The "Spectrum Act" legislation created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent authority established within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). FirstNet is charged with establishing a nationwide public safety broadband network based on a single, national network architecture. FirstNet has the authority to take all actions necessary to ensure the design, construction, deployment, and operations of the nationwide public safety broadband network. FirstNet will consult with Federal, State, tribal, and local public safety entities as part of their efforts. FirstNet is headed by a 15-member board comprised of representatives from states, locals, tribes, and territories as well as representatives from industry and the public safety community. FirstNet will also establish network deployment phases that will include substantial rural coverage milestones for each phase of the network construction and deployment. FirstNet will consider special considerations for areas or regions with unique homeland security or national security needs. FirstNet will consult with a single officer in each state, designated by the Governor of that state.
The Spectrum Act legislation provides a $135 Million State and Local Implementation grant fund to be administered through FirstNet. These funds are set aside by NTIA to assist State, regional, tribal, and local jurisdictions to identify, plan, and implement infrastructure, equipment, and other architecture. A 20% local match will be required for any grant funds awarded by FirstNet. States are required to appoint a single officer or governmental body to serve as the coordinator of implementation of the grant funds. Grant guidance will be a task assigned to FirstNet to define eligible costs, scope of eligible grant activities, and how to prioritize grant awards that ensure both rural and urban coverage.
LTE will not replace LMR radio systems in the near future. This has been a controversial topic, where most industry experts agree that it will be many years, possibly even decades before the Public Safety LTE network becomes capable of replacing mission critical voice-based services on a wide area basis. Some argue PS LTE may never fully replace Land Mobile Radio platforms. PS LTE is meant to augment existing P25 systems; it will serve primarily the public safety’s data needs while mission critical voice will still be handled by P25 systems.
In the shorter term, even more obstacles are present. The device "ecosystem" for PS LTE Band 14 has not fully developed. No standard exists for Mission Critical group voice over LTE, and cellular devices don’t do "direct" or "talkaround" modes, at least not yet.
In summary, hang on to your LMR radios for years to come. The Association of Public Communications Officials (APCO) Broadband Committee has released a position paper on this topic.
The State of Texas applied for and received authority to operate one of the first 700 MHz PS LTE (Public Safety Long Term Evolution) systems in the United States. As part of the authority granted in the FCC Order of July 31, 2012, the State of Texas is allowed to commence operation, but only for 14 sites in Harris County.
The timing for the buildout of this nationwide "FirstNet" PS LTE network is being driven by the Federal government and FirstNet board. Based upon the time line outlined in the legislation, the State of Texas’ PS LTE team estimates that Texas FirstNet deployments will likely begin in the 2014-2016 timeframe.
The term "4G" means "4th Generation" wireless communications, following on from early first generation cellular systems in the 1970’s. LTE stands for "Long Term Evolution". LTE is based upon the global 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Standard chosen for Public Safety data communications. Adhering to the 3GPP standards helps insure interoperability between systems and devices, provides for a variety of infrastructure and device vendors, and supports innovative solutions that remain interoperable between systems.
The FCC mandates the use of 3GPP Standards-based LTE technologies for the build out of the nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN). What's important for Public Safety is that LTE is a new, top-to-bottom platform using the latest and greatest technologies available. This means existing devices and infrastructure will not be compatible, just as the first generation analog cellular phones are not compatible on second, third and fourth generation cellular systems. Conversely, significant technical and operational advantages exist with this new standard as is being implemented by FirstNet.
PS LTE differs in some important ways from commercial 4G LTE:
With the passing of the "Spectrum Act" legislation in February 2012, PS LTE will use Band 14 (758 - 769MHz, 788 - 799MHz) which includes the "D-Block". Obtaining this 20MHz of spectrum in total was a major victory for the Public Safety community.
According to the legislation creating FirstNet, each governor has the option to decide whether his or her state wants to deploy their own broadband Radio Access Network (RAN). There is a multistep process that any state must go through before deciding to Opt-in or Opt-out.
After consulting with representatives of each state, FirstNet will release a request for information (RFI), followed by a request for proposal (RFP) for construction of the nationwide network. After the RFP is completed and has been presented to the state by FirstNet, each state governor will have 90 days to accept (Opt-in) or reject (Opt-out) the nationwide buildout plan. Any state that decides to opt-out has 6 months to develop and complete its own RPF process for a broadband RAN within that state, and has to receive FCC approval for it.
The Opt-in/Opt-out decision is will be made by each state by the governor at the appropriate time after all factors have been considered. The State of Texas will not make any decision regarding Opt-in / Opt-out until the associated value proposition has been thoroughly evaluated. This decision is likely in the ~2014 timeframe.