About FirstNet and FirstNet Georgia
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency / Homeland Security in concert with state and local Public Safety partners, has been tasked to help coordinate the initial Federal outreach efforts of FirstNet. FirstNet (First Responders Network) is a Federal Program, housed in the US Department of Commerce, that promises to be the first nationwide, high-speed wireless broadband network dedicated solely to public safety. By providing a single interoperable 4G LTE platform for emergency and daily public safety data communications, it promises to increase collaboration to help emergency responders save more lives, solve more crimes and keep our communities safer. Congress has set aside a large amount of broadband spectrum specifically designated for public safety use, meaning that responders can easily communicate across jurisdictions and state lines and put an end to decades-long interoperability and communications challenges.
It is estimated that there are potentially 5.4 million FIRSTNET Public Safety Users nationwide. FIRSTNET must provide service in all 50 states, 5 territories and Washington DC. It coverage will be 3.8M square miles, 60,000 public safety agencies, 3,250 Counties and 566 Tribes. Estimates are that the network utilization will be:
Initially, FirstNet will be used to send data, such as maps, video, images, and text and to run public safety apps and make non-mission critical cellular-quality voice calls. Important Note: Mission critical voice will continue to use Land Mobile Radio (LMR) technology for the foreseeable future.
With FirstNet, public safety users will have fast access to information they need to meet their mission, and since the general public is not on this network, responders do not have to compete for data usage. FirstNet will be designed to provide extensive coverage, although some remote areas may need to be covered by deployable and/or mobile satellite systems.
FirstNet will build, operate, and maintain the network, but local users can expect to pay user fees. FirstNet intends to offer services at a compelling and competitive cost to attract millions of public safety users, save money for states and locals, and make FirstNet self-sustaining. The use of FirstNet services and applications will be voluntary.
This network is a high priority of the federal government, as it is the last remaining recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. For more information on national FirstNet developments, visit http://www.firstnet.gov.
The map below depicts FirstNet's early projections of proposed coverage in the state of Georgia. The "Handheld Device w/ In-Building Coverage" means that handheld devices should be able to fully function at all points within covered buildings, as well as anywhere outside. "Handheld Device/ Partial In-Building Coverage" means that handheld devices should be able to fully function anywhere outside as well as at some points within covered buildings. "Coverage w/ Vehicular Modem/ Partial Handheld Device Coverage" means that handheld devices should be able to function whenever they are in range of the vehicular modem, which can be deployed as needed, and will receive some coverage even without the vehicular modem. "Satellite/ Deployable Unit Coverage" means that handheld devices will only receive connectivity through deployable or satellite coverage. Coverage is divided into five types: dense urban, urban, suburban, rural and wilderness. Each offers a unique challenge to provide the coverage and maintain service.
Click here for larger version of FirstNet Georgia LTE Coverage Map.jpg
The law that established FirstNet specified that the network shall be based on the minimum technical requirements on the commercial standards for Long Term Evolution (LTE) service. LTE is the evolution of a proven technology, which is now in its fourth generation. FirstNet broadly defines its LTE network in distinct domains: Core Network, Transport Backhaul, Radio Access Network (RAN), Applications and Public Safety Devices. With each generation comes improvement in speed and functionality. Standards work to enhance and evolve 4G LTE is continuing on a global basis. FirstNet is involved in the standards process and working closely with public safety organizations to support the development of standards and functionality that meet the needs of the public safety users that FirstNet will serve. Much of the current focus is on an international set of standards that will allow FirstNet to offer mission-critical voice (MCV) when these capabilities become available. The same MCV technologies will then work across all standards-based equipment and networks worldwide.
The FirstNet network will support public safety applications and key mission-critical network services with the goal to be transformative to first responders and the public safety community. The FirstNet applications strategy is to enable creation of new public safety applications while maintaining support for existing commercial applications in order to establish a portfolio of resilient, reliable, secure and easy-to-use applications for first responders. FirstNet envisions an application development ecosystem which provides a strong development environment, with tools and resources for testing, review and distribution of public safety applications.
FirstNet is responsible for building the enhanced packet core network, a key component for ensuring that users have a single interoperable platform nationwide. The core network has six primary functions: it switches data, processes and reformats information, stores and maintains data and keeps it secure. Applications and services and operational and business support systems also reside in the core network. The core will interface with other state, local and federal networks, including 911 and the Internet. Essentially, the core serves as a giant umbrella covering all of the United States including the territories and the District of Columbia. The core is connected to radio access networks in each state via the backhaul layer of the network.
