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Tag Archives: FirstNet

AT&T Gets Tagged to Build Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network

March 30, 2017

By J. Sharpe Smith

Senior Editor, AGL eDigest

J. Sharpe Smith

While there were some critics of FirstNet’s lack of transparency, everybody seemed to know that AT&T was going to win the 25-year contract to build, deploy, operate and maintain the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, which was first envisioned in the grief-filled days following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

AT&T will receive 20 megahertz of 700 MHz spectrum and $6.5 billion and will spend about $40 billion over the life of the contract the network, which is expected to begin later this year and create as many as 10,000 jobs during the next two years.

“This is the release we have been waiting for,” Wells Fargo Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche wrote. “We believe $40B is a nice headline number, and is likely higher than expectations, though the exact mix breakdown (i.e.: build, operate, maintain and repair) and timing remains unknown at this time. We expect [AT&T] will move very quickly to expedite the network build, beginning in less than nine months, and take up to 12 months to build. This expedited build is meaningful to the towers, particularly CCI, AMT, SBAC (in that order).”

Wells Fargo also believes that Dycom Industries will benefit from AT&T’s win.  The carrier is Dycom’s largest customer, plus Dycom purchase the wireless assets of Goodman Networks last summer.

The Board of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) gave the go-ahead earlier this week to name the winner at a special meeting for the procurement process. FirstNet Chair Sue Swenson called the move “a significant milestone” for the public safety community, forming an “innovative public-private partnership” to deploy the network. Prior to the special meeting, the FirstNet Board completed its review of the acquisition approach and the request for proposal (RFP) process to identify a partner to build, operate, and maintain the network.

The procurement contract was originally supposed to be awarded on Nov. 1, 2016, but that deadline was missed. Then, Rivada Mercury Networks took FirstNet to court, claiming that it was wrongfully excluded from the procurement process. Recently, FirstNet worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to successfully resolve that protest action regarding the acquisition process, opening the door for the contract award.

The commencement of the FirstNet build is good news for tower owners that count AT&T as a tenant (Crown Castle International is one). MoffettNathanson forecasts that AT&T, which has cut back in recent years, will move forward with deployment on its spectrum holdings in the AWS-3 and WCS bands in conjunction with the FirstNet build to reduce the costs.

“The tight build timeframe associated with FirstNet – 60 percent coverage within two years, 80 percent within three years, and so on – all but forces AT&T to utilize existing tower infrastructure and limits its negotiating leverage since it can’t afford to wait (the economics of leveraging its existing network also means existing sites will get amended),” the firm wrote last fall.

Even as FirstNet celebrates the coming procurement contract, Michael Myers of Advancing Telecom raised some sobering questions in a blog post about whether the public safety network will need a taxpayer bailout at some point. He noted that the AT&T covers only 42 percent of the geographic land mass, while the public safety network will need to be built out to roughly 100 percent of the geography.

Not only will building rural coverage be expensive, but building out metro coverage will be enough to break the budget, according to Myers, who estimated the cost for the network, plus long term operations, will cost in excess of $100 Billion.

“The biggest cost in building out a broadband wireless platform is the power,” Myers wrote in his blog. “Just to retrofit existing towers in the metropolitan areas will suck up most of the money because the commercial standards are driven by 8-hour backup power generation; Public Safety Broadband will be three times that.”

In exchange for building out the network and annual payments totaling at least $5.6 billion over 25 years, FirstNet will allow the winner to use the excess capacity in the network, and collect payments from the public safety agencies. Myers also questioned whether the auction winner can make enough money from the use of the spectrum to make economic sense. As a result, Myers believes taxpayers will need to chip in.

“There isn’t enough revenue to be made that could recapture the investment made, thus somebody will have to pay. I can assure you that AT&T will not pay for a network that will never produce enough revenue to recoup its capital and produce a good stream of revenue,” he wrote.

FirstNet’s 2016 Marked by Hope, Delays and a Lawsuit

December 22, 2016 —

By J. Sharpe Smith

Senior Editor, AGL eDigest

J. Sharpe SmithThis year began promisingly enough for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) as it released its final Request for Proposal (RFP), which established a public-private partnership to build, operate and maintain a standards-based LTE Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). But it became a year pockmarked with missed deadlines and finally a lawsuit.

FirstNet adopted an objectives-based approach in the RFP, rather than a traditional requirements-driven model. The RFP contained 16 objectives, including deployment and provisioning of a nationwide core network and radio access network, backhaul, aggregation, national transport networks and operation centers, apps, and a device ecosystem.

Proposals to the RFP were due April 29, but that deadline was pushed back to May 31. But most critically, FirstNet missed its Nov. 1 target for awarding the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. FirstNet CEO Mike Poth wrote in a blog on their web site that the organization has made “significant progress in the evaluation process” but due to its “aggressive schedule” and the “complex nature” of the process the deadline could not be met.

