4.9GHz Needs the NPSBN

By Richard Mirgon

As you know, I was part of the first responder community that fought for what is now FirstNet. We were engaged in the language of the legislation and worked with Congress to get it created. Specifically, it is a nationwide public safety broadband network built on the basis of a public-private partnership and as a single network. I was one of a few hundred that caused this to happen and was part of the leadership team. One item that was of extreme importance was that we needed to stand together to find a common solution. We spent days reviewing all the past attempts where cities, regions and states tried to build on their own networks. That list is long and mostly forgotten, but hundreds of millions of dollars were spent of taxpayer funds and they all failed. Primarily, it was too costly. Capital costs were in the hundreds of millions with annual costs totaling tens of millions of dollars. That is the proven reality of local builds or what the opposition is calling local control. 

So, what is it that got me thinking this morning? Well, I was looking at some of the public safety technology news feeds and I was reading an article about how much data 911 centers are going to be pushing to first responders in every jurisdiction nationwide. Things like video, floorplans, satellite images, augmented reality overlays and situational awareness applications just to name a few. That is a lot of data to push and to receive. Imagine 20, 30, 40 or more first responders needing to view the interior of a building. Everyone reading this knows, and yes “knows” that a commercial carrier won’t allow that much data without either throttling it (slowing your speeds or limiting data) or charging you more money to do it (again, that has been done already). Just look at all of the new applications that companies like Motorola and RapidSOS are building for public safety. It is amazing. You might even ask yourself what has caused this boom. Well, it was FirstNet. Public safety has a network that makes it a reality. Because of FirstNet we have seen an explosion in the tools that first responders use every day. And as most of you know, we need FirstNet because not only have commercial carriers throttled public safety, charge more for high data use, they have also turned off commercial cell sites because it cost them too much to operate and wasn’t profitable for them. Yet, at the same time, as other carriers turned off sites, FirstNet was building more sites and improving its coverage. 

This brings me to the topic of the day and why the 4.9GHz band needs FirstNet. The need to keep FirstNet robust and on the cutting edge. You do that with the allocation of the 4.9GHz public safety broadband network to FirstNet so that it is part of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network spectrum holdings. For FirstNet to meet the future needs of public safety, additional spectrum needs to be added to the FirstNet network. Full stop! Others inaccurately like to pontificate by saying that it will become AT&T spectrum. Not true. AT&T is the contractor to build and operate FirstNet. They don’t own FirstNet. This is an easy lie to tell by the opposition, but it is a blatant lie to say AT&T will own the spectrum. The reality is that FirstNet is governed by a Board of Public Safety Officials that must follow federal law in everything it does. We don’t know how they will enable it, but that is why they are there. Remember, the FirstNet Authority consists of a board of public safety officials, private sector executives and a professional staff. It is their job to do what is best for public safety. And so far, their record is outstanding. 5.5 million users on the network, 27,000 agencies and thousands of applications all in just a few short years. They have built the largest and most effective public safety broadband network in the world. Clearly, they can be trusted to do what is best for OUR network. They have proven it!

Yet with all that good work there are those that oppose it. Many would ask why would someone oppose something that has proven to be a major success for all of public safety? The simple answer is money. This coalition, that has become known as CERCI, has as its major supporters Verizon and T-Mobile. That is simple to understand. Many of those 5.5 million users left their commercial networks for a hardened public safety network that offers true priority, preemption and local control. The math is simple. Let’s say one of the carriers lost 1 million of those 5.5 million to FirstNet. Take whatever number you want to use as an average monthly cell phone bill and multiply by 1 million times 12 and that is at minimum lost revenue by that carrier. That number will be in the area of one half a billion dollars a year. Now that is corporate motivation! 

Next, you have utilities that want free spectrum to build their own networks. They need spectrum for their own operations and without it, they, as for-profit companies, must buy spectrum like any other company which would cost them billions of dollars. If they save that money with free spectrum, their stock price goes up and they make huge profits. Sometimes they use their excess spectrum for commercial use selling it to other companies. They are all motivated strictly for corporate gain. 

