PERF Report Compares FirstNet Performance with Other Commercial Networks
Tuesday, October 15, 2019 | Comments

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and a team of subject matter experts developed a protocol for testing the performance of commercial networks and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) network.

The report is part of a PERF project, supported by AT&T, that is examining issues related to public-safety agencies’ adoption of FirstNet.

Using the protocol, the team ran a series of tests in two different settings: driving the streets of Camden, New Jersey, a mid-sized city, on an average day to simulate a regular patrol and during a pair of large-scale demonstrations in Washington, D.C., attended by tens of thousands of individuals to measure the networks’ performance when large crowds of people use mobile devices at the same time.

During these tests, tens of thousands of data points measuring signal strength, data upload and download speeds, image transfer rates and service reliability were collected. Data was collected on several devices operating on three major commercial networks and FirstNet. All of these tests were performed from the perspective of the user — what police officers, sheriffs’ deputies, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and other first responders would likely experience in the field.

During the drive tests in Camden, devices operating on FirstNet typically had weaker signal strength than devices operating on commercial networks. However, the FirstNet devices had generally faster data upload and download speeds — known as throughput — and thus were able to transfer images faster and more reliably.

Similarly, during the two major demonstrations the testing team found that even though the signal strength on all devices operating on commercial networks and FirstNet was mostly strong throughout these events, the FirstNet devices in general had faster throughput and greater service reliability. The performance was especially pronounced when the FirstNet devices were operating on the 700 MHz band 14 spectrum dedicated to public-safety users on FirstNet.

The report said running similar tests at different locations — or even the same locations at different times — would not necessarily produce the same results. Network performance is influenced by a number of factors such as the infrastructure that individual carriers have built in a specific region, the status of the FirstNet buildout in an area, geography, and user density and demands.

“That is why it is important for public-safety agencies, as they are making choices about their mobile broadband networks, to conduct extensive testing in their own jurisdictions to document the performance of different networks,” the report said. “This report provides an outline for how agencies can go about conducting their own performance tests and how to interpret the results.”

In doing this testing, agencies need to understand that, unlike in the LMR environment, signal strength is just one factor to consider when evaluating LTE networks and not necessarily the most important factor. Rather, agencies should focus on how quickly and reliably the network can move text, photos, video and other data that are increasingly critical to their public-safety mission.

Neither AT&T nor FirstNet participated in the research or the writing or production of the report. The full report is here.

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Comments
On 10/22/19, Ed Dadosky said:
It is encouraging that the FirstNet throughput outperformed the commercial networks. Hopefully FirstNet can soon maximize signal strength as well — work in progress.

On 10/16/19, Donny said:
I disagree. Without adequate signal strength AND coverage I can't do anything. How fast I can upload or download data is meaningless if I have no connectivity. FirstNet needs to have rock solid coverage, otherwise IT WILL FAIL. When needed. I was in downtown NYC during 9-11-01. Unless it can deal with that type of catastrophe, it will be useless.


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