so hard to improve the technological capabilities that enable field responders to respond to emergencies with greater information, and for the standards work that’s being done by all of these organizations. I hope that in the context of what is happening in public safety at large, we as a nation will improve our next-generation 9-1-1 to make it in fact 21st-century technology.”
Brian Fontes spoke on March 27 at the International Wireless Communications Expo’s Network Infrastructure Forum during the in-building wireless session moderated by the author.
July 12, 2017 —
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has signed a letter accepting the FirstNet and AT&T* plan to deliver a wireless broadband network to the Commonwealth’s public safety community. This will make Virginia the first state in the country to “opt-in” to FirstNet and bring advanced technologies that will help first responders save lives and protect communities.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe said, “While this is only the beginning of the process, I look forward to the continued coordinated efforts among Virginia, FirstNet, and AT&T to provide public safety officials with innovative new technologies that will help them keep Virginians safe.”
FirstNet and AT&T will build, operate and maintain a highly secure wireless broadband communications network for Virginia’s public safety community at no cost to the state for the next 25 years. The FirstNet network will deliver an entire system of modernized devices, apps and tools for first responders.
The FirstNet solution that will be built in Virginia was designed with direct input from the Commonwealth’s public safety community. Since 2013, FirstNet has met with Virginia officials and public safety personnel more than 90 times to address their unique communication needs. This includes understanding the importance of maritime coverage and increasing coverage in rural areas of the Commonwealth as well as coordination with military and federal government users.
The decision enables FirstNet and AT&T to begin creating an entirely new wireless ecosystem for public safety communications.
Specifically, Virginia’s first responder subscribers will have immediate access to quality of service and priority to voice and data across the existing nationwide AT&T LTE network. Preemption for primary users over the AT&T LTE network is expected by year-end. This means fire, police, EMS and other public safety personnel will have dedicated access to the network when and where they need it.
July 13, 2017 —
In March, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) awarded AT&T a contract to build the first nationwide public safety broadband network for emergency first responders. The network will use Long Term Evolution (LTE) high-speed wireless data technology on frequencies in the 700-MHz band. Eventually, the network will supplant the use of existing public safety frequencies. As the FirstNet network evolves, public agencies and building owners will have to assume the burden of bringing network coverage indoors at venues so first-responder radios will work in all locations. In many instances, jurisdictions will require in-building coverage. The following information explains the convergence of public safety frequencies in connection with the new FirstNet standard and the requirements for systems that support the network’s wireless coverage inside buildings.
Despite the current use of lower frequencies in the range of 150 MHz to 900 MHz to support public safety radios, the in-building coverage challenge remains unsolved. Even at these low frequencies, building construction materials can block outdoor radio signals from penetrating indoors. Underground areas, such as basements, are impossible to cover from the outside; outdoor radios dominate the airwaves; and energy-efficient, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings make matters worse. In the United States, LEED-certified buildings enclose 2.5 billion square feet, and this year, approximately 45 percent of nonresidential building construction will be green (environmentally friendly).
As a result, in-building wireless systems are a must for ensuring clear and consistent radio coverage for building occupants and first responders. Many local governments mandate the use of in-building wireless systems for public safety systems in buildings larger than a certain size, but even existing systems will be in for a revamp as the FirstNet network comes online.
Existing public safety networks and radios operate in several public safety radio communications frequency bands, including the 150-MHz, 450-MHz and 800/900-MHz bands. In effect, the United States is a patchwork quilt of public safety communication networks. With the advent of the FirstNet public safety broadband network, these will all begin to converge around 700-MHz LTE. LTE is now the dominant technology used in commercial cellular networks, but a lot of work is being done to further make use of LTE’s benefits. The results also will affect FirstNet LTE.
For example, mobile operators are always looking for more radio-frequency spectrum to expand bandwidth and provide their users with faster throughput. Once they have derived all the capacity they can with new cell sites, sector-splitting and carrier aggregation, the next thing is to consider using unlicensed spectrum to further expand available bandwidth. LTE in unlicensed spectrum (LTE-U), licensed-assisted access (LAA), and MulteFire computer software and firmware offer ways to use unlicensed spectrum that will deliver bandwidth more from current technology.
LTE-U protocol enables mobile operators to increase bandwidth in their LTE networks by using the unlicensed frequency bands in the 5-Hz range — bands that Wi-Fi devices also use. Licensed-assisted access is the name given to the Third-Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) effort to standardize the use of LTE in Wi-Fi frequency bands. LTE-U is an implementation of LAA. The MulteFire LTE technology developed by Qualcomm operates solely in unlicensed spectrum and uses self-organizing functionality; LAA aggregates unlicensed spectrum with an anchor in licensed spectrum.
