The initial meeting of the FirstNet board of directors today (Sept. 25, 2012) provided the first insights into the board’s proposed approach to development and build-out of the FirstNet Nationwide Network (FNN).
After swearing in of the Board they immediately worked their way through a number of resolutions. These included resolutions adopting Bylaws, and show of support for standards, FCC actions for assignment of the Public Safety broadband spectrum, and an NTIA Service Level Agreement to supply administrative, technical, staffing and various other resources as requested by FirstNet. To address the legislative mandate that the Board actively consult with and seek inputs of the Public Safety user community, the Board passed a resolution calling for members of SAFECOM to serve as the public-safety advisory committee for FirstNet. Under this resolution, Board chairman Sam Ginn will work with the Department of Homeland Security to select the advisory committee members, and with the FirstNet board to choose the committee’s chairman and vice chairman.
Chairman Ginn emphasized several times during the course of the meeting the need for input, mandated or not, but also noted the Board had a job to do and planned to move forward on development of the network:
“We need you to be communicating with us your thoughts and ideas. But you need to do that in a timely basis, because I think you have understood from this meeting that we are going to take this project with a sense of urgency, and we’re going to run with it. We’d be happy to have you comment and help us along the way, but we have a sense that we have a mission here and we’re going to get it done.”
The indication to moving forward with some sense of urgency, and the potential timing of the first deployments of the network presented by Board member Craig Farrill is in some contrast with the five-year timeline the NTIA discussed in their announcements in August on the State and Local planning-grant program, tied to planning for FirstNet.
Farrill presented a fairly detailed overview of the FirstNet Boards conceptual Network Architecture approach. The presentation explained that build-out of an entirely new Public Safety broadband infrastructure was likely to be impractical from a cost standpoint, and this approach does not meet the mandates of the legislation to leverage to the extent possible, existing resources. Rather, the Board intends to pursue an approach that will leverage the existing US wireless mobile communications wireless infrastructure. With over 285,000 existing Radio Access Network (RAN) sites and associated backhaul already installed by various Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s) such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and others, leveraging this infrastructure will allow the fastest deployment of a redundant, and wide coverage PSBB network.
Based on the proposed architecture and approach that Farrill presented during the meeting, he indicated that deployment of the network could begin in 2013 or 2014.
Architecture – Multiple Terrestrial Partners
(from Craig Farrill presentation 9/25/12)
The conceptual design presentation indicated that a Distributed core would be established for the FNN, housed across multiple hardened and secure locations to provide redundancy. The distributed Core would be comprised of two major elements – the LTE Enhanced Packet Core (EPC) which provides the switching, core routing, user database and management services for the network, and the Service Delivery Platform (SDP) where applications including support for voice, PTT, video, etc. would reside and be managed.
Farrill described what was termed a “three-in-one” approach to achieving RF coverage for the LTE network. The first dimension and primary terrestrial based coverage approach would leverage the RAN sites and backhaul networks that have been constructed by MNO’s across the country. FirstNet would pursue agreements with MNO’s to connect their existing LTE sites into the FNN Core, allowing FirstNet to fairly quickly begin offering Public Safety Broadband services. At the same time, FirstNet would begin deploying Band Class 14 (the dedicated 20 MHz Public Safety allocation) RAN equipment at these sites. As the Band Class 14 RAN comes online, day-to-day capacity and Public Safety traffic would utilize this spectrum, which would be managed for Public Safety’s prioritization and needs.
In order to create redundancy and the most robust network approach and achieve the coverage goals of Public Safety, the FirstNet board envisions pursuing agreements with multiple MNO’s, even in the same geographic areas. That is, agreements might ultimately be in place in some areas with as many as 3 to 6 MNO’s, each integrated into the FirstNet core and adding Band 14 coverage alongside their respective existing spectrum.
Farrill also noted the Board plans to monitor the level of coverage they achieve for LTE at a county level across the entire country. He noted there are 3,030 counties in the continental US, and that they plan to develop some means of tracking the degree of coverage achieved in each – regardless of population.
The second dimension of the conceptual design approach is satellite based coverage. Much like the approach for terrestrial base coverage leveraging existing network infrastructure and agreements with network operators, the Board envisions development of agreements for service with multiple satellite providers for broadband coverage in areas and situations where the terrestrial coverage is impractical or perhaps out of service.
The third dimension of the “three-in-one” approach to the overall FNN is deployable sites and self-contained LTE systems, such as a “Cell on Wheels” or a “System on Wheels”. These tools, utilizing Band 14 RAN equipment would be utilized to enhance coverage and capacity, deployed as-needed for special events, disasters, and similar scenarios.
Illustration of FirstNet Conceptual
Architecture Three Dimensions of Coverage
(from Craig Farrill presentation 9/25/12)
There was also a discussion on applications, and the Board’s interest in establishing a certification process. Board Chair Ginn indicated his anticipation that developers will begin working on app’s for Public Safety use on the FNN, much like app’s are available for commercial use and download. He noted the hope that innovators and creative programmers would develop a wide range of programs and app’s that can be supported by the network, and that could be made available to users anywhere in the country.
Chairman Ginn indicated the Board plans to investigate further how to approach this concept, potentially bringing in people who understand how to develop the concept and enable the approach to supporting app’s, identify if any issues or roadblocks, etc.
The meeting was wrapped up with the indication the Board understands there will be a variety of opinions and inputs from user community and others and they welcome those and are open to other better ideas. At the request of the FirstNet board, the NTIA indicated they plan to “very quickly” seek comments on the presentations in a notice of inquiry, according to an NTIA spokeswoman.Copies of each of the Resolutions adopted by the Board, and the presentation on the Conceptual Network Architecture can be viewed on the NTIA’s web site at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/other-publication/2012/firstnet-board-actions-09252012