FirstNet Core icon and computer servers

FirstNet Authority Roadmap Technology Domains: The Core

This is the first in a blog series that will explore the FirstNet Authority Roadmap domains. You can also learn about: Coverage and Capacity, Situational Awareness, and Voice CommunicationsDownload the full Roadmap at firstnet.gov/Roadmap.

The Core Foundation

When it comes to broadband network infrastructure, the core is critical. It serves as both the brain and the nervous system of a network, providing the technical enablers that network functions are built upon. When you’re using your smartphone, the core is the reason you can make a phone call, send photos and texts, use mobile applications, and perform many other tasks.

The FirstNet Authority formed a public-private partnership with AT&T to execute on public safety’s vision for the FirstNet network. This included the construction of a dedicated, robust, highly available and redundant distributed core infrastructure. The FirstNet Core is the first-ever nationwide LTE packet core infrastructure to be built and designed specifically for public safety. The FirstNet Core enables public safety functions and capabilities through its design, creating a differentiated experience for public safety subscribers.

Designed for Public Safety

Launched in March 2018, the FirstNet Core is built on physically separate, dedicated infrastructure. By design, it separates and differentiates all public safety traffic from commercial user traffic and supports public safety features like quality of service, priority, and preemption.

“The FirstNet Core is huge for public safety,” said Gary McCarraher, FirstNet Authority Senior Public Safety Advisor, 40-year veteran of the fire service, and former fire chief for the Franklin Fire Department in Massachusetts. “Having a physically separate core means that when network resources are needed most —for life safety public safety services for communities — first responders on FirstNet do not have to compete for bandwidth with non-public safety users,” said McCarraher.

The FirstNet Core also provides the security and resiliency public safety users need and expect. It is geographically redundant and monitored by a dedicated Security Operations Center with a team of dedicated personnel who monitor the FirstNet network 24/7/365.

In addition to supporting these critical functions, the Core is continuing to evolve to support emerging mission critical services such as FirstNet Push-to-Talk and, in the future, enhanced location-based services. The FirstNet Authority is also working to ensure the FirstNet Core maintains parity with industry, so that public safety personnel are able to take advantage of emerging technologies and capabilities.

The Core Roadmap Domain

As part of its efforts to ensure FirstNet continues to evolve to meet public safety’s critical communications needs, the FirstNet Authority included the Core as one of the six key domains in the FirstNet Authority Roadmap. The Roadmap is designed to guide the growth, evolution, and advancement of the nationwide public safety broadband network.

Through hundreds of engagements with thousands of stakeholders in 2019, the FirstNet Authority heard from the public safety community that quality of service, priority, and preemption were key functions of the network. The Core was often at the foundation of those discussions, as it is what makes QPP and other elements of the Roadmap possible. Now, we are midway through our engagements with public safety on the Roadmap for 2020, and the FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advocacy team has conducted 534 Roadmap engagements. Of those, more than 40 percent addressed the FirstNet Core in some aspect. Additionally, approximately one-quarter of the engagements addressed priority services.

It became clear from these conversations with public safety that a dedicated and evolving FirstNet Core is necessary to ensure the network can support mission-critical levels of availability, reliability, priority, and security. Based on this feedback and research regarding technology trends, the FirstNet Authority continues it work on the two priorities within the FirstNet Core domain:

  • Explore distributing the core and cloud-based operations to additional locations with content closer to users.
  • Explore evolving the Core to address foundational needs for next generation technologies (e.g., 5G)

These priorities take into account the technology advances happening today. As commercial providers worldwide begin to transition to 5G, it is strategically important that the FirstNet network keeps pace with these advances. Doing so will ensure public safety is able to take advantage of the potential of 5G when it is ready for public safety.

Benefits to Public Safety

5G will have a number of benefits for public safety users. First responders will see improved data rates – which means things go faster; improved latency – which means the network responds faster; and access to new spectrum, which will bring more capacity and significantly improve throughput. These 5G features will mean a lot more devices can run on the network, and 5G is expected to bring about the adoption of massive IoT capabilities such as biometric sensors, motion sensors, cameras, and many other things unimaginable to us today.

While 5G is just starting to be deployed commercially, the FirstNet Authority is proud to be driving innovation in 5G for public safety users through our participation in 3GPP standards body work. In addition, in an effort to prepare the network for these advances, in September 2019, the FirstNet Authority Board passed a resolution approving the FirstNet Authority to pursue investment in initial generational upgrades to the FirstNet Core to enable 5G network capabilities. Our work in this area continues.

With a solid foundational Core, public safety’s network will continue to evolve to meet the needs of first responders and support innovative new technologies to help them serve their communities.

For more information on the Core domain and its relation to the other five Roadmap domains, visit https://www.firstnet.gov/roadmap and listen to the Public Safety First podcast episode, Inside the FirstNet Core.

To engage with a FirstNet Authority public safety advisor in your area or schedule a Roadmap engagement, please visit https://www.firstnet.gov/public-safety/your-advisor

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