Public-Safety Agencies Continue FirstNet Evaluations
Tuesday, May 15, 2018 | Comments

Several public-safety agencies are continuing to test and implement the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) broadband services to determine whether the features and coverage are a fit for their agencies.

North Carolina
Greensboro, North Carolina, uses Verizon as its primary Long Term Evolution (LTE) carrier. However, the agency is deploying Cradlepoint IBR900-LP6 modems/routers in its more than 200 patrol and traffic enforcement vehicles, as well as testing and evaluating the FirstNet system and AT&T coverage in its area.

Using subscriber identity module (SIM) cards registered on the AT&T FirstNet network, Greensboro’s testing will evaluate the coverage within its jurisdiction, along with the speed of the network, available bandwidth within a billing cycle, and potential benefits of priority and pre-emption, said Sgt. Justin R. Flynt, Greensboro Police Department, Professional Standards Division.

“The allowable bandwidth — or amount of total data — that can be transferred over the carrier’s network without being throttled back is important to us, because one of the primary devices that is connected to our Cradlepoint routers is the Axon Fleet camera system,” Flynt said. “This means that we are transferring large video files from the patrol vehicles to cloud-based storage. The officers’ ability to use the CAD system and access the North Carolina Division of Criminal Information (DCI) and National Crime Information Center (NCIC) databases will be drastically inhibited if the amount of video being uploaded causes the LTE carrier to throttle back the speed of the connection until the billing cycle restarts.”

Greensboro used Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) grant funding to add the fleet cameras and LTE routers. The agency has about 110 vehicles outfitted with the modems/routers, which are not yet certified by FirstNet but are listed on the firstnet.com website. During an initial testing and evaluation the agency will field test 10 devices on the FirstNet network Depending on the feedback and results from the initial testing, the agency could test and evaluate additional types of devices on the FirstNet system.

Arizona
A 17-hour commercial network outage earlier this year forced the Mesa (Arizona) Fire and Medical Department to look at its options for broadband redundancy. The department is testing the Cradlepoint COR IBR1700 router with two SIMs, one for the FirstNet network and one for the Verizon network. If one network fails, the router automatically switches to the other LTE network.

“Redundancy on my fire trucks was my ultimate goal,” said Brian Yox, deputy chief of technical services, Mesa Fire and Medical Department, Arizona. “I don’t want to be tied to one carrier.”

Because of the outage, dispatch information couldn’t get to fire trucks, and patient information couldn’t get to the iPads used by personnel. Yox purchased the routers for 19 of the 35 vehicles that will ultimately be outfitted. The agency has an unlimited service plan with AT&T — $16.16 per month per SIM — and a limited data plan with Verizon — $14.70 per month per SIM — in case its needed as backup.

Drive testing verified the router’s network handover features. “We verified that if A&T dropped off, Verizon picked up and vice versa,” Yox said.

He is also conducting a pilot program with Axon to use its equipment in conjunction with FirstNet to provide video for training and public information. The agency is entering a six-month pilot using Wi-Fi cameras in battalion chief vehicles and helmet cameras for safety officers. Officers can download the video from the trucks to a storage system, meeting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements and to enhance training.

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