Unlicensed LTE protocols will play a significant role in boosting LTE bandwidth and throughput while serving as a key component for connecting the internet of things (IoT). Ideally, in order to speed deployment and deliver an economical solution, public safety, wireless IoT devices, and cellular services will all operate on a converged network (see Figure 1).
FirstNet’s public safety broadband network will make use of the same LTE network, so it’s possible that, in some cases, the 700-MHz public safety frequency may already be supported by some in-building wireless systems (although the frequencies used for the FirstNet network are not the same as the 700-MHz frequencies in use by cellular carriers today, so this would be true in a limited number of cases). In many instances, however, it will be necessary to rip and replace existing in-building wireless systems to facilitate the support of the FirstNet network.
What does this all mean for those considering buying or upgrading an in-building wireless system? There are three basic requirements:
1. Support 700-MHz FirstNet frequencies while still supporting existing cellular and IoT frequencies. Ideally, the solution should support public safety, cellular and IoT frequencies in a single system. This will simplify both deployment and maintenance, while keeping costs down. A truly wideband distributed antenna system (DAS) can support any frequency from 150 MHz to 2700 MHz, so it could support many different frequencies with a single layer of equipment, including 700-MHz FirstNet communications. And, this solution could seamlessly support future services.
2. Use fiber infrastructure. Many current DAS solutions use coaxial cabling or a hybrid architecture that combines fiber and coax cabling. An all-fiber infrastructure is easier and less costly to deploy, and often it can make use of fiber-optic cable already in place in the building.
3. Have a simple architecture. Many DAS products have a dizzying array of parts because of their inherently narrowband architecture, making it difficult for information technology (IT) staff to both deploy and maintain them. Building owners and contractors should look for DAS solutions that mirror IT data infrastructure with a limited number of system elements so it is familiar and easy to understand.
Meeting the FirstNet Challenge
The move toward FirstNet public safety infrastructure represents both a challenge and an opportunity for building owners. The challenge is that many in-building wireless systems will have to be upgraded or deployed because some existing systems support other frequencies, but not the 700-MHz frequencies the new FirstNet network will use, and some buildings lack any kind of indoor coverage solution. But the good news is that the need to support the new public safety broadband network offers the chance to deploy a single, converged in-building wireless system that supports all wireless traffic. The FirstNet network will take several years to roll out. It is not too early now to begin planning how to support it.
James Martin is vice president of operations at Zinwave. Prior to joining Zinwave, Martin was senior manager at TE Connectivity (formerly ADC/LGC Wireless) for more than 16 years. His leadership helped TE Connectivity emerge as a top-tier DAS manufacturer in the wireless space. Early in his career, he was employed at Hughes Network Systems and was responsible for the design, deployment and optimization of more than 500 macro cell sites across the southeastern United States. During this time, he was also instrumental in defining the first small cell systems designed and deployed by Hughes Network Systems. Contact James Martin at [email protected]
April 25, 2017 —
FirstNet’s award to AT&T to build the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) was well-received by the public safety communications community.
NPSBN holds the promise of much-needed advanced wireless broadband communications and interoperability among first responders. NPSBN is a national, seamless, IP-based high-speed mobile communications network that gives first responders around the country their own dedicated multimedia capabilities over a common and dedicated LTE 700 MHz Band 14 (B14) network.
As an early commitment to provide first responders with priority communications, AT&T announced that for any States opting-in to the FirstNet program it will give preemptive priority to first responders already using AT&T’s commercial cellular network. This priority will assure first responders access to LTE services ahead of FirstNet network availability, and certainly will be a motivator for the States to opt-in.
Building a separate LTE network on B14 spectrum will not come without challenges that loom big for AT&T: a) achieving coverage objectives, b) building the network on time, and c) leveraging capital expenditures (capex).
As a first pass, AT&T likely will install macro LTE Band 14 eNodeBs (eNBs) in major urban centers to overlay its existing national commercial cellular network that involves some 40,000 cell sites. This near-term approach helps AT&T leverage its lease agreements with tower companies in major metro markets around the country and activates truly segmented LTE B14 network in dense population areas where a separate first responder network is imperative.
Questions are already being raised, however, as to how much NPSBN coverage AT&T can achieve over the next five years. There are five criteria or datasets that determine where the FirstNet network will be built. These are: 1) Number of police, fire and EMS users in a given jurisdiction, 2) Public safety high risk/areas of interest, 3) U.S. Census block population data, 4) Developed areas/buildings (what firefighters call the “built environment”), and 5) State and Interstate roadways. These datasets help develop suitable coverage maps on a state-wide basis.
