Guiding Principles

Doing Business With FirstNet

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FirstNet is establishing a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network dedicated for first responders. In establishing this network, FirstNet is guided by these ten important principles:

  1. FirstNet is working with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program and standards organizations on network requirements and on defining how standards can support building future networks as public safety-grade. We believe it has many dimensions.

    Some of them include:

    • Coverage based on geography for public safety service as well as the population
    • Solutions for serving rural and underserved areas
    • Reliability that public safety can count on
    • Group communications to enable effective teamwork
    • Redundancy and resiliency to sustain service
    • A robust and reliable portfolio of devices for different user types
  2. First and foremost, the FirstNet network is being built for public safety. The purpose of the network is to provide a broadband wireless communications to police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other public safety and support personnel to meet their important mission every day. We know that traditional first responders must have access to the network. During incidents where multiple agencies converge in a small area, first responders must be able to leverage access priorities.

    FirstNet anticipates that the amount of available contiguous spectrum will provide capacity for public safety’s needs. FirstNet also anticipates there may be times when there is excess capacity. FirstNet is exploring ways to make this valuable resource available to other users while preserving priority access to first responders.

  3. Hardening entails strengthening cell tower sites and the overall network to ensure maximum reliability. FirstNet intends to design a network with as much resiliency and redundancy that it can afford to support. The network will be engineered with back-up equipment and services to sustain operations during adverse conditions. Hardening will not be a one size fits all approach. Hardening for earthquakes may be needed in the western United States and along a vulnerable stretch of the Mississippi River. Hardening for wind speeds from hurricanes or super storms may be needed in the Midwest and along the East and Gulf Coasts. FirstNet will create hardening guidelines for all components of the radio access network (RAN). Hardening will look at towers and antennas, power supplies, temperature control and the physical and electrical connections from the network to the user devices. We also plan to determine how best to address hardening for data centers, aggregation points and servers.

  4. When the FirstNet network is initially deployed, it will provide mission-critical, high-speed data services to supplement the voice capabilities of today’s LMR networks. FirstNet users will be able to send and receive data, video, images, text, as well as use voice applications. They will communicate over the network and benefit from the ability to share applications.

    In time, FirstNet plans to offer Voice over LTE (VoLTE). VoLTE can be used for daily public safety telephone communication. FirstNet can’t predict the arrival of mission critical voice in part because the standards are still under development. Standards will determine the functionality and performance requirements for mission critical voice. FirstNet is actively involved in the standards-setting process. The industry at large is working to accelerate the development of this new worldwide standard.

  5. FirstNet understands the importance of local control. We know that most incidents are local and need to be managed at the local level. How we enable local control has not yet been determined. In addition, FirstNet will be operated as a nationwide public safety broadband network with the ability for national and regional operations centers (NOC/ROC) to exercise control. These hierarchical control levels parallel many incident management plans already in use by public safety.

    The FirstNet vision of a single, nationwide public safety broadband network with local control has many dimensions. If needed, FirstNet intends to make it possible to shift capacity to different parts of the network. Local control means that agencies will determine who has local priority to use the network to ensure public safety priorities are met. FirstNet is committed to enabling local control in a manner that aligns with public safety incident management protocols.

  6. FirstNet plans to deliver valuable applications and services as well as a network tailored to the requirements of the public safety community. FirstNet acknowledges that public safety-grade reliability, security and resiliency come with a price. FirstNet plans to invest in building the first nationwide network with this level of performance. FirstNet also intends to meet its mandate to find a way to better service unserved and underserved areas. FirstNet will make every effort to keep user costs down. FirstNet plans to leverage its buying power as a nationwide network serving millions of public safety users. In addition, FirstNet will enable multiple jurisdictions to cost-effectively share access to applications and common databases such motor vehicle and criminal background information.

    The legislation that established FirstNet stipulated that FirstNet would be self-sustaining and that any fees collected by FirstNet shall not exceed the amount necessary to recoup expenses. FirstNet is working to establish a pricing model that will attract users and ensure the network is self-sustaining. FirstNet will strive to price its services in a manner that enables public safety users to benefit fully from everything the network has to offer.

  7. To defend against today’s complex and rapidly changing security threats, FirstNet will be built with layers of security at every vulnerable point. Security will be designed into all radio access networks (RAN), the evolved packet core (EPC) network, service platforms, as well as the devices that use the network. Firewalls will enforce stringent security policies developed in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Defense (DoD) to meet National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) requirements. The FirstNet design will be guided by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) standards for encryption as well as other standards-based security measures and best practices. FirstNet also plans to work closely with across Federal agencies with expertise in telecommunications security design modeling

    Telecommunications security design model

    FirstNet also will enable robust identity management and authentication practices at the local level. Proper credentialing will be essential to enabling the network to carry protected confidential and private information. We are seeking input from the world’s leading experts. For example, FirstNet board member Teri Takai is a government information technology expert and previously served as the former CIO for the states of Michigan and California. She currently is the Chief Information Officer at the Department of Defense. We are fortunate to have her expertise and leadership on security topics.

  8. Backhaul carries the voice, data and video traffic on the network. Backhaul provides the connections between cell sites and the core wireless broadband network. Backhaul will also connect FirstNet to the Internet and other networks such as 911 centers. Typically these connections are made via fiber optic and microwave technology. To meet the reliability needs of public safety, backhaul will be redundant wherever feasible to ensure that network traffic continues to flow during periods of extreme network demand and stress.

    Through its request for information (RFI) process, FirstNet is learning about the existing backhaul capabilities of suppliers and key stakeholders including managed service providers, power utilities, commercial providers and local government agencies and facilities. Whenever possible, FirstNet will work to leverage existing government and commercial backhaul to keep costs down. FirstNet is committed to building a network where multiple transmission paths keep the traffic moving so that first responders can rely on FirstNet.

  9. FirstNet is developing a public/private partnership strategy to help accelerate its deployment of a broadband wireless network dedicated to public safety. When Congress created FirstNet, $7 billion was allocated to build the network. The law directed FirstNet to explore the use of existing state, local, federal and commercial assets as a way to keep costs down. We are open to all ideas and proposals. A national arrangement as well as regional partnerships involving multiple commercial carriers or utilities or federal agencies might also make sense.

    FirstNet plans to evaluate where it can use existing infrastructure to build its new Band 14 network. We welcome the opportunity to leverage existing government and commercial buildings, towers, fiber or microwave backhaul and data centers to help reduce costs and enable FirstNet to launch service as quickly as possible.

    During the consultation process, FirstNet will talk with state and local representatives about assets that might be leveraged. We will assess certain characteristics such as how much a site will cost, what kind of coverage it will provide and whether it meets public safety standards, to determine if it could be incorporated into the network infrastructure. All of these considerations will influence site selection. FirstNet will look at lessons learned from commercial tower operators to help us identify existing state assets and sites we can incorporate into our local radio access network planning.

  10. The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) administered by NTIA provided funding for seven public safety projects in 2010. These funds were partially suspended two years later, after Congress enacted the law creating FirstNet. The suspension was needed to ensure that any further activities would be consistent with the mandates of the new law. FirstNet reviewed the proposed BTOP projects and determined that there was value in continuing to support them. As a result, FirstNet reached spectrum manager lease agreements with the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (LA-RICS), Adams County, Colorado (ADCOM-911), the State of New Jersey and the State of New Mexico.

    FirstNet will provide technical support to these BTOP projects and will share any lessons learned with the broader public safety community to enable the successful implementation of FirstNet’s nationwide deployment.
    Designing and deploying a network that lives up to these principles will require an extraordinary level of coordination and collaboration among all stakeholders.

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