I thought I would weigh in on FirstNet’s progress. I am going to tell you why I wrote this and then what I found out and then give my opinion.
I was reading an article in FierceWireless, http://www.fiercemobilegovernment.com/story/firstnet-meeting-reveals-roadmap-staff-structure/2014-03-19?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal if you are interested. I wrote this because when the Public Safety LTE systems were going to be built, I was hoping to play a part in several of them. I was excited to get them underway. Specifically, the State of Oklahoma, LARICS, State of NJ, and several more were planning major LTE deployments. These were going to be awesome LTE system that would have provided public safety a leg up on bad guys and disasters, and provide work to thousands of wireless workers in the USA. Then came FirstNet and said stop and think about this, let’s build a better system. Well, it didn’t stop the initial deployments but it went from major systems to testing 1 or 2 transmitters here and maybe 1 or 2 over there. So instead of thousands of people getting work, it became a trial where a few people got work because they were only trials. This is why I am writing this, because it took many jobs off the table and it seems to have delayed the system that public safety so badly needs. I am complaining a little bit. I get it, they wanted to have a national plan so all the systems would be interoperable. That makes sense. Put the best minds in the industry on it and we will have an outstanding high-tech system that no other country will rival. Go USA!
So here we are 2 years later, and we have something that looks like progress. Meanwhile all the carriers are building their LTE systems and they are well beyond the deployment stage. Many LTE systems are live and passing a ton of data and apps. In fact, a few of them are nationwide. So maybe FirstNet did the right thing letting the technology mature before they built something. In fact, it appears we may not need the system after all if they could use the carrier’s network. However, I think we do because public safety should be a dedicated emergency system. When VoLTE takes off it may change the scope of public safety as we know it today. For the record, I am a believer that Public Safety should have their own system, manage it, and control it for security’s sake. That’s my personal opinion.
So what do we have to show from FirstNet? We have the Program Roadmap executive summary in PDF form, http://firstnet.gov/sites/default/files/FirstNet%20Program%20Roadmap%20Executive%20Summary_03112014.pdf and we have a FirstNet Board Meeting General Manager Update, http://firstnet.gov/sites/default/files/FirstNet%20General%20Manager%20Update_03112014.pdf.
Let me go over my takeaway from these documents;
1) FirstNet is going to hire more people, government employees and contractors, and they have the org chart completed. It will grow from 40 employees to 91, (40 current employees, 15 have offers, and 36 to be hired).
2) They will lease 2 buildings, one in Boulder, Co, (where they make Coors Beer) and the other in Reston, Va.
3) They plan to hold a whole bunch more meetings.
4) They have a process in place to make a plan.
5) They show what they will support; by the way, this has been the same, pretty much, since day 1. They will support Communication, Applications, Services, and Capabilities. It is on page 11 of the Manager’s update.
6) They say they have the architecture locked down, but I didn’t see anything technical in the presentation. In the Roadmap summary document they mention that they plan to build a combination of systems for the use of mobile and satellite systems for 60% of the geography. Then for the rest it would be determined as they build the system.
7) Bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy! This is what I see.
Maybe I am missing the point here, I thought they were going to lay out the system so it would be seamless across the US, you know, like every carrier’s system. I thought they were going to define a standard like the FCC does when they hand out spectrum. You know a kick butt system that would work across the entire country with all states and counties buying in, a national public safety network that we would be proud of. When will that happen?!?
If you go to http://firstnet.gov/why you will see that they believe that emergency responders deserve the best system. I think we all agree with that. Our emergency workers did a great job with all of the hurricanes we had in the past 2 years. First responders did an outstanding job with all of the disasters they deal with, the shootings, the fires, the rescues, the disasters they had to deal with. Just think if they would have had one more tool, a dedicated broadband network that would have allowed them to do more using dedicated video and data. Most of them probably used their personal phones that they used. Some of the systems relied on Wi-Fi systems they put in or existing cameras. The local governments are putting their money into Wi-Fi or WiMAX so they have something. It would have been nice to have a system in place to work with, especially in New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy or in Boston for the bomb response.
It will take years to build this system out. It will take months to test. It will take months for the bidding proposals, the offers, the negotiations, the site acquisitions, the planning, the construction, the testing, the RF design, the optimization, the inspections, and sign off testing. Apps will be created for this that will help all forms of first responders to save lives. I can’t wait, but we have to start something. We have been talking about it for years. If we started the bid process today it would probably take close to 2 years before we have a system in place for one state.
I just have a few questions, and this is because I am frustrated. How long will we wait? When will we start? What are we waiting for? Our public safety workers deserve help, they need a good system that is dedicated to them. I don’t know if you realize how many people work in public safety. It is the police, the firemen, the ambulance & EMS workers, the 911 call center staff, the IT and radio techs, the telephone workers, and many more that make this system work every minute of every hour of every day.
Listen, I want what is best for the United States, but we need a system that works and we need a system that’s built, not bureaucracy. I know I am looking out for the wireless workers, but public safety is going to have a learning curve when this system is built. I would like to think that they will have a new set of tools in their arsenal that will save lives! That’s the goal people, to save lives! So if there is one thing I would ask FirstNet to do it would be to get moving on the system. It won’t happen overnight. It’s 2014, will we have something by 2016? Probably not at this rate.
Shameless plug: Do a future tower climber a favor. Let them know how beautiful it can be to enjoy the view and work above nature. Whether you’re in the city or on a mountaintop, you will feel free and alive. Have them get the book to prepare them to identify the hazards and the thrill of being on a tower! Get them started, get them the book! Tower Climbing: An Introduction Credit Card PayPal Kindle
More on FirstNet;