Barnett Hammers Home Interoperability During Workshop (4/24/12)
By Sandra Wendelken
James Barnett Jr. had strong words about the importance of interoperability during a workshop in his last days as chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB). The workshop aimed to collect additional input on topic areas that the 15-member Interoperability Board determined are relevant to help develop minimum technical requirements to ensure a nationwide level of interoperability for the nationwide public-safety broadband network.
Barnett steps down April 30. David Furth was named acting chief of PSHSB. The Interoperability Board will pass minimum interoperability technical requirements to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) once it’s formed in August.
“There is no natural law of interoperability,” Barnett said. “There are only a few paths by which you can achieve interoperability; it must be the first priority if it’s to be achieved.”
Barnett told the board in no uncertain terms that its job is not to put control of the network, cost or desire for flexibility before interoperability. “If FirstNet is not interoperable nationwide, the nation will look back at the Interoperability Board and ask why,” he said. “Your duty is and was interoperability first — the first priority. I know you’re up to the task. I know you will do your duty.”
In his closing remarks, Kenneth Budka with Alcatel-Lucent and vice chairman of the Interoperability Board, defined interoperability as, “It just works” no matter what vendor is the supplier. “As long as the user is authorized, it just works,” he said. “LMR networks fall short of this interoperability, and it’s clear today that we’re beginning a journey to maintain and create this level of interoperability.”
The April 23 workshop had panels in four areas:
1. The scope of the recommendations developed by the board
2. Standards, interfaces, guidelines, user equipment and device management and network evolution
3. Mobility and handover, grade of service, prioritization and quality of service
During the second panel on standards, Tom Sorley, deputy director radio communications for the city of Houston, said defining a public-safety LTE standard is key. “There’s no doubt that LMR will be here a while because we don’t even have a standard yet for mission-critical voice,” Sorley said. “We cannot support multiple networks over years; it’s just too expensive. We need the network to support mission-critical voice but it has to support our motto of ‘first time, every time.’ ”
The FCC opened Docket 12-74 to solicit comments and input for the board. In its comments, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) said that the FCC should take appropriate administrative steps to permit at least the current Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) waiver grantees and waiver jurisdictions with other funding to continue with public-safety broadband buildouts. “These steps could be conditioned on subsequent determination by FirstNet to extend new spectrum leases to these jurisdictions,” the NPSTC comments said. “These current waiver jurisdiction buildouts can help inform FirstNet, while providing broadband service to public safety in waiver areas at least two years before FirstNet is likely to be able to start deployments.”
Earlier this month, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) officials asked the broadband waiver recipients to not purchase or deploy any already purchased broadband public-safety equipment until FirstNet is in place and offers guidance.
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