mobile btn
Thursday, March 4th, 2021

FirstNet looks ahead to selecting private partner to build first public safety communications network

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) will continue to accept proposals from private partners for deployment of an innovative nationwide public safety broadband network until May 31, with the goal of making an award Nov. 1, the agency recently said.

“FirstNet is going to really revolutionize the communications technology for first responders,” April Ward, senior media advisor at FirstNet, told Homeland Preparedness News. “Our next-generation technology isn’t just going to save lives, but it’s going to keep our first responders safer and make our communities safer, because it’s going to provide extra situational awareness for people out in the field.”

FirstNet will develop the first nationwide high speed wireless broadband network providing a single interoperable platform for law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and other public safety officials in every state, county, locality and tribal area.

“Not only will first responders for the first time be able to have interoperable communication nationwide, but it also provides a high-speed connection that puts next-generation technology into the hands of our first responders,” Ward said.

First responders rely on a patchwork of 10,000 separate and incompatible land mobile radio networks that hinder communication during emergencies, especially when wireless traffic in a certain area becomes heavy and capacity is maxed out. A separate priority communications network dedicated to public safety would allow public safety officials to better coordinate.

A critical aspect of the unique network will be integrating technological advancements to the 911 system, Ward said. With a broadband connection, data in the form of voice, images, text messages and video that come into a 911 emergency call center can be sent out to first responders.

The technology could be leveraged in numerous ways to give first responders additional tools in critical situations. Sensors embedded into the gear of firefighters could transmit data about vital signs, oxygen levels and where the fire is located to a command center, or a paramedic could send a patient’s vital sign data from an ambulance to doctors before arriving at a hospital.

FirstNet originally set a deadline of May 13 for responding to its request for proposals but extended the deadline to May 31 in order to give parties more time to refine their pitches. FirstNet had previously reviewed the capability statements from potential private partners who opted to submit them in order to receive feedback as they drafted their proposals.

“We did get multiple capability statements, which made us feel very confident that there is strong interest and there should be a competitive process moving forward,” Ward said.

Ward added that FirstNet received more than 400 questions from potential partners regarding the request for proposals, which were largely administrative and technical in nature.

FirstNet has said its RFP model has 16 objectives that must be met and is designed to promote innovative approaches while delivering the best value to government.

To help facilitate the roll out of the new network, FirstNet has been collaborating with states to better understand their coverage needs and has held workshops as part of its state and local outreach campaign.

Once a private partner is selected, states will be notified and given details of the proposed plan, whereby governors will have 90 days to decide whether to participate in FirstNet’s network or to deploy its own radio access network or radio base station infrastructure. States that opt-out of FirstNet’s plan must seek approval for an alternate plan from the Federal Communications Commission that is interoperable with FirstNet’s network.

Last month, FirstNet introduced a grant program to provide financial assistance to eligible public safety organizations for relocating their existing radios and systems from Band 14 spectrum frequencies in advance of rolling out the new network. Applications to the grant program are due May 16.

FirstNet was created by Congress to oversee the building and operation of a nationwide public safety broadband network, which will be a subscription-based service.

“Users will need to subscribe to it, so we have to be competitive,” Ward said. “We are here to serve public safety needs and we will competitively address those.”