By Mika Skarp
On Friday March 17th the U.S. Court of Appeals of Federal Claims ruled in favor of FirstNet, dashing AT&T rival Rivada Mercury’s efforts to find fault in their exclusion from the RFP. This not only makes AT&T’s win as good as a fait accompli, it represents a critical milestone that will enable the FirstNet roll out to start. Needless to say a lot has changed since the FirstNet project first began. From where we stand today, what can we expect to see for Public Safety moving into the future?
To begin, it’s important to understand that FirstNet is not a network destined to replace the current voice communication system; it is a completely new way of thinking about public safety. Right now public safety organizations have a robust voice communications network based on either the Land Mobile Radio (LMR) or Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) systems. Data communications are handled on a best effort basis using commercial networks. Unfortunately, Mission Critical communications and Best Effort make terrible bed fellows, and this represents a major shortcoming in the current public safety network scheme. They are by definition unreliable and for that reason untenable for mission critical applications. This not only carries extreme risks of data communication failure, it has created a situation where no real ecosystem around public safety Apps has been allowed to develop. And this is precisely the social and business mission that FirstNet will address while providing a global blueprint for other counties and regions to follow suit.
To put this in perspective, I’ll share but one example of the opportunities that this kind of public safety app ecosystem will bring about. Our current mobile camera technology is good enough to provide facial recognition from group pictures. However, despite the enormous public safety benefit this would provide, our best effort networks simply don’t allow for this kind of real-time, delay sensitive data traffic. Preparing for its arrival and the ability provide dedicated slices of 4G/5G networks for public safety, we’ve partnered with Canadian body and vehicle camera and facial recognition software innovators Airvisor. Imagine a public security use case where agents can surveil a group of people and get data on each individual for real-time situation analysis. Operatives will be able mark suspects and immediately share this information with other agents in field. For large-scale public events that are increasingly the targets of terror, the implications are considerable. The ability to maintain rock solid surveillance and real-time data sharing within a truly flawless mobile network for public safety will have real and profound positive impacts on life and death situations. And it is exactly this next element of reliability that opens the door to app developers and countless other life critical solutions.
From the perspective of radio technology, there is no reason to insist upon a proprietary air interface. For flawless Public Safety network radio communications, the 3GPP roadmap provides the best performance at the lowest cost. On the core network side we need to carefully orchestrate bearer profiles such that no capacity is wasted and the network never becomes congested. In the FirstNet specification this is defined as Local Control functionality that Cloudstreet’s Dynamic Profile Controller was designed to deliver. This is the promise of FirstNet, and indeed represents an important global public safety milestone. The ability to ensure reliability and flexibility for mission-critical communications is precisely what makes FirstNet such a ground-breaking advance. It will not only set the standard for other public safety networks around the world, but create an entirely new business ecosystem that will open the door to generations of innovation through private public partnership. We are excited to say the least.