Then you have a couple of public safety associations that are supporting CERCI. I can’t tell you exactly why they have partnered with Verizon, T-Mobile, Edison Electric, and others and have proposed to share our public safety spectrum with the critical infrastructure industry (CII), (and yes that is part of their position.)  but I do think it is time for them, the public safety board members of those associations, to explain how allowing CII, which includes utilities, transportation, commercial facilities, financial sector, defense industry and others, to use your spectrum is good for you. I also know that only those states, counties and cities with money could even try and build, but history has shown it will fail. I know that the average first responder will never get access under their plan because they can’t afford to build or effectively manage such networks. I do know that once CII gets access to and uses this spectrum, we will never get them off it. 

Here is a little side note related to those few public safety groups supporting CERIC. Representatives supporting the allocation of the spectrum to FirstNet have asked to talk with the boards of the few associations supporting CERCI and have been denied that opportunity. Is that true? If so, why don’t they want to hear both sides? I have also been told that members inside those organizations don’t know why they are supporting CERCI and the sharing of the spectrum. The vast majority of the public safety associations are supporting the allocation of this spectrum to FirstNet. Why are just a couple taking this other path that would cost millions of dollars to deploy?

Look, at the end of the day, we have already tried to build local control networks – been there, done that. Proven and documented. Multiple major cities spent tens of millions of their taxpayer money along with tens of millions of federal grant money to try and they failed. All wasted money. Again, this isn’t speculation – this is fact. My question to any chief officer or sheriff is this: Are you willing to take tens of millions of dollars to build a network that may or may not work when you could use that money for staff to provide direct response to your communities? Are you willing to take the heat from your city councils or your constituents that this service could have come at a lower price from FirstNet? Local builds are just that, they are local and leave behind the vast majority of first responders across the country. The only way to get nationwide coverage and usage is with our only Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, FirstNet.

FirstNet Chair Listening to FirstNet Users at Vision 2023

FirstNet Chair Listening to FirstNet Users at Vision 2023

By James Careless

As the name suggests, the Public Safety Broadband Technology Association’s Vision FirstNet Users Summit (PSBTA, Vision 2023) is all about FirstNet. This is why heavyweights such as Chief Richard Carrizzo, FirstNet Authority Board Chair and Chief of the Southern Platte Fire Protection District in Kansas City, Missouri made a point of attending this year’s conference. It was held at the South Point Spa and Casino in Las Vegas, September 25 to 28, 2023.

“It is important for the Authority to be here, as our job and mission is to build the only public safety broadband network in the United States,” Chief Carrizzo said. “We constantly do engagements with all the public safety disciplines to learn more and to find out what type of network they want and need. Then we take that information and use our investment dollars to improve the network, to continue to build out the network, and to be here at this event. It is important to hear from the users and determine their needs.”

The Same, Yet Different

This is the second Vision summit that Chief Carrizzo has attended, the first being the inaugural event he attended last year. 

Asked to compare the two Visions, he said that they are “very similar and very different. And what I mean by that is that the association learned a lot last year from the users that were here and the type of users that were here —  and I think they had a vision of what they wanted out of the conference and built upon it. And I would say they were very successful. You can tell that the users that are here this year compared to last year are just more engaged. I see a lot more networking this go-around than in the past. Even at lunch today, it appeared my whole table was sitting there exchanging business cards and talking about what other entities were doing. It was just wonderful to see as a user, and as the chair.”

Based on his informal observations, Chief Carrizzo says that attendance to Vision 2023, when compared to Vision 2022, has more than doubled. “It’s probably pretty safe to say the morning sessions are completely full,” he said. “For the first session, they had to bring out more chairs because there wasn’t enough sitting space for all the participants. Things like that are just wonderful to see as the association continues to grow for the users. I mean, that’s what we have to remember is that they’re doing this for the users: It’s not a selfish reason. It’s for the users, for them to be better, to share and network, and to build upon the system.”

Two Different Perspectives, One Person

As mentioned at the outset of this article, Chief Richard Carrizzo is attending Visions 2023 both as FirstNet Chair and Kansas City fire chief. This is why this one person has two perspectives on the conference.

