FirstNet Network Puzzle Solved!
Having spent almost all of 2013 as the network procurement lead at FirstNet, I became both an avid supporter of the FirstNet mission and humbled by the complex environment in which FirstNet must succeed. With almost a year to reflect on the situation and assessing emerging technologies, I am ready to provide the Dolislager Plan for FirstNet.
Let’s start with the problem. How does FirstNet quickly provide a nationwide, interoperable, self-sustaining wireless network with its only assets being $7 billion and 20MHz of prime spectrum? The four Tier 1 wireless carriers have spent 30 years and hundreds of billions of dollars and their networks are not sufficient for the public safety uses. The Public Safety Community prefers a standalone network, but that is not feasible with the funds available.
Here is my solution to this network puzzle:
1. Build a standalone Core Network. Capital Cost: $1 billion
Much of the intelligence, network functionality, user setup & billing, and network monitoring are done in the Core Network. The Core Network consists of routers, service delivery platforms, monitoring stations, and the fiber connections that tie everything together. It is crucial that FirstNet own and operate its own core both to provide full interoperability and to control its own feature development.
2. Implement the first ever Network Neutral LTE Roaming Platform. Capital Cost: $0
FirstNet should sign LTE roaming agreements with every LTE carrier and Wi-Fi provider in the U.S. Unlike traditional roaming agreements that route calls to preferred (meaning cheaper) roaming partners, FirstNet devices would be programmed to operate on the best available wireless network. This makes the FirstNet network the best network in the country from day one!
Roaming agreements will need to incorporate priority calling functions to ensure that First Responders have priority during public safety incidents. If there is resistance to this provision, a regulatory or legal solution may be needed. Furthermore, some competition can be created around selecting a “primary roaming partner” that FirstNet devices will automatically use when a full signal is available.
3. Develop handsets and devices that are spectrum/carrier neutral. Capital Cost: $0
Freed from lengthy network deployment procurement needs, FirstNet can concentrate its efforts on working with device manufacturers to develop ruggedized handsets and devices that are able to operate in every spectrum band used by wireless carriers. Qualcomm already has chipsets that are spectrum agnostic. By the time the Core Network is established and roaming agreements signed, the devices could be ready. Of course, any FirstNet device should connect to existing Public Safety narrowband networks.
4. Use the remaining $5+ billion to enhance the network. Capital Cost: $5 billion
Assuming $1 billion is needed for FirstNet company set up, there should be $5 billion remaining for network development. These funds could be spent in the following areas:
- Deploying FirstNet cell sites in rural areas not covered by the other carriers.
- Funding site hardening efforts at key roaming partner sites.
- Developing and deploying “network relay” technologies that use vehicle mounted signal repeaters that deliver augmented coverage to public safety incidents.
- Procuring deployable network equipment that can be used during major public safety events.
Implementing the Dolislager Plan would still involve a lot of work. There would be significant procurement activity around roaming agreements, Core and RAN network deployments, and technology development. Furthermore, there would be some compromising of public safety goals.
Yet the benefits of this plan are substantial:
- No additional funds are needed
- A best-in-industry network would be available within 12-18 months and with opportunity to expand over time.
- Opportunity to monetize Band 14 spectrum with no pressure to cut a substandard deal just to get started.
- Simplified process for producing state network plans by showing readily available “combined” network coverage maps.
On a final note, the Dolislager Plan does not abandon the dream of a standalone FirstNet network. Instead, it provides a feasible platform for building that network in an environment where FirstNet will have more time and leverage in its negotiations.
Contact Thomas Dolislager at SellTower Consulting to learn more about the Dolislager Plan.