Overview

The Public Safety Broadband (PSBB) program is the official liaison between the Federal FirstNet Authority and public safety in New York. The Federal FirstNet Authority establishes a nationwide interoperable broadband network for public safety's use.

PSBB also maintains contact with other providers of public safety broadband and provides outreach to public safety officials in New York to inform them of the choices and developments in public safety broadband. PSBB helps collect information on needs and concerns and provides that information back to the FirstNet Authority, AT&T, Verizon and others.

FirstNet

A Brief History

In 2012, Congress created and funded the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) for the purposes of implementing and operating a public safety broadband network for 25 years. In addition to $7B in funding, Congress also allocated 20 MHz of prime "Band 14" 700 MHz spectrum for the program's use, requiring that first responders have priority access but permitting Band 14 to be monetized otherwise in order to support the NPSBN program (National Public Safety Broadband Network). The next five years were formative with data gathering from the first responder community and industry and seeking to identify a viable business model. FirstNet issued an RFP in 2016, and a contract was signed with AT&T, the winning bidder, in March of 2017. Shortly thereafter, AT&T publicly disclosed its business model for the NPSBN that leveraged its existing commercial infrastructure. AT&T created individual state plans for the radio access network (RAN) portion, including plans to add new sites. Each state was to choose whether to Opt-In and accept the AT&T RAN, or to Opt-out and construct and operate their own RAN and take on the financial and operational obligations of doing so. New York, as well as all other states and territories, chose to Opt-In to the AT&T proposed RAN.

 

AT&T Award

In March of 2017, FirstNet signed a 25-year contract with AT&T to implement and operate the NPSBN. The primary reasons cited for FirstNet's selection and award to AT&T include:

Priority access to 100 MHz of spectrum – Although legislation only mandated priority access to the 20 MHz Band 14 spectrum, AT&T extended this to include priority access on their entire commercial spectrum, resulting in access to over 100 MHz of spectrum. Including commercial spectrum with their proposal addressed a number of issues important to public safety: priority service could be made available immediately because a network exists outside of Band 14, and the spectrum (capacity) available to support public safety during a large or simultaneous events is much greater.

AT&T's proposal included its considerable existing commercial infrastructure (valued at $180B) plus a commitment to invest an additional $40B over the 25-year program. This represented a considerable multiple of FirstNet's $7B seed funding. Furthermore, AT&T would continue to advance their commercial mobile broadband network and technology, benefiting public safety as well.

AT&T has a 100+ year track record as a sustainable business bringing confidence that the 25-year contract would be successful.
The FirstNet NPSBN provides a dedicated transport network for public safety professionals to access applications and other data in support of their day-to-day mission and in the case of emergencies. This network expands public safety’s access to wireless broadband and all its capabilities.

Where available, many public safety agencies already make use of commercial wireless services and a variety of useful “apps” are available. With increased use, new apps will be conceived and become available.

FirstNet Radio Access Network

The Network

The Radio Access Network (RAN) is the portion of the network that connects directly to mobile devices. It includes all radio sites and backhaul; coverage and capacity performance depend on the quantity, distribution, interconnection, and reliability of sites that comprise the RAN.

As a part of the Governor's consideration whether or not to Opt-In and accept the AT&T proposed State Plan for New York, AT&T included a number of attractive additions to the originally offered state plan:

  • 100 new radio sites to be selected with input from the State, and independent of the typical return-on-investment selection strategy.   
  • 250 generators to be added to existing sites that currently only have battery back-up.
  • All new AT&T sites will be equipped with generator back-up (except where restricted).
  • Two NYS-dedicated SatCOLTs (SatCOLT = Satellite-capable Cell-On-Light-Truck) – in addition to the 72 nationwide FirstNet SatCOLT resources.