Speaking as FirstNet Chair, being here at Vision 2023 is all about spending its share of the fees collected from AT&T in ways that truly address the needs of FirstNet users. “We use that money for our investments,” said Chief Carrizzo. “Our belief is that, in order to make the appropriate investments, we need to hear from the public safety community through numerous engagements. And this is just one of those engagements that we’re using to learn.”

Speaking as a person who is a fire chief, he is here to learn more about what’s happening with FirstNet for his department. That’s why Chief Carrizzo came to Vision 2023 with his deputy chief of technology. “I brought him here based on what I saw last year,” the Chief said. “I know he’s going to take back a lot of things. I’ve been watching him on the sidelines and just networking nonstop, and I know he’s learning things and teaching people things at the same time based on his skills.”

All of these reasons explain why Chief Richard Carrizzo will be back for a third time next year, attending Vision 2024. As for why other first responders should come to this PSBTA event? “I stated this morning in my ‘Welcome to Day Two’ talk was that what I see coming out of this conference is a lot of leaders, whether they’re leaders in their own organization or whether they’re leaders in the usage of the broadband network,” he said. “But what we’re missing is more leaders — and so how do we get those other leaders? So I put it out to everybody that’s here is that you need to reach out to your associations and groups that you belong to, whether they’re state associations or whatever, and publicize this event because this is all about having the leaders of FirstNet users here. The more leaders that we can have here and the more that they can learn from it, the better.”

SBC’s Foley: In-Building Coverage Problems Getting Worse

SBC’s Foley: In-Building Coverage Problems Getting Worse

By James Careless

Being able to get signals in and out of buildings is a top priority for first responders. This is why the Public Safety Broadband Technology Association’s Vision FirstNet Users Summit (PSBTA, Vision 2023) focused on this issue during its Las Vegas conference. The event was held at the South Point Spa and Casino September 25 to 28, 2023.

John Foley is Managing Director of the Safer Buildings Coalition (SBC), a not-for-profit organization who advocates for the elimination of in-building wireless dead zones. He was one of four speakers during the Vision 2023 session, ‘FirstNet & In-Building Communications’, which was held September 27th.

According to Foley, the dangers associated with inadequate in-building communications are literally life-threatening for first responders and the general public. “When you’re disconnected, you’re not safe,” he said. “For years we’ve advocated that you should be able to make a 911 call and be quickly located. Mass notification messages [also] need to get to people wherever they are so that they can be aware and respond to them appropriately. And most importantly, first responder communications must work inside buildings.”

Given how important in-building communications are for public safety, one might have thought that the problem would be eased in more modern structures. But the opposite is true: “This problem is actually getting worse as new buildings are being erected with new construction materials,” said Foley. “Things like high energy efficiency glass — they call it Low-E glass — actually blocks radio waves. So, it’s impossible to get signals in and out of the building through this glass. As a matter of fact, it is easier to get a radio signal through 12 inches of reinforced concrete than it is to get it through a pane of Low-E glass.”

Running Towards the Problem

John Foley was happy to talk about this issue at Vision 2023 because AT&T, FirstNet, and the SBC are working together to promote in-building installation standards that meet/exceed existing code/industry best practices, and to emphasize the importance of innovative solutions to the problem such as Z-Axis location technology — which adds vertical location data to cellphone calls. 

This same company representative had also been attending the Mobile World Congress, which took place in Las Vegas at the same time. “All he heard there was how the wireless carriers were going to pull back on investing in in-building infrastructure,” said Foley. “And then he comes down here to Vision 2023 and hears that not only are AT&T and FirstNet investing in building coverage and having a deliberate strategy to build in-building coverage, but that the FirstNet Authority is devoting reinvestment dollars into products like AT&T’s Cell Booster Pro. So, where half the industry is moving away from investing in in-building coverage, AT&T and FirstNet are running towards it.”

A Solvable Problem

The life-and-death problems associated with inadequate in-building communications are serious indeed, but there is some cause for hope. Besides the efforts of FirstNet and AT&T to address this issue through technology, government is trying to help out as well. 

For instance, “fire and building codes require that building owners test for this and correct it where there’s a problem,” Foley said. “As a matter of fact, right here in Clark County, Nevada, every high-rise casino property resort property here has been required to put these systems in.” This change was pushed by the local fire department following the 2017 mass shooting staged from inside the Mandalay Bay hotel, he explained.

