FirstNet Opens Innovation and Test Lab in Boulder
Thursday, November 10, 2016 | Comments

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) opened its Innovation and Test Lab Nov. 9 in Boulder, Colorado. FirstNet officials said the facility is ready for the industry partner, once announced by FirstNet, to house and validate equipment for the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

The 28,000-square-foot Boulder technical headquarters first opened in 2014 and houses about 40 employees with plans to add up to 80 staff members in Boulder. The facility comprises offices, the 4,624-square-foot lab and warehouse space. The FirstNet board recently approved a long-term lease for the Boulder facility, which “is solely dedicated to first responders,” said Jeff Bratcher, FirstNet chief technology officer (CTO).

“The lab has been designed to be a plug-and-play environment,” said Bratcher during a ribbon-cutting event. “Post award, when we identify our industry partner, they will deploy the equipment in this lab behind me.”

The lab will validate that the equipment and tools from industry are ready for first responder use. The lab will test quality of service (QoS) and priority and pre-emption, and FirstNet staff will conduct research and development (R&D) of prototypes, evaluate new technologies and eventually train first responders at the center, Bratcher said.

The lab was designed from the ground up to restrict RF interference, including the use of RF absorbing paint on the walls and film on the windows. The lab’s power and grounding are to industry standards.

Michael van Zuiden, director of FirstNet labs, said the facility is laid out according to Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards. Antennas on the top of the building allow over-the-air (OTA) testing. An RF shielded room for device and radio access network (RAN) testing is part of the lab.

There is an area for eNodeB equipment, core network, network services and an internet connection. A three-tiered overhead cable tray will house power and grounding cable, RF cable and internet cable.

An applications center has three objectives. The lab will test applications such as CAD, incident management and next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) currently in use. The lab will provide a sandbox concept to promote public-safety app development, and it will prototype new technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality.

The lab will also test and verify devices that will be used on the NPSBN. The legislation that created FirstNet mandates that it develop a list of certified devices for the network, said Bratcher.

Barry Boniface, FirstNet board member who leads the Technology Committee, is stepping down from the board at the end of the month. Board member Neil Cox will now chair the Technology Committee.

“This is public safety’s lab,” said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth. “Public safety will be welcome here all the time. The doors are always open.”

A fact sheet on the lab is here.

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