Motorola Responds to FirstNet Allegations
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | Comments

An Interview with Motorola's Bob Schassler

Two recent articles in Politico accused Motorola Solutions of fiercely lobbying against the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The articles preceded a meeting between Motorola and FirstNet officials July 17.

MissionCritical Communications magazine spoke with Bob Schassler, Motorola senior vice president of government solutions, to get a firsthand account of the company’s view on FirstNet and the work completed to date.

MCC: Do you think FirstNet board members have done a good job so far?

Schassler: I think they were a little overwhelmed at first. I think they are doing a good job now. I think they are making a concerted effort. They have a huge challenge and task. The first few months were a little overwhelming. Now they have the general manager and some technical folks, and they seem to be doing a better job of it right now.

MCC: Is FirstNet having meetings with many vendors?

Schassler: I think they plan on continued meetings. We’re certainly not the only people they are meeting with. They have their RFIs (requests for information) out now that vendors are responding to. They will bring different vendors in and get different views.

The RFIs were purposely written so they would provide an opportunity for everybody to respond. So there were very general and open by design. That’s coming from them (FirstNet). They didn’t want to get too detailed or specific to restrict some vendors from responding.

MCC: Will there be a main theme in Motorola’s responses to the RFIs?

Schassler: We are looking for how we can contribute as a partner or vendor to them to get this thing done as economically and efficiently as possible. They need to decide on how to get coverage throughout the United States, a budget, operating costs and more, and do it in a timely manner. So we’ll be responding to different thoughts on how we can contribute and how we can participate. We’ll give them some different business models they can look at.

All ideas will have pluses and minuses. They’ve got to make sure that the interests of public safety are first and foremost. Some of the business models from others might take into account more consumer or secondary users if that’s revenue coming in. But this is all about first responders, and at the end of the day, the spectrum is very valuable. You have to make a business model work and not push too far in an operating model so that you take spectrum away from public safety or not have it prioritized for public safety. I think FirstNet understands that and is trying to balance that out.

I think the thing that’s not completely clear — and I think FirstNet has to provide some clarity to — is what exactly opt out and opt in mean with a bit more detail because that’s something FirstNet has to figure out how to balance as well. The states and locals need to feel like they have some additional level of control. This could get pushed on some that this is really a federal program where the states don’t have enough say and enough leverage. I think that FirstNet recognizes that now, and it will be about balancing it out. The network will not be able to accommodate every one, but it should accommodate the critical users. There has to be some kind of federal oversight for this network, but state and locals have to have some say and level of control. There is a perception by some that was too one sided, and FirstNet is stepping back and trying to find the right balance. I personally think there is a way to make sure this isn’t an all-federal centralized environment and that they have an appropriate level of control.

MCC: From Motorola’s recent research on data demand for public safety, what’s the biggest take-away for FirstNet?

Schassler: The research that we’ve done shows the demand for data just continues to grow. The pipe is not there for them to take advantage of. In our research, 89 percent of decision makers feel data is becoming just as critical as voice. It also showed importance and reliance on data and the things our customers would like to do with data. We’ve done capacity studies and research on the types of applications public safety wants to use. They will use up the 20-megahertz broadband allocation but in a different way. There’s a view that public safety doesn’t really use their spectrum all the time or efficiently. There are down times, but at any given time there are hot spots throughout a city with several cells that are out of capacity. So they have a different type of use pattern. The challenge is that you’re never going to know when they’re going to need it, but when they need it, they need it. Capacity for wireless carriers has been a challenge. We see some similar patterns happening with public safety.

MCC: Did you agree with Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald’s concerns about lack of transparency and process?

Schassler: It appeared that some of his concerns were valid. I don’t know if there were more behind-the-scenes discussions that we were not aware of. There might have been more going on, but the perception of Sheriff Fitzgerald and the lesson learned by FirstNet is they need to do a more focused job of communicating what they are doing. This wasn’t happening.

MCC: Did Motorola help draft Fitzgerald’s resolution outlining his concerns?

Schassler: No, we weren’t involved at all. We have a lot of public-safety customers throughout the country. They look to us for our technical opinion, and not just to us, they look to all their vendors. Whenever we’ve been asked an opinion on sharing spectrum, architecture, local control, devices, role of carrier and operator, we have always given our opinion on it. The commitment we made to FirstNet last week was that we would be transparent to them as well.

There are a lot of things FirstNet is doing that we agree on, and there are things we don’t agree on, and we will tell them why we don’t agree. It will be fact based and based on a lot of experience in the marketplace and the work we’ve been doing during the past few years for public safety like capacity analysis. We will make sure we communicate to FirstNet. There won’t be anything we’re saying to our customers that FirstNet won’t know about. We haven’t changed our opinion on anything, and we’ve been very forthright on communicating those views to the FCC and FirstNet.

MCC: Has Motorola lobbied state and local officials for or against FirstNet?

Schassler: No, we’ve been asked by our local officials how it should be rolled out. We’ve given direct input to what our ideas are, but nothing that we haven’t communicated to FirstNet and in replying to the RFIs.

MCC: The Politico articles generally gave the impression that Motorola is anti-FirstNet. Is that true?

Schassler: We’re not anti-FirstNet. We feel our country needs FirstNet and the role it is going to play. FirstNet really has to focus on the needs of public safety first and foremost. Our feelings about it are that the spectrum was allocated to public safety and the needs of public safety, so we just have to make sure that doesn’t slip away. The problem with the lack of interoperability is a lack of spectrum and inconsistent spectrum. Public safety in the past has been given a mish-mash of spectrum, but now we finally have clean, contiguous spectrum for public safety, and we have to ensure that doesn’t get given away because of the economics.

Those are the things we’ll continue to be concerned about. We need the role of FirstNet. They are getting their legs underneath them. Bill D’Agostino (FirstNet’s general manager) has a plan of attack, and we think Motorola can be a big alliance and work closely with them. We will provide our thoughts and opinion. There is a lot of opinion, and we need to make sure things are fact based. 

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