Then, in early December, the other shoe dropped as Rivada Mercury Networks took FirstNet to court, claiming that it was wrongfully excluded from the procurement process. It was widely speculated that with Rivada out, the bid would go to AT&T. The lawsuit will delay the contract award until at least March 1, 2017.

Rivada Mercury Networks Takes FirstNet to Court

December 6, 2016 — Before the First Responder Network Authority even had a chance to name a winning bid to build out the FirstNet nationwide broadband network, Rivida Mercury Networks filed a lawsuit claiming that it was wrongfully excluded from the procurement process. In other words, it was going to lose the bid, presumably to AT&T.

The lawsuit will delay the contract award until at least March 1, 2017. It was originally supposed to occur last Nov. 1. It is hardly a surprise, however. Early in November, after being disqualified from bidding for Mexico’s nationwide wireless network, Rivada took the Mexican government to court.

The U.S. government also has a history of being sued by companies that lost comparative hearings for spectrum licenses. In some ways the request for proposals for FirstNet was like a comparative hearing. It required the government to choose a winner, which would get access to 20 megahertz of spectrum. While not surprising, the court case will slow the process of building out FirstNet, which will only add fuel to the fire for the FirstNet naysayers.

First Response is Everything: Public Safety Communications and DAS

Consistency in nationwide public safety networks is critical. Distributed antenna systems require attention to prevent near-far interference with in-building wireless — a situation that could otherwise prevent networks from meeting coverage requirements.

By Rick Good

Public safety networks, supported by an information and communications technology infrastructure, are critical to the safety of citizens and first responders everywhere. Implemented across high-rise buildings, campuses, tunnels, shopping malls, airports and parking garages, the public safety network operates as a shared inter-organization, an information technology (IT)-enabled system and a wireless network used by emergency services organizations.

As the United States faces increased terrorist threats and natural disasters, public safety networks are becoming more highly prioritized. Over the past decade, there has been a substantial increase in national, state and local legislation requiring minimum coverage standards for public safety communication systems. And various public safety agencies in the United States have joined forces to collaborate, communicate and share information in the face of major public safety incidents. In fact, many of these agencies are collaborating to design, develop and deploy information and communications technologies to assist first responders and support criminal justice, policing and homeland security endeavors.

In support of these efforts, in February 2012, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The FirstNet board of directors is composed of representatives from the public safety community, from local, state and federal government, and from the wireless industry.

Seamless and reliable communications coverage inside buildings is becoming more vital for public safety purposes, to the extent that some municipalities require public safety coverage in buildings before issuing certificates of occupancy. When an emergency occurs in a building, clear, crisp internal and external wireless communications is essential; it allows different rescue teams to communicate with each other when they are inside.

Public safety communication networks include hardened sites that will continue to operate during power outages or water events, and they are designed to continue to operate for as long as possible in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. To that end, in-building wireless solutions for public safety may include repeaters (bidirectional amplifiers) or active distributed antenna system (DAS) infrastructure to satisfy minimum legislative standards and new public safety building codes implemented by International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Efficient Response

Public safety DAS guarantees maintainable communication among first responders during a crisis, enabling them to combine efforts and produce a more efficient response to emergencies. A reliable DAS makes a world of difference during an emergency, and organizations such as the NFPA support a more reliable, efficient and life-saving communication system for emergency responders. The NFPA requires 99 percent coverage in designated critical areas and 90 percent coverage in general-use areas. A DAS typically does not provide coverage for areas such as stairwells, except in locations where public safety communication networks are integrated.

According to NFPA, enclosures that meet National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Type 4 or Type 4x requirements must be used to house equipment such as radio and power systems to protect against dust and driven rain. All public safety enclosures must be painted red to resemble fire equipment.

Monitoring Alarms

The fire protection association also has requirements for system monitoring alarms. NFPA requires real-time monitoring of the system’s readiness, including alarm requirements for power and battery charger failures, signal booster trouble, antenna malfunctions and battery capacity. The system must generate an alarm when battery capacity falls to 30 percent.

Minimum signal strength is also important to the NFPA, which requires at least −95 dBm within the coverage area, regardless of the radio frequency. The International Fire Code (IFC) has the same requirement.

Battery Backup

To keep the public safety radio system operating when power to the building fails — or when it is deliberately interrupted during an emergency to prevent injury to first responders — the code requires at least 12 hours’ worth of battery backup for equipment supporting the public safety radio system. The NFPA specifies that systems supporting the public safety emergency responder radio coverage must support future frequency requirements. Further, the NFPA stipulates an antenna isolation requirement of 15 dB higher than the gain of the amplifier.

Enhancing the Network

Indoor wireless signal strength, signal degradation and interference can seriously affect public safety DAS performance. Therefore, preparation is key. The near-far performance problem, for example, is inherent in conventional DAS networks. Near-far is a term used to describe performance and capacity degradation when a mobile device is operating within a DAS coverage area but is not serviced by the DAS. When it comes to installing public safety coverage in a building in which a commercial DAS has previously been installed, designers need to ensure that the commercial DAS network does not interfere with the public safety system.

