Early FirstNet Subscribers Detail QPP Services
Tuesday, February 06, 2018 | Comments
First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) subscribers offered more details on their service features, specifically quality of service, priority and pre-emption (QPP).

Two of the FirstNet subscribers announced last month continue to use other commercial carrier offerings along with FirstNet for the short term. The Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP), which in January announced it is the first FirstNet subscriber in the state, uses a mix of AT&T and Verizon services based on current coverage. KHP transitioned its AT&T devices to the FirstNet service and will evaluate the buildout of the radio access network (RAN) to determine its ability to change over more devices, said KHP Capt. Jim Oehm.

Richmond, Virginia, had a few AT&T devices but primarily used Sprint service before subscribing to FirstNet. “We will have some Sprint devices out, as we are still in the transition,” said Jackie Crotts, deputy director of technology for Richmond’s Department of Emergency Communications. “The rest of the city is primarily using Verizon for cellphone service.”

Richmond has more than 150 devices on the FirstNet service, and the city is transitioning more than 350 devices total. The agency uses Cradlepoint routers for mobile data and a mix of Apple iPhones and Samsung S7 smartphones for public-safety operations. Richmond used the same mobile data devices with its Sprint service, but AT&T offered new smartphones for the agency during the switch.

KHP is using iPhones, laptops with air cards, and a few Cradlepoint routers. Having already been an AT&T customer, the transition to FirstNet was smooth. “It took a couple of days for AT&T to internally switch us over, and by about the third day, our statewide point of contact and AT&T FirstNet representative were here to help us log into the portal and help us to begin navigating the features,” Oehm said. “We never had to touch a device or take it out of service for the change.”

Priority and pre-emption are immediately available for all primary user FirstNet public-safety agencies. These capabilities work in the background. Priority access moves first responders to the front of the “communications line,” prioritizing their network needs. Pre-emption ensures first responders can access FirstNet when they need to.

“When the line becomes crowded, pre-emption shifts non-emergency traffic to another line, freeing up space for first responders to easily get through,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T FirstNet. “9-1-1 calls are always treated with priority and cannot be pre-empted. Voice and text messages, images, videos, location information, data from apps and more will be supported in near real time, helping first responders quickly work together to save lives.

“Priority and pre-emption profiles will be coded into the network profile of each first responder. This lets the FirstNet communications platform recognize and manage access based on the profiles public-safety agencies establish for their users.”

Once the FirstNet dedicated core is rolled out, expected in March, the FirstNet Local Control portal will allow public-safety agencies to manage multiple levels of priority for their first responder subscribers. “This lets them prioritize a user’s communications in real time to help first responders stay safe and save lives,” Sambar said. “That could mean elevating the priority of a deputy who’s first on a particular scene, or of an extended primary user who has insight into an electrical or transportation issue, for example. The needs of the individual agency will dictate how they provision the priority of various users.”

KHP’s Oehm said three individuals within his agency have access to the current portal and are administrators with the ability to elevate users.

“There will no doubt be a learning process with being able to elevate a user’s priority and when, along with who will have the elevated priority,” Oehm said. “We will evaluate the need to elevate a user by their role and level of need for priority access. Our ability to elevate a user is only within our agency account of users at this time. With bring your own device (BYOD), we will have to wait and see if we will allow affiliation and/or when.

Priority and pre-emption will be the biggest benefit of the FirstNet service for KHP troopers. KHP assists numerous local public-safety partners around the state during events ranging from the Kansas Speedway NASCAR races to the Kansas State Fair to natural disasters such as tornadoes and floods, Oehm said.

“Knowing that our troopers will have priority access on the network to do their jobs is of great comfort and should reassure the public that when the need arises, we will be able to get them access to life-saving resources,” he said. “True priority access to the network in times of disaster or planned events will allow us to more effectively and efficiently do our jobs in saving lives and property in Kansas, whether it is in the most rural locations of the state or the most populated.”

Crotts said all Richmond subscribers are primary users so they automatically have priority and pre-emption on devices. Pre-emption is immediately available at no additional charge to all FirstNet primary user public-safety agencies and their end users. Primary user public-safety agencies include fire, law enforcement, EMS, emergency managers, dispatch and public-safety answering points (PSAPs).

“The customer service and coverage have been outstanding,” Crotts said. “It also gives public-safety agencies the security to know their device will work when disasters occur.”

KHP is using using the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) pricing published. Fairfax is using its contract, which can be found here.

Oehm said he thinks being an anchor tenant in Kansas on FirstNet will put KHP in the driver’s seat for the Kansas system buildout and applications environment. “We look forward to the enhanced situational awareness available to our troopers and public safety partners,” he said.

“Public-safety agencies should test the network to ensure it’s the right fit for them before they transition,” Crotts said.

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