Even so, coverage maps show lots of open spaces where the FirstNet network will not reach. This limitation suggests that many small towns and rural areas may not adequately be covered by the NPSBN for quite some time, if at all.
Urban, suburban and rural first responders will continue relying on legacy technology such as P25 Land Mobile Radios (LMR) systems whether there is NPSBN coverage or not. These widely-deployed P25 LMR systems, although not interoperable for the most part, do provide individual police, fire and EMS organizations a way to communicate. These older P25 systems are not going away even where AT&T will install the FirstNet B14 network. Coverage for first responders is not just outdoors; coverage is needed indoors in underground parking garages and other challenging areas for any radio system. As such, It will take time for the FirstNet LTE network to reach these areas and match the coverage the numerous P25 systems deliver today.
Timing of the NPSBN build-out is another big issue. AT&T committed to a build-out schedule that achieves 60 percent coverage in two years, 80 percent in three years and near full build-out in five years. Even with a sense of urgency and AT&T’s offer of preemptive first responder priority on its public LTE network, building a separate and autonomous FirstNet NPSBN in that timeframe is questionable without a significantly different approach to network design and deployment. Faced with the prospect that some critical sites may not be built for some time, the state governors or AT&T itself may elect to accelerate and augment the FirstNet main deployment plan with supplemental coverage.
Finally, there’s the money. Expect the lion’s share of AT&T’s planned $40 billion capital investment to construct NPSBN in major cities and populated areas. How much will go to small town and rural areas is still an open question. Capex for extending NPSBN to small town and rural areas probably needs be scaled proportionally. In other words, from an equipment perspective, the same large macrocells used in high-traffic areas probably are not the ones needed in applications involving fewer first responders who operate over wide areas. Are the small cells offered by AT&T’s LTE established equipment suppliers suitable for rural FirstNet deployments? They certainly were not designed to serve few users over wide areas like the FirstNet challenge poses.
In these situations, when planned coverage will not be delivered for some time a better solution is a much smaller, self-contained and all-outdoor eNB. These fit-for-purpose eNBs are very well suited as supplemental eNBs – they are highly-functional, easy-to-deploy, and come at a much lower price. Supplemental eNBs offer additional coverage, reach and capacity like large eNBs but for areas with low first responder density.
It is important to note the supplemental eNBs will not operate in isolation from the NPSBN. Rather, supplemental eNBs enable the state governors, FirstNet and AT&T to deliver communications in a complementary manner supporting all the same handheld devices (smartphones, radios), laptops and tablets and all FirstNet applications but at much less expense. In fact, supplemental eNBs will connect directly to the NPSBN evolved packet core (EPC) via wireless or fiber cable backhaul. Supplemental eNBs will only be used with FirstNet and AT&T’s approval, and will enable a faster, less expensive means to build a truly separate B14 coverage overlay, where macrocell density is not needed.
Typical use cases include: rural towns, cities and villages, rural road coverage, national parks, aboriginal lands, rail lines, long stretches of highways, and industrial sites such as oil and gas, mining, forestry.
The point is: supplemental eNBs are a part of the FirstNET architecture and design. They can help FirstNet, AT&T, the state governors and public safety communications officials, and the U.S. taxpayers achieve much greater coverage, while meeting FirstNet’s performance requirements faster and for less money than merely extending the same large-scale infrastructure components used in the backbone network.
Supplemental eNodeB OEMs
Several radio manufacturers have proven the viability of supplemental eNBs in recent field trials.
Redline Communications (www.rdlcom.com) successfully demonstrated its end-to-end LTE B14 supplemental network solution at The Ohio State University (OSU) football stadium in November of 2016. Although in an urban area, there is a clear need for a separate LTE B14 network for first responders to have autonomous, dedicated broadband communications capabilities. Operating over a supplemental LTE B14 network, OSU first responders ensured security and safety of the more than 100,000 fans in attendance who all carry smartphones and can easily bog down the commercial cellular network during a game.
The OSU field trial confirmed consistent and reliable operation of programmed handheld devices with push-to-talk (PTT) capability, laptops and tablets over the Redline LTE B14 network. Moreover, purpose-built servers and gateways delivered PTT interoperability between the LTE B14 and several older P25 LMR networks.
In the end, supplemental eNBs will augment coverage in areas where the NPSBN network cannot or will not reach, and can be deployed in timely and economic ways that first responders expect.
Louis Lambert is VP-Business Development for Markham, Ontario-based Redline Communications, a leading provider of wide-area wireless networks for the most challenging applications and locations. He can be reached at [email protected]