Westell Technologies, a provider of in-building wireless, intelligent site management, cell site optimization and outside plant solutions, offers an in-building wireless system called ClearLink. This system mitigates signal degradation and subsequent performance issues caused by near-far performance reduction.

Public Safety Repeater

In February 2016, Westell engineered and introduced its PS51080 public safety repeater to satisfy the future efforts of FirstNet to deploy and operate a common nationwide public safety broadband network. The repeater meets the NFPA 72 requirement when installed with NFPA-compliant battery backup. Additionally, the repeater has antenna and signal booster failure alarming and a NEMA Type 4 red enclosure.

The Westell repeater lets customers install an in-building repeater that will meet the existing public safety communication regulations and that will also allow them to prepare for future mandates and nationwide network deployments for emergency and disaster preparedness communications. Like the Westell repeater, all new DAS repeater solutions should go beyond simply meeting today’s stringent industry requirements and offer high quality, reassurance and planning. These three aspects are crucial to public safety network success.


Rick Good is senior vice president of in-building wireless at Westell Technologies.


Select NFPA Requirements for Public Safety Coverage

  • The NFPA requires 99 percent coverage in designated critical areas and 90 percent coverage in general-use areas.
  • NEMA Type 4 or Type 4x enclosures must house equipment such as radio and power systems to protect against dust and driven rain. Public safety enclosures must be painted red to resemble fire equipment.
  • System monitoring alarms must provide real-time monitoring of the system’s readiness.
  • The system must deliver a minimum signal strength of −95 dBm, regardless of the frequency.
  • The code requires the equipment supporting the public safety radio system to remain operational on a battery backup for no less than 12 hours.
  • Systems supporting the public safety emergency responder radio coverage need to support future frequency requirements.
  • The NFPA stipulates an antenna isolation requirement of 15 dB higher than the gain of the amplifier.

FirstNet Delivers Innovation and Technology

Guest Opinion

By TJ Kennedy

June 21, 2016 — Since its inception, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has been focused on a single outcome — the successful deployment of a nationwide public safety broadband network for use by public safety personnel.

During emergencies, nothing is more important than delivering the right help to those who need it most as soon as possible. This includes man-made catastrophes such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, natural disasters caused by extreme weather such as Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, or daily incidents and emergencies.

Communications and information-sharing are critical to saving lives. Many times, law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics who risk their lives for others every day do so without the situational awareness that today’s advanced technology could provide them.

That’s where FirstNet comes in. Imagine if all officers could receive a photo of a person of interest rather than a verbal description, or if all ambulances could instantly provide real-time traffic data to the emergency medical technician with the fastest route to the hospital, while at the same time transmitting real-time medical information from the patient to a waiting doctor. The ability to transmit high-speed data, location information, images or video could make a life-saving difference for first responders and the people they serve.

FirstNet is working with states, territories, native American Indian tribes and first responders to ensure the establishment of a reliable, interoperable communications system for public safety. We’ve taken significant steps toward this goal, which would bring more innovative tools to public safety, but a tremendous amount of work still remains.

In December 2015, FirstNet announced its consultation approach for 2016. We moved quickly on this plan, meeting with 55 of the states’ designated single points of contact within the first five months of the year. We are also working with the states and territories to establish consultation task teams to help address key network policies such as local control, and we are meeting with key executives from each state and territory.

In January 2016, FirstNet took a major step toward the deployment of the network by releasing a request for proposal (RFP) to create a first of its kind nationwide public-private partnership. The objectives-based RFP resulted from years of stakeholder engagement with public safety officials, state governments and industry representatives.

Last year alone, FirstNet conducted an outreach to tens of thousands of public safety and private partners through more than 300 stakeholder events. We completed 55 state and territory initial consultations and collected detailed data from over 11,600 public safety entities representing 1.6 million personnel. Meeting with stakeholders and receiving actionable data from them allowed us to listen and learn about what they need most from the FirstNet network.

The RFP marked a major milestone for FirstNet, but there is still much work to be done. During the next several months, FirstNet will continue outreach with public safety and prepare for the delivery of state plans for radio access network deployment as early as mid-2017. FirstNet will also be assisting public safety incumbents through our spectrum relocation grant program, further developing network policies, and positioning our organization for the network partnership.

FirstNet has set the stage for a successful network by moving forward with urgency and listening to public safety. We are now much closer to having a nationwide public safety broadband network. It’s an ambitious goal, but an honorable challenge – FirstNet will strive to provide the best communications system possible to the men and women who respond to calls for help each day.


TJ Kennedy is president of the First Responder Network Authority.


The placement of this article near content submitted by other contributors or advertisers is in no way an endorsement of such contributors or advertisers by FirstNet.