NASTD 2013: FirstNet Won't Replace LMR Networks

Emergency response data network will enable advanced public-safety apps.

One common misconception about the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network is that it replaces existing Land Mobile Radio networks. That’s not the case, and communities will continue to require LMR networks for many years, says Ed Reynolds, a FirstNet board member.

Reynolds recently gave state IT directors a rundown of FirstNet at the NASTD annual conference in Charleston, S.C. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet, an entity within the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The interoperability problems first responders have encountered during emergencies are well known. Not only have they had difficulty communicating with other agencies and jurisdictions at the scenes of disasters or terrorist attacks, but also commercial cellular networks tend to be overwhelmed. The nation’s first public-safety broadband network will change that.

“It will be a force multiplier, enabling collaboration that will help save lives, solve crimes and keep our communities safer,” says Reynolds.

The country currently has more than 10,000 separate, private LMR networks. Reynolds notes that not only does this pose barriers to communication, but also having separate networks limits buying power and increases costs. The downside to reliance on commercial networks is that they are not public-safety grade, there’s risk of network overload or failure, and there is no priority access.

Based on the Long Term Evolution standard, FirstNet will serve all 50 states, six territories and 556 federally recognized Native American tribal entities. However, the FirstNet organization is charged only with creating and approving the network guidelines and standards, not building the actual network, Reynolds points out — and funding is tight.

While $7 billion is a large sum, it’s not nearly enough to pay for build-out. In order to achieve coverage where it’s needed, FirstNet is considering using multiple terrestrial mobile systems, satellites and portable hotspots.

Aug 29 2013