Industry Officials Question FirstNet’s Draft Spectrum Lease Agreement
Tuesday, October 17, 2017 | Comments

State officials and industry experts are questioning information included in draft spectrum manager lease agreements (SMLAs) distributed to states that requested the information from the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The SMLAs include proposed termination payments in the millions — and billions in at least two instances — of dollars for some states, along with prohibiting separate core networks, adoption targets and interoperability requirements.

In addition to annual spectrum network capacity payments to use the 700 MHz band 14 spectrum, an SMLA obtained by MissionCritical Communications outlines obligations a state would be required to pay upon early termination of the 25-year agreement.

The agreement, marked "confidential draft," said the state shall be obligated to pay to the government the entire cost of reconstituting a band 14 radio access network (RAN) in the state as determined by FirstNet and built in accordance with the FirstNet state plan, including the costs of constructing, operating, maintaining and improving the band 14 RAN in the state until the end of the originally agreed upon term of the SMLA.

An attachment specifies the amount of the obligations for the state, and the SMLA said the numbers “are estimates of the costs based on a greenfield build,” although FirstNet contractor AT&T would still have a Long Term Evolution (LTE) network in that state.

A statement from New Hampshire Gov. Christopher Sununu Oct. 16 announcing a committee to review a decision to potentially opt out of FirstNet alluded to these fees for his state. “As part of this review, we will seek clarification of certain proposed fees, as well as clarification of penalties that may be imposed by FirstNet if an opt-out were to fail,” Sununu said. “These fees and penalties appear to be arbitrary and primarily designed to deter states from opting out of FirstNet plans.”

In addition, the SMLA addresses how a state connects to the FirstNet core. The state is solely responsible for payment of core network integration costs and service fees charged by FirstNet and the FirstNet network contractor. However, the fees aren’t outlined in the SMLA and would be necessary for a state to determine the financial feasibility of opting out.

The SMLA said the state shall be responsible for costs and fees related to the use of the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) by its public-safety entity users that use a non-state built RAN and related services charged by FirstNet.

“This should be a reciprocal arrangement that also applies for inbound public-safety users to the state,” said Marc Levante, an independent consultant who previously was a lead program manager for FirstNet and helped develop the NPSBN request for proposals (RFP). He worked at FirstNet from November 2012 until October 2015.

The agreement said public-safety services to public-safety entity users provided through the state-built RAN must be provided through the core network, and the state must agree that use of other core networks to provide public-safety services is expressly prohibited.

There is debate about whether other LTE cores should be allowed to connect to the FirstNet core. The FCC said the decision of separate public-safety cores was outside the scope of its order on evaluating opt-out state plans for interoperability.

FirstNet officials have maintained that the vision of the legislation that created FirstNet was for a single network architecture with a core. Verizon Wireless and others have said that other cores should be able to interoperate with the FirstNet core.

The FCC Technical Advisory Board document with minimum technical requirements for interoperability specifies that the NPSBN RAN and core (S1 and X2 interfaces) have to be interoperable with a state public-safety broadband network using the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) protocols.

“There must not be any proprietary interfaces including the X2 interface used for eNodeB-to-eNodeB connection for handovers across network borders,” Levante said. “Therefore interconnection to the NPSBN should be quite straight forward to ensure seamless public-safety services.”

He said a state-deployed core might be better for next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) as well. “Most public-safety user traffic will be local within the state, and routing all traffic to a distant core that might be outside of the state would introduce unnecessary performance degradation, inefficiency and increased costs,” Levante said. “This is especially critical for 9-1-1 and NG 9-1-1 services. A state-deployed evolved packet core (EPC) would provide local interconnection and routing within the state, which the NPSBN can also use to their advantage.”

The FCC requirements also mandate applications interoperability between state public-safety broadband networks and AT&T through 3GPP interface specifications. “AT&T and FirstNet have to ensure the interoperability of these applications using standard interfaces,” Levante said.

The FirstNet SMLA also requires commercial service provided on the state-built RAN to use a separate third-party commercial core that may not be paid for with funds received from the government or from band 14 spectrum revenues received by the state.

“FirstNet continues to work with the states and territories to provide them with the information they need to make the most informed decisions on their state plans,” said a FirstNet spokesman in response to questions about the SMLAs.

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Comments
On 10/18/17, Mark Schroeder said:
This article is great. It highlights a major concern for FirstNet success. A big concern is how interoperability between states will be addressed. From a political and regulatory standpoint, communications has borders. From a public-safety standpoint, we rarely respect the borders when necessary. First responders will always require seamless communications and not something that ends at an imaginary line.

On 10/18/17, Bill Collinson said:
More evidence of how badly corrupted the mission and intent of FirstNet has become. It is now just a vehicle for AT&T to wrap participating states into their vision of LTE public-safety broadband in much the same way as a consumer signing into a long-term mobile plan operates. This article does a great job pointing out some of the many layers of concerns that industry and state officials who truly understand the scope of how badly this has gone, which was predictable from day one with a FirstNet board that is populated by a high percentage of former wireless industry execs.

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