FirstNet Congressional Hearing

A congressional hearing on FirstNet will be conducted by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee at 10:30 a.m. EST on Thursday, March 14 with testimony from a variety of experts. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), is tasked with building and maintaining a nationwide, interoperable broadband public safety network.

The First Responder LTE network will utilizes all of Band 14 in the 700 MHz spectrum. It consists of 10 MHz previously licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) and a new 10 MHz “D Block” that Congress gave to public safety last year for LTE. In addition, first responders can use an adjoining narrowband block for voice traffic. That enables first responders to have a 10MHz by 10MHz allocation for broadband, similar to Verizon and AT&T’s LTE service, as well as a dedicated voice network.

“Last Congress we took concrete steps to improve emergency communications when we passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act,” said Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). “This hearing will provide oversight to ensure that both public safety officials and the public have access to effective, open lines of communication during an emergency.”

But Mutualink says it has developed an interoperable communications platform, today. Mutualink is an IP-based multimedia overlay network, that works on current networks, and is currently deployed by more than 1,000 public and private entities, that enables nationwide multimedia sharing of radio, voice, text, video, data files and telephone communications in a secure environment.

Mutualink will demonstrate connectivity with multiple agencies from coast to coast through a live Band14 Public Safety LTE network at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) 2013, this week in Las Vegas.

Seven Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) public service grantees had their funding–initially granted in 2010–partially suspended by the NTIA last spring over fears their independent public-safety communications projects might not be interoperable with FirstNet. Last month FirstNet board members approved letting seven public-safety jurisdictions proceed with their plans to deploy public-safety LTE systems funded by federal stimulus (BTOP) money.

FirstNet will require building a dedicated, and largely duplicated nationwide LTE network just for first responders. Congress allocated $7 billion for the dedicated 700 MHz broadband network, but only $2 billion of that is really available at this point. The other $5 billion will have to wait until the broadcast television frequencies in the 600 MHz band are auctioned off in 2014.

For the most part, public-safety LMR systems remained operational after New York’s superstorm Sandy, primarily because Land Mobile Radio towers have generators providing backup power when the commercial electric grid is down.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is asking the FCC to require that cell phone towers have emergency power sources. He said approximately 33 percent of phone users rely exclusively on wireless devices, and with an estimated one in four cell phone towers failing after the storm, many were left without service.

But mobile wireless consultant Andrew Seybold says, “Number one, buildings don’t withstand 100-mph winds the way towers do. Number two, you can’t put a generator on the roof, so you put a generator on the ground or in the basement, and it floods.”

FirstNet’s 700 MHz broadband wireless network, unlike the 150 MHz and 450 MHz networks which many first responders use for voice, will require more dense antenna spacing. They’ll have many more sites on rooftops or the sides of buildings. Where generators can’t go. In addition, incidents are generally site specific. Lots of bandwidth needs to be provided in a small area for a short time. The 700 MHz FirstNet will fail with just a few mobile video feeds.

Different people have different opinions about the viability of FirstNet. I suspect it will waste $7 billion only to start, and reduce the effectiveness of first responders.

Sprint expected to spend about $13 billion in network build-out costs to cover 260 million Americans with LTE service by 2015. And they already have the towers. AT&T estimated that its total incremental cost of bringing LTE coverage to an additional 55 million mostly rural Americans would be $3.8 billion. That’s $17B. Then factor in the additional costs of uninterruptable power, handsets, operation and maintenance. FirstNet costs have been estimated near $25 billion. Funded by taxpayers.

FirstNet seems like a bad idea:

  • $7 billion is not enough to build a dedicated nationwide LTE network.
  • Taxpayers won’t fund another $7 billion for the handheld radios.
  • Police and Fire departments will not be able to afford it. They’ll go with cheaper commercial options.
  • FirstNet coverage will be worse than commercial cellular.
  • Density requirements of LTE cells will eliminate onsite generators
  • Incidents will require small cells, not a single macrocell.
  • Jurisdictional disputes and infighting over access and price will slow the process
  • It’s a bureaucratic nightmare, better addressed by access to commercial cell service (as correctly advised by the FCC)

Commercial cellular providers could enable public/private sharing — with rural broadband access. Everyone benefits. Only broadcast group owners benefit from FirstNet.

First responders will need small cells and inexpensive Satphone access. Maybe FirstNet will be handed off to Sprint and/or Dish Networks — after years of budget fights, billions wasted, and lives lost.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Network Resilient after Storm, UAVs: Flying Cell Towers, White Spaces to the Rescue?, SF Announces LTE First Responder Net, SF Approves Dedicated LTE Network for First Responders , Alca-Lu’s LTE Public Safety Network, Seybold: Furgetabout Video on LTE Public Safety Band, Alca-Lu’s LTE Public Safety Network, D-Block Legislation Stalled, Seybold: Furgetabout Video on LTE Public Safety Band, Broadband Disability Act, Public Service Radio Convention, Public Safety Net Removed from Debt Ceiling Bill, The D-Block Gamble, D-Block Gets a Hearing, National Wireless Initiative, White House: D-Block to Police/Fire,

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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