FirstNet Radio Access Network
The Radio Access Network (RAN) is the portion of the network that connects directly to mobile devices. It includes all radio sites and backhaul; coverage and capacity performance depend on the quantity, distribution, interconnection, and reliability of sites that comprise the RAN.
As a part of the Governor's consideration whether or not to Opt-In and accept the AT&T proposed State Plan for New York, AT&T included a number of attractive additions to the originally offered state plan:
- 100 new radio sites to be selected with input from the State, and independent of the typical return-on-investment selection strategy.
- 250 generators to be added to existing sites that currently only have battery back-up.
- All new AT&T sites will be equipped with generator back-up (except where restricted).
- Two NYS-dedicated SatCOLTs (SatCOLT = Satellite-capable Cell-On-Light-Truck) – in addition to the 72 nationwide FirstNet SatCOLT resources.
In the time since the Opt-In decision was made, DHSES and AT&T/FirstNet have met on several occasions to discuss appropriate strategies for placement of the 100 agreed upon sites. AT&T explained their process and how they use real-world data to help determine where coverage is needed. DHSES explained the coverage requirements as defined in previous documents supplied as a part of the FirstNet consultation process. The combined group agreed that 1) filling "white space", 2) improving transportation corridor coverage, and 3) improving coverage for critical infrastructure should be the priorities when selecting those new sites. It is worthy to note that these 100 "FirstNet" sites are in addition to AT&T's ongoing new commercial site builds. As of April 2020, 19 of the 100 Opt-in sites were on the air with another 44 projected to be completed by year end.
AT&T provides quarterly updates to DHSES on their progress on the NPSBN RAN build-out.
In July of 2020, FirstNet published a press release that featured FirstNet site completions in New York State. The press release provides a list of the first 22 of 100 promised sites and lists communities they are located in.
AT&T has shared with DHSES its plans to construct more than 500 new sites in NY State by the end of 2020. Each of these sites will add or improve coverage for FirstNet subscribers (as well as for its commercial customers). In addition to these new sites, as of April 2020, AT&T has upgraded more than 1800 existing sites to add Band 14 capability. Upgrading existing sites to include Band 14 increases the bandwidth capacity each site can support. FirstNet subscribers will have access to coverage and capacity from all AT&T sites.
LTE vs. LMR
First responders currently use land mobile radio (LMR) networks for mission critical voice communications. Even with the launch of the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN), LMR systems continue to play an essential role in public safety critical voice communications. The NPSBN should be very effective for transmitting data, video, and other high-speed content such as location information and streaming video, as well as non-mission critical voice. However, public safety entities will continue to rely on LMR networks for their mission critical voice needs.
Public Safety Communications Today
During response operations today, law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS) teams, and other first responders rely on their LMR networks and radios for mission critical voice communications. LMR networks are designed to meet emergency responders' unique mission critical requirements and provide guaranteed priority access to responders. In addition to LMR, some emergency responders are using mobile data services and applications provided by commercial carriers to share information and augment their mission critical voice capabilities. This commercial mobile data service, though useful, does not meet mission critical standards and public safety competes with commercial users for access and bandwidth.
With FirstNet's launch of the NPSBN, the network provides mission‐critical, high‐speed data and video services that will supplement existing LMR networks. The network also supports non-mission critical voice applications. Public safety entities will continue to rely on their LMR networks for mission critical voice features – such as Group Communications and Direct-Mode – that are needed in an emergency response setting. In the near term, public safety entities will need to maintain and/or upgrade their LMR networks, as appropriate.
Mission Critical PTT communication is an important component of the FirstNet Roadmap. A press release in May 2020 describes in detail the ongoing work by FirstNet to develop a PTT service that can be used to augment, but not replace, existing LMR service.
In the future, FirstNet plans to offer mission critical voice services over the NPSBN – along with mission critical video and data – when voice over LTE (VoLTE) functionalities meet or exceed first responders' mission critical needs. FirstNet has been actively working with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) to add public safety standards into this worldwide industry-driving commercial standard. In March of 2016, 3GPP adopted Release 13 of these standards which addressed, most notably, Mission Critical Push-To-Talk Voice. Establishing this standard is an important first step in the ability of the NPSBN to support critical voice, however, public safety is still likely to need their critical voice LMR systems for the foreseeable future. Releases 14 (2017) and 15 (2018) have improved upon Release 13 Mission Critical standards, e.g., establishing new standards for interconnecting LTE systems to LMR systems. Despite this notable progress, mission critical standards must first be incorporated into infrastructure designs, then into fielded equipment, and the local NPSBN network will have to provide suitable coverage for a given public safety agency's area of operation and reliability needs. Until that time, LMR systems will remain "the" standard for mission critical voice.
Mobile App "Ecosystem" Sponsorship
FirstNet/AT&T are sponsoring a public safety mobile application "ecosystem". That is, they are creating an environment that supports developers of public safety applications, providing tools, feedback, a developer network, as well as an app certification process. Read more about this "ecosystem" by viewing the Developer Portal.
FirstNet's App Catalog
The FirstNet App Catalog is a single location where all mobile applications that have been accepted into the program are listed. The Catalog functions much like a private app store in that it is not open to the general public, but it uses the distribution system provided by public app stores – the Apple App Store and Google Play. In order to access the Catalog, one must be a FirstNet subscriber. Only applications that have earned FirstNet "Certified" or "Reviewed" status will be included on the Catalog. To earn a "Certified" status an app must go through a battery of scans, performance tests and scrutiny performed by developers and a cross functional team of experts staffed from FirstNet, AT&T, and Sapient Government Solutions. The criteria to earn a "Reviewed" status is very similar but slightly less demanding. The process evaluates the application's relevancy to the public safety mission, system availability, security, data privacy, scalability, resiliency and resource usage.
More than 100 Apps are now available from the App Catalog spanning a wide range of categories:
- Communication Tools
- Device Security
- Secure Connections
- Cloud Solutions
- CAD Solutions
- Video Surveillance
- In-Building Coverage & Mapping
- Situational Awareness
- Cyber Security
- Forensic Intelligence and Public Safety Community
A sample screen shot of the Catalog is shown here.
In September 2019, the FirstNet Board approved the following two investment goals (beyond the RAN build-out plans):
- Expansion of the FirstNet fleet of deployables
- Initial generational upgrades to the FirstNet core to enable 5G network capabilities.
For additional detail on FirstNet's roadmap plans, view this link.