Good for the Community, Good for Business

As far as John Foley is concerned, providing adequate in-building coverage is not just a social good but an economically viable enterprise as well — and apparently, he is not alone in this belief. 

“I think PSBTA and Safer Buildings share a common principle,” said Foley. “We want to protect life and property, but we also understand that there has to be a commercially feasible model that has to be there. We want to help solve the public safety problem and the gaps in public safety communications. But it should be done in a way to make a living as well. And so, finding that balance of helping industry do well while doing good is a very fulfilling thing for all of us.”

John Foley added that this problem needs to start being addressed immediately, because the number of U.S. buildings with inadequate coverage today stands at about a million. “If we were able to do 10,000 buildings a year, it would still take us a hundred years to get all those buildings corrected,” he said. “So, we have to establish some priorities.” To this end, Foley would like to see K-12 schools get fast-tracked for these improvements, along with “high value targets” such as large venues and shopping malls.”

IAFC President Chief Butler at Vision 2023: “Interoperability Matters”

IAFC President Chief Butler at Vision 2023: “Interoperability Matters”

By James Careless

Fairfax County Fire Chief and IAFC President John Butler had one clear, unequivocal message for Vision 2023 attendees on September, 26, 2023: “Interoperability matters.” 

Chief Butler delivered his message during his keynote address at Vision 2023 — aka the Vision FirstNet Users Summit — which is being hosted by the Public Safety Broadband Technology Association at the Las Vegas South Point Spa and Casino September 25-28, 2023. He also voiced it during a Unified Command panel discussion with Fire Chief Don Lombardi and Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. And this wasn’t his only point. According to Chief Butler, “interoperable relationships matter, interdisciplinary approaches matter, and the spirit of inclusivity also matters.”

Referring to his cohorts on the Unified Command panel, Chief Butler observed that, “the three of us have some commonalities. Not only are we fire chiefs, but we also are in the Urban Search and Rescue community. The three of us are sponsoring agency chiefs for USAR teams: The  reason I bring up that is because we’re three chiefs on that panel speaking about FirstNet to attendees who probably know more about FirstNet than we do from a technical point. So what we were focussing on was how we three leaders use this resource, its technology, and its deployables in the communities we serve.”

FirstNet for Good Days as Well as Bad

Beyond stressing the importance of interoperability and cooperation, the three panellists talked about the day-to-day usefulness of FirstNet and how its users can get more out of the platform. “When you think about public safety service ‘having its own lane on a highway with FirstNet’, people get that when it comes to emergencies, but we still have some work to do to talk about what we call ‘Blue Sky Days’,” said the Chief. “There’s still room to use the resource and the technology [in all conditions]. Everything’s not a 9/11 or something that significant.”

Chief Butler feels a particular responsibility to promote FirstNet and interoperability in his role as President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “We have over 11,000 members in a number of countries,” he said. “With 2023 being our 150th anniversary, we need to look at what will get us into through next 150 years. That will be advancements in technology, plus our spirit of inclusion — working with each other and identifying, ‘who needs to know this? Who needs to be in this room? Who needs to be at this table?’ That’s what the FirstNet circle of friends is, and should look like.”

Why Vision 2023 Matters

Chief Butler is as big a supporter of the Vision conferences as he is interoperability, and for the same reasons. “It’s important to have a Vision conference such as this, because — as the name connotes — vision is something that can be viral,” he explained. 

Bringing together FirstNet users allows them to share ideas and build this community together, which benefits everybody in public safety and the general population as well. “We’re speaking the same language and talking about the same things, yet talking about different perspectives of the same thing, which amounts to a ‘power lunch’,” Chief Butler said. “You leave the round table having gotten to know new people and hear different or new thoughts on things, or validation on your thoughts, so it’s important to keep doing this.”

Planning to Return

Vision 2023 was Chief John Butler’s first visit to this FirstNet users conference, and one that he attended in his official capacities of IAFC President and keynote speaker. He plans to keep coming from now on in. 

“I assure you, I’ll be back,” the Chief said. “I told the conference leadership to expect me to come back. Even when I’m done being the president of IAFC, there’s a lot to be learned. I enjoy it, plus I get to meet new people.”

