The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) has worked closely with public safety personnel nationwide to gather feedback on the most important communications capabilities for their mission. Based on their feedback, the FirstNet Authority Roadmap was designed to guide the growth, evolution and advancement of FirstNet. Now, the FirstNet Authority team is back on the road to discuss the future of FirstNet and outline the details of the Roadmap.
During the latest stop in Pembroke, New Hampshire, the FirstNet Authority collaborated with the New Hampshire Department of Safety’s Office of Interoperability to host two FirstNet User Forums for first responders and public safety officials from New Hampshire on September 10 and for Region I states (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, and VT) on September 11 at the New Hampshire National Guard Training Facility.
The forum began with an overview of the FirstNet Authority and FirstNet, the nationwide public safety broadband network, including the unique structure of FirstNet Authority’s public-private relationship with AT&T. FirstNet Authority’s Executive Director of External Affairs, Edward Parkinson, highlighted the FirstNet Authority’s most recent developments, including the engagement efforts of its Public Safety Advocacy Division, a team of public safety experts that serves the public safety community and supports their use of FirstNet across the nation. He concluded the discussion with a look to the future, noting “I think what we’re going to see over the next four to five years is a dramatic shift in public safety broadband, and one that’s ultimately going to better serve, be a better user experience, and ultimately save lives.”
Dave Buchanan, FirstNet Authority’s Executive Director of Public Safety Advocacy, walked attendees through the FirstNet Authority Roadmap. He explained the six domains within the Roadmap – The Core, Coverage and Capacity, Situational Awareness, Voice Communications, Secure Information Exchange, and User Experience – and the key technology areas within each domain that will guide FirstNet Authority’s future activities, programs, and investments. “It’s your needs that will be the key voice to how we spend money on advancing the FirstNet experience,” he told attendees, highlighting how the FirstNet Authority plans to use the Roadmap and future engagements with public safety to guide investment in the network.
Some of the highlights from the Region I user forum included a session of Debunking Myths led by Dr. Jennifer Harder, PhD, FirstNet Authority Senior Director of Products. Through an interactive discussion with participants, Harder “debunked” several of these myths, including:
- Myth: FirstNet is a rate plan. Fact: FirstNet offers much more than currently available commercial networks to public safety, such as network status and uplift tools, access to the FirstNet App Catalog, and FirstNet-dedicated deployable assets;
- Myth: Only a handful of devices will work on FirstNet. Fact: In September 2019, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) List of Certified Devices approved 138 devices for use on FirstNet and the list will continue to grow; and
- Myth: Public safety and commercial users are treated the same on FirstNet.
Fact: FirstNet provides public safety users with ‘always on’ priority and preemption, meaning they always gain preferred access to the network resources, and commercial users will be removed or relocated from the network to ensure public safety users have priority access.
In the afternoon, representatives from the AT&T FirstNet program conducted a panel discussion focused on RAN buildout and technologies. Owen Smith, President of AT&T New Hampshire, moderated the panel posing questions such as, “what goes into building a new cell site, from the initial planning to the tower launch? And what is involved when we update a site to Band 14?” These questions led to a phenomenal discussion on the process of creating the best possible network for public safety.
The conversation on technology continued as Amy Haukeness, FirstNet Authority’s Senior Public Safety Products Advisor, delved into two of the Roadmap’s technology domains. In a session on the Voice Communications domain, she discussed operational push-to-talk and how this new technology is designed to enhance and expand agencies’ communication abilities. She also focused on the Situational Awareness domain and location-based services (LBS). This discussion looked at the benefits of LBS and how FirstNet will enable these services.
Another Roadmap session focused on the Coverage and Capacity domain and network deployables was led by Dr. Jennifer Harder and Ryan Burchnell, Director of Strategy and Policy for AT&T FirstNet. It highlighted the different options available to public safety for temporary/on-demand coverage and how these tools can be used in the field.
After a day full of discussions and panels, it was time for attendees to see some of FirstNet’s dedicated assets for first responders. Attendees got an inside look at a SatCOLT (Satellite Cell on Light Truck). These mobile cell sites link to FirstNet via satellite and do not rely on commercial power availability. They provide first responders with similar capabilities and connectivity as a cell tower during an emergency. The FirstNet-dedicated deployable are available 24/7 at the request of FirstNet subscribers and at no cost to public safety. Attendees learned about the process of requesting a SatColt to help them stay connected during events and incidents. AT&T FirstNet also had communication devices on site for first responders to trial.
The FirstNet Authority team in the Northeast was excited to be back in New Hampshire engaging with first responders and providing them with an update on their network. These discussions are critical to the FirstNet Authority’s mission of supporting the communication needs of first responders.
Thank you to John Stevens, the New Hampshire Statewide Interoperability Coordinator, as well as the New Hampshire Department of Safety’s Office of Interoperability and AT&T. The FirstNet Authority looks forward to future collaboration and the continuous FirstNet buildout throughout the New England region.
If you are interested in learning more about how to sign up for FirstNet services, please visit Firstnet.com. For questions about the FirstNet Authority’s public safety programs, contact your local Public Safety Advisor or visit FirstNet.gov