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FirstNet Ready to Hit Ground Running Next Year, D'Agostino Tells APCO

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

COMMUNICATIONS DAILY—8 WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013 ANAHEIM, Calif. — FirstNet presented its vision for next year Tuesday when General Manager Bill D’Agostino laid out what he deems the appropriate strategy for 2014 and beyond, expressing full confidence in the network’s deployment and future despite acknowledging funding shortfalls. He spoke at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials annual meeting. “FirstNet is not going to fail,” D’Agostino said: “This plan is going to take FirstNet from paper to reality in a very short time.”

D’Agostino said the plan focused on network partners, the mandates FirstNet must follow, the “early movers” initiative in which former stimulus grantees may become FirstNet pilot deployments, portable hotspots and wireless devices. These areas will be crucial given the difficulties the network faces: “We have $7 billion of funding,” D’Agostino said. “We know that’s not enough to build this network.” But the spectrum allocated to FirstNet will grow “more and more valuable” with time, and the key is to “unlock the value of that spectrum and to continue to unlock that over time” to sustain its operations, he said.

APCO President Terry Hall noted the many discussions about the 700 MHz D block. “We’re well underway with that,” Hall said of the spectrum belonging to FirstNet. “We have had several meetings with FirstNet board members and Bill D’Agostino ourselves.” Hall “has set APCO on a course where I believe all these puzzle pieces are starting to come together,” D’Agostino said in his speech.

The FirstNet board recently approved a 2014 budget and released several requests for information, but plans to follow that up with requests for proposals, D’Agostino said, looking for a variety of partners while fixing on the public safety goals of the network: “It’s going to take an unprecedented use of publicprivate partnerships to make this happen.” The marketplace will drive FirstNet’s partnership strategy, he said. D’Agostino emphasized the mandates FirstNet faces, which include conducting state outreach and building a core network. “The core is an essential element for us to own no matter what that partnership strategy looks like,” he said, noting that’s where “the security layers come into play” and the redundancy. The FirstNet apps, which “will enable incredible things to happen,” will be “resident in the core,” he said.

D’Agostino provided new details of FirstNet’s plans for portable hotspots, calling them critical for 2014. “It’s about restoration capabilities,” he said. FirstNet does not plan to buy several hotspots now but will design and test them next year, he said. He framed them as crucial for covering the nation, saying 30 percent of the U.S. will remain uncovered after FirstNet reaches the major urban areas and the national highways, simply due to wilderness and other issues. These portable hotspots will “let you take the network with you,” he pointed out.

“We need to see the device ecosystem,” he said, urging manufacturers to create “a wide array” of devices that can work on band 14. D’Agostino said, as FirstNet board members have expressed before, that the FirstNet network will not be intended for mission-critical voice. “FirstNet is going to revolutionize the way you do your current job, but it’s not going to forklift your current processes,” D’Agostino told APCO. “We want to augment what you’re doing with LMR [land mobile radio].”

FirstNet has come a long way since its struggles earlier in the year, one tech executive said in an interview. Covia Labs CEO David Kahn referred to a January roundtable discussion hosted by Textron that revealed significant frustration among vendors. “FirstNet has changed entirely since then,” he said, noting he has met personally with D’Agostino and others in recent months. “I don’t think the vendors have the same level of complaints. How do you start such a big thing, and do it quickly? ... Even people who are making products for consumers have a very modest amount of interaction with consumers before they come out with their products.”

D’Agostino discussed the seven public safety broadband projects funded by NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program — in limbo since May 2012, when NTIA suspended them to avoid redundancy with FirstNet, which has since tried to negotiate their reactivation as network pilot projects. FirstNet reached spectrum lease agreements with projects in Los Angeles and New Mexico, is negotiating with others and last week announced a failure to negotiate with projects in Charlotte, N.C., Adams County, Colo., and New Jersey, he said (CD Aug 14 p2). With some, “we weren’t able to find the right opportunities to learn and bring into the FirstNet family as quickly as we wanted to,” D’Agostino said. “But we’ve also had some states that raised their hand and said ‘We’re ready to go.’” FirstNet is working with those states and governors to make that happen, he said. But Chuck Robinson, Charlotte’s director of shared services, said during a Tuesday panel that his city is “not yet a dead buildout. We’re still plugging away behind the scenes to see what can be salvaged from this.”

FirstNet’s achievements befit the historic nature of achievements in APCO’s history, D’Agostino added, comparing it to innovations at past APCO meetings: “I hope 79 years from now, people remember somebody named Bill D’Agostino spoke about this thing called FirstNet.” Citing the upcoming anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he emphasized that FirstNet’s creation was recommended by the 9/11 Commission. “About a month ago, 19 firefighters lost their lives in Arizona,” he said. “And the first thing I thought about was, could better communications have helped them?” — John Hendel (jhendel@warren-news.com)

Reproduced by permission of Warren Communications News, Inc., 800-771-9202, www.warren.news.com.