Fire Marshal McKay has Great Expectations for Vision 2023

Fire Marshal McKay has Great Expectations for Vision 2023

By James Careless

It’s his first time here, and he has great expectations for what he’ll get out of the experience. These phrases sum up the perspective of First Marshal Jim McKay of the Monarch Fire Protection District (Chesterfield, Missouri), as he attends the Vision FirstNet Users Summit (Vision 2023) in Las Vegas. Hosted by the Public Safety Broadband Technology Association (PSBTA) at the South Point Spa and Casino from September 25 to 28, 2023, Vision 2023 is the top public safety industry event for all things FirstNet.

For the record, the Monarch Fire Protection District covers 62 square miles and about 62,000 residents with five engine houses. They moved from AT&T consumer wireless to FirstNet (built by AT&T) about five years ago. “When it first came out, we were probably one of the first larger agencies in our area to go to FirstNet,” said Fire Marshal McKay. “We probably run a total of about 80 Apple devices, whether that’s iPhones or iPads. We’re all Apple-based. Android is taboo.”

Why He is Here

Fire Marshal McKay decided to attend Vision 2023 to help his agency get more out of its FirstNet system — and it already does a lot for them. “Communications interoperability is paramount to what we do and what law enforcement does,” he said. “[FirstNet’s] Band 14 is a game changer, when you can stand in a large crowd of people and you’re the one getting out. Some of our members travel with the USTAR search and rescue teams — and they’re making calls and getting out in areas where others can’t.” 

Even though Fire Marshal McKay was in Day One of Vision 2023 when he was interviewed for this article, he had already benefited from being here. “I just talked to a gentleman last night about the Push-to-Talk that we used to have on the old Nextel [LMR] system, which was fabulous. Then we tried the AT&T Push-to-Talk system several years ago and it was nowhere near what Nextel’s instantaneous communication was. So the gentleman last night said, ‘yeah, pretty much when you Push-to-Talk [over FirstNet] you will get an instantaneous connection, not delayed.”

Must-Attend Sessions

Learning more about FirstNet and what his agency can do with it is the guiding principle behind Fire Marshal McKay’s selection of sessions at Vision 2023. One of them is ‘911 and FirstNet – Working Better Together’, which focuses on the evolution of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) and how FirstNet can help NG911 do more for first responders. Another one is ‘Mission Critical Services’ which covers the advanced broadband services offered by FirstNet Mission Critical Push-to-Talk solutions such as data services, location services, Push-to-Talk voice, and video streaming. 

Sessions like these will help Fire Marshal McKay answer his FirstNet questions, and he has several of them on his mind. For instance, when it comes to people calling 911 on smartphones, “what information are we gathering from them all the way to the first responder on the scene?” he said. “If we have a missing person and we’re pinging their phone, how accurate is the search area; whether they’re using Wi-Fi to make a call or the actual cell service?” Fire Marshal McKay also wants to know how FirstNet can help improve multi-agency responses to school, to coordinate the deployment of first responders at the scene “and help ’em get to the threat much quicker. So there’s a ton of stuff to see and see if it fits what we’re looking for.”

Must-Have Knowledge

In addition to attending informative sessions at Vision 2023, Fire Marshal McKay wants to learn more about the FirstNet system and what his agency could be doing with it. 

“The first thing is, are we leveraging the existing FirstNet capabilities to their full extent?” he asked. “And if we are, what is the new things that they’re bringing to the table? I’ve talked to some of the reps from FirstNet and they’re like, ‘hey, we’ve got this new device or we’ve reduced the size and weight of this to make it more portable’.” That’s the kind of truly useful information that this first responder and other Vision 2023 attendees really want to hear.

Fire Marshal McKay also wants to know how to backstop his FirstNet system when natural disasters occur. “How can we make sure that if there is a disaster, we’re the ones getting out and reaching back to the facilities and information that we need,” he said.

Even during his first few hours at Vision 2023, Fire Marshal McKay has already started to get some of the answers he needs. One of these is that interoperable communications is a “universal” priority “across the country,” he said. “Getting law enforcement and fire and EMS to all be on the same page is critical.” As for the value of being at Vision 2023 in general? “It goes back to making sure that the things we have in place are doing what we need them to do, are fiscally responsible and [learning] where we need to go in the future to be ahead of it instead of trying to play catch up.”