These are the links that carry user traffic, such as voice, data and video, and signaling from the radio base stations to the core network.
Radio Access Network (RAN)
The RAN portion of the network consists of the radio base station infrastructure that connects to user devices. RAN includes cell towers as well as mobile hotspots embedded in vehicles that backhaul to the core network over satellite or other types of wireless infrastructure.
Comprehensive RAN planning is required to optimize coverage, capacity and performance for a nationwide network. Initial modeling has shown that tens of thousands of radio base stations are needed to cover at least 99 percent of the population and the national highway system. Population coverage alone won’t suffice for public safety. State by state, FirstNet needs to understand public safety coverage needs.
During consultation, FirstNet will work with the states to determine the coverage expectations and priorities that must be included in the RAN deployment plan to enable public safety to meet its mission, no matter where it takes them.
The very circumstances that can require first responders to come to the aid of others can also wreak havoc on RAN sites when first responders need coverage the most. Making a system reliable – one that public safety can trust – requires physical and operational redundancy and hardening.
Most network outages are due to power failures and the loss of data links. To be public safety-grade, FirstNet sites will need redundant power backup that relies on a variety of sources. Power, backhaul, sites and coverage will be designed with the goal of avoiding single points of failure.
Public Safety Devices
Devices are all the user access points that will send and receive information over the network. Everything from smartphones to laptops, tablets, dongles and a wide variety of specialty devices will be developed for FirstNet users. The goal is to create devices that are rugged enough to withstand the many public safety environmental issues, but still be easy to use and convenient to carry. Devices will also have to be easy to administer and secure.
With the potential for millions of users, FirstNet will have the scale and leverage to drive development and procurement of devices at the best possible prices. Scale can also spur interest from a number of new vendors, which can enhance vendor/design diversity, increase competition and help lower prices for public safety devices. In the future, FirstNet will work with industry to develop device types and applications to meet public safety use cases identified by public safety users. FirstNet devices and applications will undergo a variety of testing and certification in areas including interference, operation, environmental factors and security.
Spectrum Relocation Grant Program
The FirstNet Band 14 Incumbent Spectrum Relocation Grant program will provide financial assistance to eligible public safety entities in relocating their radios and systems from Band 14 in advance of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) development and deployment. FirstNet elected to establish the Band 14 Incumbent Spectrum Relocation Grant program to support the incumbents’ relocation costs, including retuning and reprogramming communications equipment. There are 15 public safety spectrum licensees operating narrowband systems on the FirstNet-licensed Band 14 spectrum under previously issued FCC authorizations.
Under the program, state, county and municipal government public safety entities that are currently FCC-licensed for and demonstrating current, active utilization of Band 14 spectrum frequencies for the express purposes of public safety communications are eligible to apply for this grant. The principal purpose of this federal grant program is to facilitate this relocation, and enable these public safety entities to continue to operate their public safety communications systems on other frequencies allocated by the FCC without interruption.
Mission Critical Voice & Land Mobile Radio
First responders currently use land mobile radio (LMR) networks for mission critical voice communications. When the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) is launched, it will not replace their LMR systems. The network is expected to initially transmit data, video, and other high-speed features, such as location information and streaming video, as well as non-mission critical voice. Public safety entities will continue to use LMR networks for their mission critical voice needs.
The Current State
During response operations today, law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS) teams, and other first responders rely on their LMR networks and radios for mission critical voice communications. LMR networks are designed to meet emergency responders’ unique mission critical requirements and provide guaranteed priority access to responders. In addition to LMR, some emergency responders are using mobile data services and applications provided by commercial carriers to share information and augment their mission critical voice capabilities.
The Near-Term Vision
When FirstNet launches the NPSBN, the network will initially provide mission‐critical, high‐speed data and video services that will supplement today’s LMR networks. The network is also expected to provide non-mission critical voice at launch. Public safety entities will continue to rely on their LMR networks for mission critical voice features – such as Group Communications and Direct-Mode – that are needed in an emergency response setting. In the near term, public safety entities will need to maintain and/or upgrade their LMR networks, as appropriate.
The Long-Term Vision
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 requires FirstNet to ensure the building, operation, and maintenance of the first high speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety entities. FirstNet plans to offer mission critical voice services over the NPSBN – along with video and data – when voice over LTE functionalities meet or exceed first responders’ mission critical needs.