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Top 3 Questions Public Safety Agencies Should Answer When Developing a FirstNet Strategy

by Benoit Tournier, Director of Marketing, Transportation
After years of design and development, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet™) is rolling out the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), a complete overhaul of the nation’s public safety and first responder infrastructure. As this roll-out begins, public safety agencies should develop strategies that not only allow them to interoperate with the NPSBN core network and the Radio Access Network (RAN), but also enable them to take full advantage of all the new emergency and lifesaving capabilities offered by FirstNet. 

FirstNet is not simply a fancy 911 system. When combined with the Internet of Things (IoT), FirstNet has the potential to dramatically change day-to-day operations for every type of emergency services team – with benefits that will help them not just save time and money, but lives as well. The backbone of FirstNet is dedicated spectrum that addresses past network congestion issues, ensuring smooth and reliable communication over the network– both within jurisdictions and across jurisdictions. It also supports an ecosystem for driving public safety innovation through new IoT devices and applications. There is even an “app catalog” to make it easy for public safety agencies to find new applications that expand their capabilities, and a certification process that subjects devices, such as Sierra Wireless’ AirLink® MG90, to hundreds of tests that cover a number of aspects, from security and durability to network impacts to ensure they can meet the needs of first responders. 

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To ease the development burden on public safety agencies across the country, FirstNet is building out the networks for states and territories in public-private partnership with AT&T. Today, 50 states, Washington D.C., and six territories have opted into the program, but there are still many critical decisions to make as agencies build out their specific capabilities. 

Answering the following three questions can dramatically simplify agencies’ FirstNet strategy decision-making processes.

1. Which applications do we need to implement today? Which applications would we like to be able to implement over the next several years?

Identifying applications that are currently required and anticipating the applications that would be desirable in the future will help agencies build the right infrastructure to support both their current and long-term needs. 

Common fixed applications include speed and surveillance cameras, license plate recognition systems, and digital signage. However, for public safety agencies, some of the most exciting applications enabled by FirstNet involve sophisticated mobile applications, such as body-worn cameras that can provide real-time video feeds from the field, e-ticketing solutions that automate manual processes, and vehicle records and engine diagnostics for preventive maintenance. However, successfully deploying these more sophisticated applications requires agencies to secure FirstNet infrastructure that uses advanced IoT technologies.

2. What IoT technologies do we need to support both current and future FirstNet applications? 

As they consider the IoT technologies they need for FirstNet applications, public safety agencies should select communication devices certified to support FirstNet. These devices must reliably deliver consistently high performance with high availability and security. They must also support the FirstNet requirements for priority and preemption for guaranteed communications on any LTE bands.

To ensure the devices will support future use cases, agencies should confirm that they will operate in challenging connectivity and environmental conditions, deliver reliable communications as responders move away from their vehicles, and offer the bandwidth to support transmission of high-quality video 

3. Who can we partner with to help us ensure success? 

Agencies should insist on partners experienced with deploying first responder devices and applications and with evolving FirstNet technologies. Because IoT technologies will play a critical role in FirstNet applications, deep experience developing devices for the IoT is also essential. For example, look for partners that have experience with Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) cellular networking technologies (LTE-M and NB-IoT), which enable smaller, lower-power and more cost-effective IoT sensors. They should also understand and follow IoT best practices, such as the United States Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) and the Industry Consortium for the Advancement of Safety on the Internet (ICASI).

It is also imperative to ensure partners make IoT security a top priority by building end-to-end security into their solutions and promoting security best practices. Finally, most agencies will want partners that provide dedicated professional services and technical support to help deploy, manage and support new FirstNet infrastructure and applications.

Answering the above questions will help public safety agencies develop a solid FirstNet strategy that allows them to maximize the highly secure, highly reliable network’s ability to guarantee deliver of priority communications, improve first responder coordination across jurisdictions, and implement next generation first responder applications.

Many public safety agencies are getting a head-start on their FirstNet strategies. For example, Chester County, Pennsylvania is already building out its IoT infrastructure to support FirstNet, with new technologies that are already helping emergency services dispatchers communicate more effectively with first responders in the field. With a strong FirstNet strategy, these agencies will be able to reduce response times, increase first responder situational awareness, and better protect first responders, their vehicles and other assets, and, most importantly, our nation’s citizens. 

Start with Sierra to find out more about developing a strategy that leverages FirstNet’s capacity, throughput, and other advantages in ways that empower your first responders to better protect and serve the public.