Parkinson: Vision 2023 at the “Bleeding Edge” of Public Safety Communications

Parkinson: Vision 2023 at the “Bleeding Edge” of Public Safety Communications

By James Careless

When it comes to the value of the Public Safety Broadband Technology Association (PSBTA)’s   Vision FirstNet Users Summit (Vision 2023), Edward Parkinson doesn’t mince words. 

“Over the last five years we’ve seen a quantum leap forward in public safety communications,” said Parkinson, CEO of the 911 intelligent safety platform RapidSOS and former FirstNet Authority President. “And what I think this conference does better than any other is that it really highlights the bleeding edge of what that looks like — not only in terms of what art of the possible is, but what’s actually here right now that women and men in public safety can leverage.”

Now underway at the South Point Spa and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, from September 25 to 28, 2023, Vision 2023 is the premiere industry event for all things FirstNet, “If you’re talking about range extension, if you’re talking about 911, or the integration of broadband, it really does cover the A to Z of public safety comms in a way that I don’t think any other conference does,” Parksinson said. “To be able to see what’s available for public safety and then to see the vision of what’s to come — and that is what the conference is named after — is a terrific opportunity to hear some of the thought leaders, to see some of the leading technology, the thought leaders in the community and to see what’s coming.”

2023 marks the second year for this annual PSBTA Vision conference for FirstNet users, and the second year that Edward Parkinson has come to it. For him, it’s a ‘must attend’ event, because of the mix of cutting-edge technology, educational sessions, social gatherings, and the chance to meet the most involved players in the FirstNet community.

“I’m looking forward to an in-depth agenda covering a wide variety of topics and to seeing really what’s out there in terms of technology,” he said. “There’s some really interesting keynote discussions around all hazard multi-agency operations and response, which is pretty cool. I’m looking forward to hearing Karen Marquez from RapidSOS talk about 911 and what we do in terms of bringing the 911 community to the forefront of public safety. There’s Band 14 and how it’s continuing to be leveraged creatively by public safety. And then there’s the health and wellness piece, which for me is often pretty unspoken. The importance of that program and how public safety is really now starting to think about post-traumatic stress and really stressful environments — to ensure that if you’re out in the field or if you’re taking calls, people are thinking about one’s mental health — it’s all covered, which is great.”

Parkinson is also looking forward to hearing firsthand from FirstNet thought leaders such as

FirstNet Executive Director/CEO Joe Wassel, AT&T FirstNet Program President Jim Bugel, and International Association of Fire Chiefs’ President and CEO Chief John Butler, among others. “You’ve got this depth of industry experts coming together to provide really those kinds sort of bespoke and personal conversations that other shows just simply can’t get,” he said. “It’s tremendous to see, and that was one of the catalysts for me wanting to come back.”

Edward Parkinson is also looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues and friends in the FirstNet community — and making business deals — at Vision 2023. “It’s the hallway conversations, isn’t it?” said Parkinson. “Just in the two or three hours I’ve been here, I’ve met some folks from Missouri, reconnected with some folks from Nevada and North Carolina and old friends from association days.”

When Vision 2023 does wrap up on September 28th, Parkinson knows what he hopes to take home from the experience. “For me, it’s twofold,” he said. “Number One is understanding the thinking around where public safety communications is going as an industry. You can break that down into radio, you can break that down to broadband 911 or however you want to talk about it. But the thing about public safety communications is it’s one ecosystem with those verticals underneath, and so how do they all fit together and what is that path going forward? Understanding what the larger vision is that you see from some of those folks, that’s kind of key in terms of Step One.”

“Step Two is really ensuring that people understand the story of RapidSOS being a 911 data intelligence safety platform,” said Parkinson. “We provide that end-to-end solution that no other company does. And the products and services we provide does delve into broadband, does delve into obviously 911. It’s my hope is that we’re able to tell that story here at Vision 2023, and folks come away from this conference with a better understanding of what services and solution sets we can provide to help make their lives a bit safer and a bit easier.”