In the time since the Opt-In decision was made, DHSES and AT&T/FirstNet met on several occasions to discuss appropriate strategies for placement of the 100 agreed upon sites. The combined group agreed that 1) filling "white space", 2) improving transportation corridor coverage, and 3) improving coverage for critical infrastructure should be the priorities when selecting those new sites. It is worthy to note that these 100 "FirstNet" sites are in addition to AT&T's ongoing new commercial site builds. As of Fall 2021, 61 of the 100 Opt-in sites were on the air with another 17 in construction.

AT&T provides quarterly updates to DHSES on their progress on the NPSBN RAN build-out.

 
LTE v. LMR

First responders currently use land mobile radio (LMR) networks for mission critical voice communications. Even with the launch of the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN), LMR systems continue to play an essential role in public safety critical voice communications. The NPSBN should be very effective for transmitting data, video, and other high-speed content such as location information and streaming video, as well as non-mission critical voice. However, public safety entities will continue to rely on LMR networks for their mission critical voice needs.

Public Safety Communications Evolution

Public Safety Communications Evolution
Image of portable devices and hand-help radios

In the future, FirstNet plans to offer mission critical voice services over the NPSBN – along with mission critical video and data – when voice over LTE (VoLTE) functionalities meet or exceed first responders' mission critical needs. FirstNet has been actively working with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) to add public safety standards into this worldwide industry-driving commercial standard. In March of 2016, 3GPP adopted Release 13 of these standards which addressed, most notably, Mission Critical Push-To-Talk Voice. Establishing this standard is an important first step in the ability of the NPSBN to support critical voice, however, public safety is still likely to need their critical voice LMR systems for the foreseeable future. Releases 14 (2017) and 15 (2018) have improved upon Release 13 Mission Critical standards, e.g., establishing new standards for interconnecting LTE systems to LMR systems. Despite this notable progress, mission critical standards must first be incorporated into infrastructure designs, then into fielded equipment, and the local NPSBN network will have to provide suitable coverage for a given public safety agency's area of operation and reliability needs. Until that time, LMR systems will remain "the" standard for mission critical voice.

 

Mobile App "Ecosystem" and FirstNet's App Catalog

FirstNet/AT&T are sponsoring a public safety mobile application "ecosystem".  That is, they are creating an environment that supports developers of public safety applications, providing tools, feedback, a developer network, as well as an app certification process.  Read more about this "ecosystem" by viewing the FirstNet Developer Portal.

The FirstNet App Catalog is a single location where all mobile applications that have been accepted into the program are listed. The Catalog functions much like a private app store in that it is not open to the general public, but it uses the distribution system provided by public app stores – the Apple App Store and Google Play. In order to access the Catalog, one must be a FirstNet subscriber. Only applications that have earned FirstNet "Certified" or "Reviewed" status will be included on the Catalog. To earn a "Certified" status an app must go through a battery of scans, performance tests and scrutiny performed by developers and a cross functional team of experts staffed from FirstNet, AT&T, and Sapient Government Solutions. The criteria to earn a "Reviewed" status is very similar but slightly less demanding. The process evaluates the application's relevancy to the public safety mission, system availability, security, data privacy, scalability, resiliency and resource usage.

More than 100 Apps are now available from the App Catalog spanning a wide range of categories:

  • Communication Tools
  • Device Security
  • Secure Connections
  • Cloud Solutions
  • CAD Solutions
  • Video Surveillance
  • In-Building Coverage & Mapping
  • Situational Awareness
  • Cyber Security
  • Forensic Intelligence and Public Safety Community

Mobile Broadband Service

Consideration

There is no mandate for public safety to subscribe to FirstNet broadband services. Each agency or individual in need of mobile broadband services should select a provider based upon their specific needs and the ability of that provider to meet those needs. The list below provides important factors to consider.

Coverage/Capacity - Useful coverage in the areas that your agency operates is essential; if you don't have coverage where you need it, none of the rest matters! Often times carriers will loan devices to test coverage prior to signing a service contract so be sure to take advantage of that. Sites continue to be added by carriers that improve coverage and capacity so don't rely upon older impressions or others' opinions - keep an open mind when comparing the services from different carriers. If you operate near the Canadian border be sure to explore how home coverage and roaming are handled along the boundary, and whether the expected services and features will be supported while roaming.

