The window for bidding in the First Responder Network Authority’s request for proposals has closed, evaluations are underway and a contract is expected to be awarded by early November if all goes as hoped. The brain-storming phase of the planned nationwide network is morphing into the doing phase, and FirstNet officials are warning that the next 18 months will be a whirlwind of activity and decisions. As momentum surrounding the FirstNet bid gathers, there will be more integral involvement from players in the federal sector, new task teams launched and accelerated outreach to the states and major metropolitan areas to get the right message out to the front lines.
“There are twice as many milestones in the next 18 months as we’ve had over the past two and a half years,” FirstNet President T.J. Kennedy cautioned members of the organization’s Public Safety Advisory Committee at a meeting June 6. “It’s our job to get the members of our associations and teams together and make sure we continue to push twice as hard over the next 18 months.”
As for the identity of those engaging in the FirstNet bid in the RFP, mum’s the word, unless you are Rivada Networks or pdvWireless, which both announced via press release that they had submitted bids.
“Everybody wants to know how many bids there are. We don’t know,” Jeff Johnson, vice chairman of the FirstNet board of directors, told the PSAC members. “If there was one bid we would be going into negotiations, and if there is more than one bid we are going into the evaluation. That is the space we’re going into.”
Rivada Networks announced June 7 that its venture, Rivada Mercury, would work with a group of partners that includes include Ericsson, Nokia, Intel, Fujitsu, Black & Veatch and Harris Corp. if it wins the FirstNet contract.
pvdWireless said in a press release on June 13 that it had placed a bid on behalf of a consortium, but it did not name the members of the consortium. The company, based in Woodland Park, N.J. is led by Brian McAuley and Moran O’Brien, chairman and vice chairman, respectively.
How The FirstNet Bid Will Affect Public Safety
FirstNet will help save the lives of those involved in emergencies that occur indoors, according to Chief Alan Perdue, retired director of Emergency Services in Guildford County, N.C. and Executive Director of the Safer Buildings Coalition. It is imperative that FirstNet’s broadband network continues to address in-building public safety communications for all first responders.
“Approximately 70 percent of 911 calls originate from mobile devices. Of the 70 percent, approximately 64 percent of those calls originate from the inside of a building. These statistics identify very clearly that adequate coverage is vital to saving lives,” he said. “We at the Safer Buildings Coalition are thankful for FirstNet’s leadership and staff and their commitment to ensuring adequate public safety coverage in buildings.”
Apart from awarding a contract, another change for FirstNet over the next 18 months will be a boost in the federal sector’s direct involvement. Late last month, the FirstNet board approved an updated charter for the PSAC, allowing it to bring in two additional members from the federal government, namely the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. The new committee members will serve as the chairman and vice chairman of a newly formed Federal Working Group. Once they have joined, the committee will send out targeted invitations to other federal public safety practitioners. FirstNet is also establishing a Chief Customer Office and a Network Program Office.
In the meantime, the two task teams that the PSAC launched this year are preparing formal recommendations to present toward the end of July. The Identity Credential and Access Management (ICAM) Task Team is developing a framework for giving agencies access to the network, identifying users and allowing them into various levels of information-sharing on the system.
The Local Control Task Team is working to define the application that local agencies will use to control their relationships to the network and to establish ways to support operations that are not directly controlled by this application. The team has spent a lot of time working out how local agencies will coordinate with FirstNet in planning for large events and handling large unplanned incidents and emergencies, as well as how users will be managed during such incidents.
FirstNet expects to deliver radio access network (RAN) deployment plans to the 56 U.S. states and territories by the middle of next year. Progress on these plans hinges, in part, on initiatives at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA, which is a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce, where FirstNet is located).
The FCC is considering rule revisions for current licensed users of the spectrum designated for FirstNet, and a final order on the revised rules is expected soon. The commission also has drafted proposals on the process it will use to consider alternative network deployment plans from states seeking to opt out of FirstNet’s plans. Those proposals are expected to be released along with the order.
At the same time, the NTIA is coming up with guidelines for issuing grants to states to build alternative networks approved by the FCC. Additionally, in December NTIA released proposals on how it will review fees that FirstNet may charge users to cover expenses, and it is aiming to release the final fee review rules by the end of the year.