Fates of FirstNet Early Builder Networks Still Unclear
Friday, August 11, 2017 | Comments
Two states with early builder networks have already decided to opt in to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), while specific details about the future of the states’ early builder networks are still unclear.

Of the five early builder states, New Jersey and New Mexico opted in to FirstNet before the first 45-day review period ended Aug. 4. California, Colorado and Texas also have early builder networks within their states and have not yet announced whether they will opt in. California released a request for information (RFI) for an alternative radio access network (RAN) last year. Colorado released a request for proposal (RFP) for a statewide Long Term Evolution (LTE) network for public safety.

Questions to FirstNet about the early builder networks were directed to AT&T. Details from AT&T executives about how the early builder networks are integrated into state plans are vague.

“Each state is unique, and as such, each network plan is determined individually through close collaboration with FirstNet, AT&T, the state and its public-safety community,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president of AT&T FirstNet. “As for early builder equipment, we’ll work closely with each state to determine their network needs and integrate assets as appropriate. Early builder states have shared best practices with FirstNet for the network’s implementation.”

New Mexico completed the first phase of the state’s public-safety LTE network in Santa Fe in 2015. Working with General Dynamics Mission Systems, the state connected its LTE network evolved packet core (EPC) with the EPC in Adams County, Colorado. New Mexico awarded a $2 million public-safety LTE contract for hardware to General Dynamics Mission Systems and a $240,000 contract for backhaul equipment to Aviat Networks for the early builder network.

Darryl Ackley, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Information Technology, said discussions about the disposition of the state’s early-builder project played a role in the discussions with FirstNet and AT&T leading up to the governor’s Aug. 1 decision to opt in. “Indeed, AT&T has committed to working to the extent practical to incorporate components from this system into the overall offering presented in the portal,” said Ackley, who is also the state’s FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC). “Our early-builder project was relatively small in relation to the others, having utilized core services from Adams County, and includes seven terrestrial sites and a cell-on-wheels (COW) deployable.”

New Jersey opted in to FirstNet July 25. “From building new sites to cover unserved or underserved areas to working with rural providers and integrating state assets where appropriate — including those from early builder projects — we’re dedicated to making this network work for public safety,” said an AT&T spokesman in response to a question about whether JerseyNet would be integrated into the state’s FirstNet buildout.

“As a FirstNet early builder participant, New Jersey shared best practices for the network’s implementation, especially as it relates to deployables,” a FirstNet statement said.

“AT&T and FirstNet are collaborating closely with each state so that FirstNet provides the broadband coverage and capabilities expected for the public-safety community over the next 25 years,” Sambar said. “LMR networks will continue to be operated separately. We believe LMR and LTE networks will coexist for years to come.”

California is home to the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) public-safety LTE network. “We built a public-safety-grade network here, and that should be the standard for a public-safety broadband network nationwide,”said LA-RICS Executive Director Scott Edson.

Adams County Communications Center (Adcom 9-1-1) is another early builder network that covers Denver International Airport (DIA). A Colorado official said the first version of its state plan did not include any details about the Adams County early builder network.

The Harris County, Texas, in Houston was used for several large events including the Houston Rodeo and the Super Bowl earlier this year. See the MissionCritical Communications August issue’s cover story for more details on the Texas network.

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