With LTE technology, coverage can be improved at the expense of capacity; testing during times of low use can give an optimistic impression of coverage relative to how the system will behave when more heavily loaded. If you have coverage or capacity concerns about specific areas, talk with the carriers and challenge them to defend their coverage claims.

Cost - The cost for service plans from the various providers, including FirstNet, are comparable. Subscribing agencies may also negotiate additional price concessions beyond those on the State contract.

Features/Functions - FirstNet's foundation is built on providing priority access for public safety. Other options may offer public safety cores which are intended to keep public safety traffic separate from commercial traffic in order to provide a higher level of security, or they may combine the traffic on a shared core.  FirstNet will offer a one-touch ICAM (Identity, Credentialing, and Access Management) solution to simplify secure log-in. There have been discussions about how well interoperability among different carriers' subscribers will be supported.

Public Safety Grade - Are the RAN, Core, network security, and disaster recovery plan public safety grade? Will the network support your essential broadband operations when needed? Is your agency's use of broadband optional or would a temporary loss of broadband impact its effectiveness? If so, discuss both the resiliency of the network and access to deployables with potential service providers.

Support - What level of broadband service support does your agency and its users need in order to support your mission? Will you have the necessary access to device repair/replacement, application support, network support, and RAN disaster recovery? AT&T has established a dedicated 24x7x365 FirstNet team within their existing GNOC (Global Network Operations Center). The help desk is staffed domestically, and its personnel are to be trained so as to be sensitive to the needs of public safety users.

 

US NIST Certified FirstNet devices

 

FirstNet Service

NYS OGS has negotiated State contract pricing for FirstNet services; refer to OGS Contract No. PS68689. State contract pricing for these services is competitive with other commercial mobile broadband options. A variety of plans are offered and they loosely mirror the types of plans offered today as either individual or family plans. 

State agency employees interested in subscribing their State issued device to FirstNet should contact their agency or ITS just as they would if subscribing to any commercial wireless plan.

 

FirstNet Eligibility

There are eligibility criteria that must be met in order to subscribe to FirstNet. Contact AT&T/FirstNet to determine agency and individual eligibility and proof of eligibility requirements needed when establishing service. Based upon these criteria, FirstNet users will fall into one of two categories, either Primary or Extended Primary; category placement determines the level of priority access provided and subscription cost.

Primary Users include all first responders (Fire, Law Enforcement, EMS, 911 call takers, and Emergency Managers) - those that qualify as Primary Users pay the base rate without any added fees and always have priority and pre-emption over non-primary users.

Extended Primary Users include those public safety entities and individuals that do not qualify as "Primary" users, but frequently support the emergency response. Extended Primary Users may also subscribe to an additional feature, First Priority, and for this they will always have priority over commercial users. Additionally, in the event of an emergency in which they are playing an important role, Extended Primary Users subscribed to First Priority service can be temporarily "uplifted" by a Primary User or Administrator and be given priority and preemption similar to that of a Primary User.
 

Verizon Service - Enhanced Solutions for Public Safety

Verizon has committed to supporting the communication needs of public safety agencies. Verizon has invested over $126B in network infrastructure since 2000. Learn about more solutions on the Verizon Public Safety website. For State Contract pricing of Verizon Telecommunication Services, refer to the Verizon OGS contract.

 

Responder Private Core

Verizon provides access to its Responder Private Core at no additional cost to qualified public safety customers. The Responder Private Core segregates public safety data traffic from the Verizon commercial and consumer network. This means public safety agencies don’t have to compete with commercial users to share and receive texts, documents, video and more even during times of network congestion.

 

Preemption and Deployable Assets

Verizon leverages Preemption during peak demand and emergency situations to automatically and temporarily reallocate network resources to designated users. Verizon has a fleet of deployable assets available at the request of public safety for planned incidents and emergency situations.