The process of developing the NPSBN is organized into three major phases: design, deployment, and operation. To build the nationwide network, all states must have a local radio access network (RAN) that connects to the NPSBN core. Currently FirstNet and the states, including Maine, are participating in planning and outreach activities preliminary to each state's network deployment plan and the core network design. Once planning is completed nationwide, anticipated by mid-2018, FirstNet will move forward with the deployment phase.
The Planning Process
By law, FirstNet is required to consult with federal, state, tribal, and local public safety entities to ensure that the NPSBN is designed to meet the needs of public safety across the country. State, tribal and local consultation is a collaborative process, involving key stakeholders and leadership from each state and territory, and is incorporating enhancements and improvements as they develop.
FirstNet is working through the designated single officer or governmental body during state and local planning consultation to gather requirements from key stakeholders for developing its deployment plan. State and local planning consultation topics include:
- Construction of a core network and any RAN build-out
- Placement of towers
- Coverage areas of the network, whether at the regional, state, tribal, or local levels
- Adequacy of hardening, security, reliability, and resiliency requirements
- Assignment of priority to local users
- Assignment of priority and selection of entities seeking access to or use of the nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network and training needs of local users
FirstNet began its state and local planning outreach efforts in mid-May 2013 with six regional workshops. Ten individuals from each state and territory, including some tribal representatives, participated in these interactive meetings, where they communicated their requirements, priorities and concerns to FirstNet. This initial phase of consultation provided FirstNet with valuable insights. FirstNet learned how unique the coverage needs are in each state and territory and how different local and regional incident policies and procedures can be at the local level. The workshops reinforced the value of the individual state consultations in gaining a more in-depth understanding of the needs of each state and territory.
Tribes and Federal Users
FirstNet is conducting outreach to engage tribal leaders on the network and their public safety needs. In addition to encouraging the designated single officer or governmental body to include tribal nations in the FirstNet state consultation process, FirstNet is holding additional meetings with tribal representatives. FirstNet is also engaging with a variety of federal agencies to determine how to leverage their assets and expertise for the network.
Building on the regional workshops, FirstNet has initiated individual visits to each of the states and territories to continue the dialog about building a broadband network dedicated to public safety. FirstNet is working through each designated state point of contact to arrange a visit, agree on the agenda and identify participants. Timing depends on the state's readiness, the State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) activities, and how quickly FirstNet can fully staff its outreach team. The agenda for initial FirstNet visits focus on roles and responsibilities, users and coverage needs. Expectations for data collection and other state-specific issues are also discussed. These meetings are paving the way for ongoing collaboration that will result in FirstNet's development of 56 unique state deployment plans. For an update on the status of FirstNet's state and territorial consultation meetings, please see the Consultation Meetings page.
Data gathering, supported by SLIGP funding, is intended to ensure that the FirstNet state RAN buildout plans meet user needs. States will be asked to submit available data as soon as it is compiled instead of waiting to complete the entire data requrest. FirstNet will continually update planning and modeling efforts based on new input. Data collection will cover the following areas:
- Architecture of an evolved pack core and radio access network
- Required coverage areas of the network
- Hardening, security, reliability and resiliency requirements
- Assignment of priority users and selection of secondary users
- Availability of assets that may be utilized
State Decision on State Network Plans
Members of the FirstNet outreach and design teams will work closely with the designated single officer or governmental body to develop and deliver a network deployment plan that meets their needs. FirstNet will then provide the governor of each state or territory with a notice of the completion of the request for proposal process; the details of the proposed plan; and the funding level for the state or territory. Upon receipt of the plan, a governor will have 90 days to choose whether to participate in the plan provided by FirstNet or conduct its own deployment of a radio access network. If a governor decides to opt out, then he/she is required to notify FirstNet, NTIA, and the FCC. After providing the notification, the Governor has 180 days to develop and complete requests for proposals for the construction, maintenance and operation of the RAN within the state. The state is required to submit an alternative plan to the FCC that is interoperable with the NPSBN and complies with the minimum technical interoperability requirements under the Act.
