The long-time goal of first responders and the ecosystem supporting them to create a nationwide broadband network is close to fruition, though it likely will fall short of expectations.
On March 30, AT&T announced that it had been selected by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to build the network, which it said will cover “50 states, 5 U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, including rural communities and tribal lands in those states and territories.”
The rationale for a discrete network is simple: Today, first responders use commercial networks that tend to be overwhelmed when a crisis occurs. Work on the project is expected to begin later this year and create 10,000 jobs.
The press release didn’t mention the nature of the network. However, a Q&A at RCR Wireless with an insider said that it will be based on LTE. James Bennett, the director of SNS Research and author of a report on public safety LTE, suggested that the success of the network is not guaranteed. The $7 billion budget may not be enough to build and operate the network; thus, partnerships and user fees will be needed. Vendor cooperation will also be necessary:
Another challenge is convincing LTE chipset manufacturers and device OEMs to implement the direct mode (also referred to as off-network communications) capability to support multiple public safety communications scenarios, including infrastructure failure, disasters, emergency situations and coverage extension for remote areas.
Bennett said that the network will switch to 5G as the technology is deployed.
The network won’t fulfill the promise of covering 50 states. Governors have the right to opt out of the plan, and IWCE Urgent Communications last month reported that Michigan is the fourth state to issue its own RFP, after New Hampshire, Alabama and Arizona. Colorado is set to do so as well. Rivada Networks is offering to help the states that opt out, according to ExecutiveBiz.
The idea of nationwide broadband first responder networks is picking up steam around the world. Yesterday, ABI Research said that public safety LTE will “hit the mainstream” after 2020. Hardware revenue will reach $540 million in 2025. By the end of this year or early next, the press release says, there will be operational networks in the United States, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
Future features will include environmental sensors, real-time surveillance and drones. Currently proprietary technologies, such as Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), will be more systematically and widely deployed.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.