AT&T Exec Backtracks on Public Safety Grade Comments
Thursday, September 07, 2017 | Comments

Chris Sambar, AT&T senior vice president, apologized for comments he made “that may have been misleading” regarding a definition of public safety grade for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) nationwide public-safety broadband network.

“AT&T is 100 percent committed to a public-safety-grade network,” he said during a National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) meeting Sept. 6.

In an Aug. 16 interview with MissionCritical Communications magazine, Sambar said: “It’s hard to agree to a single definition. 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.”

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

However, during the NPSTC meeting, he praised NPSTC members for the 115-page definition of public safety grade for broadband in a 2014 report called “Defining Public Safety Grade Systems and Facilities, Final Report”, calling it “an excellent piece of work.”

The NPSTC report was submitted to FirstNet via the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC). Last year, NPSTC asked the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International to seek an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard to codify the information in the report. APCO anticipates the standard to be published in spring 2018.

“If my comments misled or concerned, please know we are 100 percent committed,” Sambar said at the NPSTC meeting.

As an example, Sambar said a state in the West, during conversations about its state plan, gave AT&T 600 locations it wants to be public safety grade, and AT&T committed to make them public safety grade.

He said public safety grade starts with the device and whether it has the right applications and direct mode. It then extends through all the infrastructure and backhaul and from there to central offices.

“We’re not building individual towers but a fully integrated mesh network where everyone can talk to everyone,” Sambar said. “You need offices with aggregation where everything comes together.”

He said after Hurricane Harvey, 30 central offices were in affected flood zones. AT&T brought in technicians to make sure the water didn’t get in to the central office equipment through caulking, sand bags and other methods.

“We need a public-safety-grade network that extends from the handsets to the central office,” he said. “It’s not reasonable to think every tower will be at public-safety-grade level, but there needs to be some ranking, and we’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about that. We are working with the states and what their priorities are and with the PSAPs (public-safety answering points) — all that needs to be taken into account, and we’re working on that now.”

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