Funding the Buildout
If the State's plan is approved by the FCC, the state may apply for a grant from NTIA to construct the RAN. To obtain federal funding for its RAN, the state must demonstrate it can:
- Provide the technical capability to operate and fund the RAN
- Maintain ongoing interoperability with the NPSBN
- Complete the project within specified comparable timelines
- Execute its plan cost effectively
- Deliver security, coverage and quality of service comparable to the NPSBN
There are additional funding implications if a state receives approval to build its own RAN:
- States pay any fees associated with using FirstNet core elements
- Grant program specifics are not developed yet
- NTIA will determine eligible costs of the grant program, whether a match will be required, and funding levels
Licensing FirstNet Spectrum
If the state plan is not approved, the construction, operation and maintenance of the state RAN will proceed in accordance with the FirstNet plan. If a state receives approval to build its own RAN, the state then must apply to NTIA to lease spectrum capacity from FirstNet.
Initial Consultation Package
FirstNet delivered an initial state and local consultation package to each state and territory in preparation for in-person consultations. The package includes a readiness checklist with instructions, requested discussion topics, and the initial consultation meeting agenda. FirstNet will conduct follow-up conference calls with each state and territory to answer questions and provide clarifications.
FirstNet will build a new Band Class 14 network designed to be reliable, functional, safe and secure, and to provide optimal levels of operational capability at all times. Public safety communications for the first time will be based on commercial standards, bringing the benefits of lower costs, consumer-driven economies of scale and rapid evolution of advanced communication capabilities.
By law, the network is to be based on minimum technical requirements that meet the commercial standards for long term evolution (LTE) service, or wireless communication of high-speed data, now in its fourth generation. FirstNet is involved in the standards process and working closely with public safety organizations to support the development of functionality that meets the needs of the public safety users that FirstNet will serve. Much of the current focus is on an international set of standards that will allow FirstNet to offer mission-critical voice (MCV) when these capabilities become available. The same MCV technologies will then work across all standards-based equipment and networks worldwide.
FirstNet broadly defines its LTE network in distinct layers: core network, transport backhaul, radio access network (RAN) and public safety devices.
FirstNet is responsible for building the enhanced packet core network, a key component for ensuring that users have a single interoperable platform nationwide. The core network has six primary functions: it switches data, processes and reformats information, stores and maintains data and keeps it secure. Applications and services and operational and business support systems also reside in the core network. The core will interface with other state, local and federal networks, including 911 and the internet. Essentially, the core serves as a giant umbrella covering all of the US, including the territories and the District of Columbia. The core is connected to radio access networks in each state via the backhaul layer of the network.
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.
Radio Access Network (RAN)
The RAN portion of the network consists of the radio base station infrastructure that connects to user devices. RAN includes cell towers as well as mobile hotspots embedded in vehicles that backhaul to the core network over satellite or other types of wireless infrastructure.
Comprehensive RAN planning is required to optimize coverage, capacity and performance for a nationwide network. Initial modeling has shown that tens of thousands of radio base stations are needed to cover at least 99 percent of the population and the national highway system. Population coverage alone won’t suffice for public safety. State by state, FirstNet needs to understand public safety coverage needs.
During consultation, FirstNet will work with the states to determine the coverage expectations and priorities that must be included in the RAN deployment plan to enable public safety to meet its mission, no matter where it takes them.
The very circumstances that can require first responders to come to the aid of others can also wreak havoc on RAN sites when first responders need coverage the most. Making a system reliable requires physical and operational redundancy and hardening.
Most network outages are due to power failures and the loss of data links. To be public safety-grade, FirstNet sites will need redundant power backup that relies on a variety of sources. Power, backhaul, sites and coverage will be designed with the goal of avoiding single points of failure.
Public Safety Devices
Devices are all the user access points that will send and receive information over the network. Everything from smartphones to laptops, tablets, dongles and a wide variety of specialty devices will be developed for FirstNet users. The goal is to create devices that are rugged enough to withstand the many public safety environmental issues, but still be easy to use and convenient to carry. Devices will also have to be easy to administer and secure.
With the potential for millions of users, FirstNet will have the scale and leverage to drive development and procurement of devices at the best possible prices. Scale can also spur interest from a number of new vendors, which can enhance vendor/design diversity, increase competition and help lower prices for public safety devices. In the future, FirstNet will work with industry to develop device types and applications to meet public safety use cases identified by public safety users. FirstNet devices and applications will undergo a variety of testing and certification in areas including interference, operation, environmental factors and security.
Following an estimated 10-year buildout, the network will potentially connect over 5 million public safety users nationwide. Although use of the network will be voluntary, FirstNet plans to offer subscriptions at a compelling, competitive cost, establishing the network as self-sustaining.