FirstNet Authority CTO highlights coverage expansion efforts as initial construction of Band 14 nears completion

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As AT&T nears completion of contracted 700 MHz Band 14 FirstNet infrastructure deployment, the FirstNet Authority is increasingly focused on solutions that will enable public safety users to access the national broadband network. Public Safety Band (NPSBN) when outside the Earth system, according to FirstNet officials.

FirstNet Authority CTO Jeff Bratcher said NPSBN contractor AT&T has repeatedly “exceeded expectations” in its deployment of Band 14, which is more than 95% complete. Contracted to be completed next March, this initial construction phase is likely to be completed later this year, according to a AT&T filing with the SEC.

Completion of this initial Band 14 deployment will be a significant milestone, but FirstNet Authority officials have been busy planning the future development of NPSBN, Bratcher said.

“It’s by no means done,” Bratcher said this week during a presentation at the PSCR 2022 Broadband Stakeholder Meeting in San Diego. “Were [almost] through the first phase with the initial $6.5 billion as part of the auction proceeds. We now move on to this phase of reinvestment and what we are going to do with the network in the future: evolve it with new applications, 5G and other use cases. »

A key goal is to prove solutions that make the FirstNet system available for public safety in locations beyond the fixed terrestrial network coverage footprint, Bratcher said.

For such outdoor scenarios, FirstNet has long provided AT&T manned deployables — primarily SatCOLTs, but also LTE drones and an LTE airship — but the option of agency-owned general-purpose Compact Rapid Deployables (CRDs) is available. proved to be very popular with the public. -security community, Bratcher said during an interview with IWCE Urgent Communications.

“One thing we’ve learned is the huge success of the Compact Rapid Deployable [CRD, built by Rescue 42]“, Bratcher said. “Public safety loves to bring it with them. [Public safety officials say,] “Let’s bring the network, and we can mount it.” There are two switches to turn on. »

For years, first responder representatives have sought to duplicate the performance of land mobile radio (LMR) technology when not connected to a land network. However, the range of LTE device-to-device offerings like Proximity Services (ProSe) has paled in comparison to those found in LMR, which typically offers handsets that operate at much higher power levels, have antennas external and often exploit waves with better propagation characteristics.

But the success of CRDs…now poised to support High Power User Equipment (HPUE)— and other easily deployable “bring the network with you” solutions can lead FirstNet authority and other first responder entities to revisit the pervasive problem by posing new questions that should be explored, according to Bratcher.

“If they can bring the network with them to where they are, do they really need a dedicated off-grid [solution]?” he said. “Or is it a return via jumps feature? There are all these concepts that are talked about in how we can enable this. The public safety feedback is: “ We need a certain kind of capacity” [in off-network scenarios].”

Bratcher said FirstNet Authority continues to explore future options, issuing a request for information (RFI) last year on off-network alternatives.

Additionally, FirstNet officials are monitoring the progress of companies such as Lynk Global and AST SpaceMobile, both of which plan to partner with commercial wireless carriers and provide additional LTE coverage to unmodified smart devices using the spectrum. sub-1 GHz from the operator via LEO satellites that act as cellular towers in space. The two companies have announced several carrier partners and plan to provide broadband service globally over the next three years.

AT&T recently confirmed that it will participate in AST SpaceMobile testing which will include operation on the Band 14 spectrum under license from the authority FirstNet.

“We’re interested in all of those capabilities, for sure,” Bratcher said. “We have held market research meetings with several different companies, those [Lynk and AST SpaceMobile] included – and let them know what we want to see down the line. That’s why we worked with AT&T on some of these feasibility studies.

“We’re excited to see what that potential could be.”

Meanwhile, the FirstNet Authority is also taking steps to address the other major access issue: indoor coverage.

Last month, FirstNet Authority Board Members Approved Use of Reinvestment Funds help pay for the deployment of AT&T’s Cell Booster Pro Solution to provide FirstNet Band 14 coverage inside public safety facilities like police stations and fire stations.

Bratcher said he thinks the Cell Booster Pro could also be an option for smaller installations that want – or may be required to – provide FirstNet coverage in the building without investing in an expensive in-building communication system that can be difficult to retrofit into an existing system. structure.

“Absolutely,” Bratcher said. “Anywhere we can get Band 14 in. It’s another option in the toolbox now that’s budget-friendly, and it’s a commercial product – you can order it today. AT&T also offers a commercial version that you can also purchase.

“But the Band 14 one supports all of our services. It’s better than Wi-Fi because you don’t get priority and preemption on unlicensed Wi-Fi systems. We’re really excited and our investment will help our core users get them to distribute them where they’re needed.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Urgent Communication from IWCE.

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