First responder using a radio from an ambulance

FirstNet offers a look into the makings of nationwide public safety network

The independent authority overseeing development of a nationwide broadband network for first responders has begun defining its strategy with a suite of Requests for Information that offers a look at the technologies needed to provide advanced public safety-grade networking services and infrastructure.


FirstNet was established as an independent authority within the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. It holds the license for the band of 700 MHz spectrum set aside for the network that is intended to meet the needs of more than 60,000 federal, state, local and tribal public safety agencies.

The current vision for the network is a nationwide backbone based on open, non-proprietary standards and commercially available equipment. The standard selected is Long Term Evolution (LTE) for high-speed wireless communications, now being rolled out by commercial carriers for cellular and Internet services.

The network would provide a broadband complement to existing land mobile radio and interoperable P25 radio services now used by law enforcement, fire and rescue and other public safety agencies. FirstNet initially would focus on providing mobile IP data connectivity, but eventually it also could provide an alternative for traditional voice radio services.

In the first stage of the project, FirstNet members have been meeting with state and local officials to determine needs for a first responder network and to become familiar with current programs for implementing local and regional IP law enforcement networks. The next step is to evaluate current business and technology capabilities of commercial service providers.

The RFIs, released July 10, are initial market research by the First Responder Network Authority for data centers, transmission and transport as well as network service platforms for the proposed network. The authority also is investigating industry’s ability to provide additional mobile communications services including:

  • Priority of service for first responders on commercial networks. 
  • Pre-emption, to give first responders first access to congested networks.
  • Home network treatment for roaming users.
  • Class of service and quality of service treatment for first responder users.
  • Application security architectures.

There is no immediate timeline for awarding contracts or building out the network. The deadline for responding to the RFIs is Aug. 30. The RFIs include templates for submissions along with instructions for responding.

The data center RFI seeks information about potential data center space, along with supporting ecosystems. FirstNet is looking at national and regional data centers with backup sites, as well as switching, routing and transport hubs to complement and link national cell site coverage, provide Internet connectivity and link to local first responder networks. Functional areas FirstNet is interested in include, in addition to general company information: Data center locations, structure and availability of space; power; transmission and cabling; security and business continuity; and support services.

The transmission and transport RFI  seeks information about potential core network transmission offerings. Functional categories being investigated include transport reference architecture and managed services; Ethernet and Ethernet exchanges; mobile backhaul services and architecture; lambda multi-wavelength optical networking; and dark fiber. The authority also is looking for experience with LTE network services.

The network service platform RFI  seeks information about potential platforms for the network. It asks for information about services including IP Multimedia Systems, messaging, location, presence, Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast System, identity management and device management. Core services for such a platform include push-to-talk, voice over LTE, Rich Communications Services, and mission-critical voice direct mode. The RFI also is interested in interconnection with Next Generation 911 services and the Commercial Mobile Alert System.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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