By Mark Golaszewski, FirstNet Director of Applications
One of the drivers for the creation of FirstNet is the need for interoperable communications among public safety users from different agencies. FirstNet’s strategy for maximizing interoperability across the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) is to leverage, to the greatest extent possible, open, standards-based solutions for:
- Network infrastructure and services, and
- Data access and applications.
FirstNet’s enabling legislation, The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (The Act), established the Technical Advisory Board for First Responder Interoperability (The Interoperability Board). The Interoperability Board published the Recommended Minimum Technical Requirements to Ensure Nationwide Interoperability for the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. This report defines interoperability as “the ability of all authorized local, state and federal public safety entities and users to operate on the NPSBN and commercial partner networks, to access rapid, reliable and secure communication services, in order to communicate and share information via voice and data.”
- Network Infrastructure and Services
The Interoperability Board’s report prescribes heavy reliance on standards-based network elements, interfaces, and technologies of the Third-Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). Adherence to these open and global standards creates the basis for a wireless broadband network that will enable the interoperability of devices, radio access networks (RANs), and core network elements that leverage ever-evolving, commercially available products and services. This is anticipated to result in a quantum leap forward in the interoperability and cost-effectiveness of public safety communications.
- Data and Applications
While standards such as 3GPP exist for devices, RANs, and core components, as of now, no such unifying standard exists for data and applications, which are key parts of the value proposition for public safety users. The Interoperability Board did not include data and applications within the scope of the minimum technical requirements in its report. Historically, lack of interoperability hindered public safety voice communications, particularly in situations of mutual aid involving multiple agencies. While a standards-based wireless network addresses voice communications, it does not ensure interoperable access to the data and applications that are second nature to most smartphone users.
FirstNet envisions a multi-faceted approach to maximizing access to data and interoperability of applications, including the following measures.
- Adopting data access and interoperability standards when they exist. For example, there are detailed access, security, and formatting requirements that exist for access to some common, national data repositories used by public safety. FirstNet plans to continue to play an active role in efforts to create and evolve standards that enhance interoperability.
- Encouraging app developers to develop middleware solutions to provide seamless access to data which may not have an open, standards-based definition.
- Publishing and standardizing Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that enable the development of applications leveraging the unique functions of the NPSBN such as Quality of Service (QoS), priority, and preemption, as well as user location, presence, and group communications.
- Utilizing federated Identity, Credential, and Access Management (ICAM) that enables user authentication and authorization across jurisdictional boundaries.
- Creating a vibrant application developer ecosystem that enables collaboration and communication between developers and public safety users on innovative new applications. In addition, this ecosystem can help enable the migration of existing, proprietary applications to more open, interoperable standards.
- Implementing an application test and certification process that vets new and existing public safety apps for interoperability, security, and usability.
- Encouraging interagency mutual aid agreements to provide for joint use, training, and interoperability between agencies that collaborate regularly.
Given the diversity of unique network, data, and applications solutions that exist for over 60,000 public safety agencies, FirstNet cannot ensure that all users will be able to access or interoperate across all legacy solutions. However, by driving toward open, standards-based solutions, FirstNet envisions vastly improving the public safety user experience when it comes to new communications services, data access, and applications.