AT&T Exec Maintains No Single Definition of Public Safety Grade
Friday, August 18, 2017 | Comments

An AT&T executive maintained this week that the definition of public safety grade is not set in stone, and he wants to continue discussions with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) on the topic.

“Senator, I will tell you that I have not seen, and nor do I believe, there is a specific definition for ‘public safety grade,’ ” Chris Sambar, AT&T senior vice president said during a Senate hearing in July.

“It’s hard to agree to a single definition,” Sambar said during an Aug. 16 interview with MissionCritical Communications. “There are a number of things you do if a network goes down. Does public safety grade mean how the tower is constructed or actions you take after a disaster, because it can always go down during a disaster.”

In the interview, Sambar outlined numerous steps that network operators take during disasters, starting with construction of towers and what happens with power. AT&T has a self-optimizing network technology that allows the towers around a cell that goes down to power up to cover the loss. To keep networks running, he highlighted battery backup to sites, quick connects to cover sites and generators the carrier can bring in, along with contracts with fuel trucks and other items.

Yet, during a FirstNet town hall at the Association of Public-Safety Communications (APCO) International conference Aug. 15, FirstNet Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Jeff Bratcher characterized Sambar’s public safety grade definition comment during the July hearing as “a misstatement.”

Bratcher said AT&T offers resiliency with its all-band approach for public safety. “If some bands are out, you have all the other bands,” he said. “There are a lot more LTE (Long Term Evolution) cell sites versus LMR sites. It’s a different hardening aspect; you don’t have to harden every cell site. Other sites can cover if one goes down. It’s a different architecture.

“AT&T has already hardened their network compared with five years ago,” Bratcher said.

Dave Buchanan, director of consultation for FirstNet, said at the APCO conference that several states had concerns with hardening in their state plans, and his team is working to adjudicate the comments. “That hardening question has come up, and we will respond to that and how to include it in the state plans,” he said.

In March 2016, APCO issued a call for work group members to participate in the creation of an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard addressing public-safety-grade site hardening requirements. NPSTC and APCO previously collaborated on a 115-page definition of public safety grade for broadband in a report called “Defining Public Safety Grade Systems and Facilities, Final Report” published May 22, 2014, which was submitted to FirstNet via the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC).

Last year, NPSTC asked APCO to seek an ANSI standard to codify the information in the report. APCO anticipates the standard to be published in spring 2018.

In a press release, NPSTC said it is “disappointed that FirstNet's commercial partner, AT&T, has on numerous occasions stated that it is not aware of a single agreed upon definition for public safety grade.”

“It is clearly apparent that numerous NPSTC-generated public safety broadband requirements submitted to the PSAC have significantly influenced FirstNet’s RFP for which AT&T’s contract was awarded,” the NPSTC release said. “Public-safety stakeholders have spent thousands of hours developing broadband requirements and expect a public-safety-grade system. Public safety and the protection of our nation deserve no less.

“NPSTC continues to work on additional public-safety broadband requirements as issues are identified. The public-safety community expects FirstNet to listen to their needs and requirements, and ensure their partner strives to build the best public-safety-grade network possible. NPSTC is counting on FirstNet to hold AT&T accountable.”

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