Does the FirstNet RFP Address States’ Coverage Objectives?
Tuesday, January 26, 2016 | Comments
Several state single points of contact (SPOCs) are generally happy with the coverage details included in the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) request for proposals (RFP), released earlier this month. The timeline for buildout is one area of concern, however.

FirstNet gathered numerous gigabytes of data from the states about coverage objectives and suggested rollout plans last fall. Detailed state coverage plans are one of the deliverables for the FirstNet contract.

“Coverage was a key component of the data collection effort, which was very successful and comprehensive,” said Ryan Oremland, FirstNet spokesman. “FirstNet received coverage data from almost every state and territory, and those submissions included modifications to the FirstNet coverage objective baseline, allowing states and territories the opportunity to ensure their unique needs were captured in our nationwide coverage objectives that are included in the RFP.”

In its coverage response to FirstNet, Washington OneNet cited U.S. and state highway coverage as one of three coverage objectives. In the coverage and capacity definitions document, FirstNet provided five datasets for baseline coverage: high-risk areas, developed areas, public-safety users, census blocks, and roadways and traffic counts.

Washington SPOC Bill Schrier was pleased to see state highways included in the RFP’s coverage requirements. “This is important for us, because wildland fires occur across the state, but typically incident command posts and similar functions are set up along state highways to make logistics easier,” Schrier said. “And there are many gaps for commercial coverage on our state and some federal highways right now.”

To further quantify the coverage and capacity and rural coverage solutions, FirstNet provided the following in the RFP: a population map, a rural and nonrural map that summarizes FirstNet’s definition of rural, and demand maps.

In its data to FirstNet, Colorado provided one of the most detailed coverage maps and requirements, and the Colorado map is part of FirstNet’s coverage objectives map. Most of the state data that FirstNet collected is available in its online “Reading Room.”

The RFP’s statement of objectives notes the FirstNet legislation’s requirement of a phased deployment of the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) with substantial rural coverage milestones as part of each phase. Deployment phases and substantial rural coverage milestones are outlined in a timeline attachment and reach 95 percent of the contractor’s proposed coverage in rural and nonrural areas within four years.

The timeline is a concern for Schrier because Washington OneNet’s coverage objectives included rapid deployment of the NPSBN on existing sites. “The RFP provides for the vendor to meet 95 percent of ‘contractor’s proposed coverage’ 48 months after award,” he said. “Four years is a long time for buildout, especially if the contractor is using existing towers. Not exactly ‘rapid deployment.’ ”

Colorado SPOC Brian Shepherd agreed five phases and four years of deployment is too long. Colorado suggested a three-phase, three-year rollout in its coverage objectives for FirstNet. Colorado also requested rural coverage — not the Denver metropolitan area — be addressed in the first phase, followed by dense urban, urban and suburban.

Colorado also asked for specific in-building coverage requirements, which Shepherd said are not addressed in the RFP “in a comprehensive fashion.” “There continue to be concerns regarding a disconnect between national goals/objectives and the needs of individual states,” Shepherd said.

From an evaluation standpoint, coverage and capacity is an evaluation factor just below business management and with equal importance as products and architecture. The coverage and capacity solutions will be evaluated in three subfactors: coverage and capacity maps and statistics, radio access network (RAN) strategy and solutions, and initial operational capability (IOC) milestones for coverage and capacity.

The coverage and capacity elements include non-band 14 landmass and population coverage and 700 MHz band 14 landmass and population coverage and band 14 network capacity.

The RFP’s deliverables and performance section requires the contractor to deliver a detailed plan, for each of the 56 states and territories, noting the details of the proposed buildout plan in each state or territory. The contractor is not required to meet coverage objectives for states that opt out and deploy their own RANs.

The RFP directs the contractor to provide monthly maps noting the coverage and capacity in rural and nonrural areas and active and planned roaming agreements.

“The maps shall indicate the then-current coverage (with each monthly submittal) as well as the planned coverage targets for future IOC/final operational capability (FOC) milestones,” the RFP said. “The contractor shall also provide a planned deployment schedule and note any changes to the schedule or changes in coverage expectations.”

In addition, the RFP calls for the contractor to provide a report showing the status of deployable units, the storage locations of deployable units and usage data. The contractor shall note the reason for activation including National Incident Management System (NIMS) types and planned events, time period in use and traffic statistics.

The following coverage solutions shall be tested before deployment: nationwide coverage using currently available wireless services, vehicular network systems (VNS), available band 14 deployable units including VNSs, range extension services such as satellite services and high-power user equipment, and band 14 laboratory trials for products and services unique to public safety.

The IOC/FOC timeline also says by six months from contract award, the contractor should provide nationwide coverage through an existing wireless service, such as a non-band 14 deployment. Band 14 deployable units and range extension technologies are required to address possible coverage deficiencies and public-safety emergencies.

“It would be interesting to see if FirstNet receives a proposal which includes a current national carrier,” Schrier said. “If so, it appears such a proposal could rapidly deploy service to responders using that carrier’s existing bands but using devices that also include band 14. This strategy would give FirstNet an immediate nationwide presence on the carrier’s commercial spectrum, although not certain other features such as priority access. Then, as band 14 is gradually built out by the contractor, it would become available to users of FirstNet in addition to the commercial bands. The RFP appears to allow such a strategy, which would be positive from my perspective because it allows a much more rapid deployment.”

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Sandra Wendelken is editor of MissionCritical Communications and RadioResource International magazines. Contact her at swendelken@RRMediaGroup.com.

 
 
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Comments
On 1/27/16, Randy Kaminsky said:
I'm generally pleased with the focus on highway coverage with the understanding that at some point in the buildout, attention will need to focus on areas that can't be reached with a high-power vehiclular router. This is a concern that is shared by most rural law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies.


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