Tech Talk: FirstNet's Focus on Standards Development

February 10, 2016
This blog post is the first in a “Tech Talk” series that will focus on FirstNet’s standards development activities.
This blog post is the first in a “Tech Talk” series that will focus on FirstNet’s standards development activities.

By Dean Prochaska, FirstNet Director of Standards

This blog post is the first in a "Tech Talk" series that will focus on FirstNet’s standards development activities. This entry provides background and context for FirstNet’s standards strategy, as well as an overview of our progress to date. In subsequent blog entries, we will discuss how standards development organizations work, provide details about the features we are already addressing, and preview new initiatives that will be explored in the coming year.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was established in February 2012 by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (the Act). Section 6206(c) (7) of the Act directs FirstNet, in consultation with the Director of NIST, the FCC, and the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), to represent the interests of public safety users of the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) in the development of interoperability standards.

Before FirstNet was established, public safety stakeholders viewed Long Term Evolution (LTE) as the forward-looking communications technology for a nationwide network, and the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program was participating in LTE standards development. In August of 2012, the FirstNet Board was established, and one of the Board’s top priorities was to meet with the PSCR program to review its progress on standards. At that time, the PSCR program used the SAFECOM Statement of Requirements and other public safety requirements documents as the foundation of their standards development.

When the PSCR team met with the FirstNet Board, they reviewed the standards development strategy that PSCR was pursuing in the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). 3GPP is the standards development organization (SDO) responsible for the creation of LTE specifications. PSCR’s strategy consisted of: i) creating a direct mode capability for mission critical service; ii) making group communications more efficient; iii) re-using, to the maximum extent possible, existing features within the LTE ecosystem; and iv) only modifying or creating new features if no suitable substitutions existed.

Further, the PSCR team and the FirstNet Board discussed how LTE standards development should be coordinated with international, state, tribal, and local governments that were interested in public safety LTE, to ensure that a global market for public safety LTE would be possible, rather than the regional approach that had been taken for the Land Mobile Radio (LMR) market.

3GPP creates standards in "Releases," each of which is a set of specifications at one point in time that make up the entirety of LTE. Based on the work of the 3GPP standards team, public safety users were declared the top business opportunity for 3GPP SA in Release 12. In Release 12, the standards team successfully created a base level direct mode (the ability for users to communicate directly without using a network), along with advancing group communications to a point where it could serve as a suitable platform for public safety.

In Release 13, the strategy shifted to begin the creation of Mission Critical Push to Talk over LTE (MCPTT) standards. The intent behind this effort is to ultimately create an LTE based service that provides equivalent or better capabilities than public safety’s current Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems. Once again, public safety was named a priority for 3GPP SA, and the Radio Access Network (RAN) in 3GPP also made creating standards for public safety a priority.

As part of the work in Release 13, our standards team continued to expand the capabilities created in Release 12 with the evolution of both the direct mode and group communications standards. However, initially, MCPTT proved to be a challenge, as there were three SDOs working on MCPTT standards at the same time: the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and the 3GPP. FirstNet suggested consolidating all of the MCPTT efforts into what it was pursuing in 3GPP, and ultimately this was the agreed approach taken by all of the public safety stakeholders in each group.

To facilitate the creation of MCPTT standards in 3GPP in a timeframe that would accommodate all of the varied interests, 3GPP created a new working group – SA6 (System and Service Aspects - Mission Critical Applications Working Group) – to specifically handle application architecture standards for mission critical services. This new working group would allow government stakeholders, namely United Kingdom, South Korea, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and the United States, to come up with a single consolidated standard for worldwide public safety broadband communications.

This work began in earnest in January of 2014, when all of the user expectations for MCPTT were documented in Stage 1 (Requirements). Stage 2 work (System Architecture Working Group) shifted to the new SA6 working group in January of 2015, when FirstNet staff led the initial creation of the study for MCPTT.

Recognizing the importance of standards to the NPSBN, FirstNet hired me as the Director of Standards in July 2015, and I immediately began leading FirstNet’s standards-development effort regarding the proposed NPSBN, in cooperation with Andrew Thiessen of the PSCR program. I look forward to continuing to draw support from Andrew and the PSCR Standards Team going forward.

Meantime, 3GPP continues to work feverishly to complete the Release 13 MCPTT standards by March of 2016. In our next blog about standards development activities, we plan to detail the progress achieved on Release 13 and provide more detail about the major components of MCPTT in this release.


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