December 8, 2017
In 2012, Congress passed legislation providing both radio spectrum and initial funding for FirstNet, a nationwide network of wireless broadband, for use by public safety agencies. After completing a Request for Proposal (RFP) process, AT&T was selected as the prime contractor to build FirstNet. Each state and U.S. territory has the option to opt-out of FirstNet and use another contractor for the Radio Access Network (RAN), but these alternative RANs must adhere to standards and be completely interoperable with the primary network. The question of how to test for this interoperability remains open, as is the question of who will define the interoperability standard.
Governors of 50 states and six U.S. territories have until the end of this month to opt-out or opt-in. If they do nothing, this results in an automatic opt-in. Not surprisingly, competitors to AT&T, namely Verizon Wireless and Rivada Networks, have been making the case for states to use alternative RANs.
What will happen if a state chooses an alternative RAN? Because interoperability is a core mission for the FirstNet project, alternative RANs must be tested to ensure 100% compatibility with the opt-in network. Regardless of who authors it, an interoperability standard will have to be written and approved by stakeholders, likely under the guidance of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Despite the fact that it leads and controls the 4G/LTE standard on which FirstNet is based, it is highly unlikely that 3GPP, a global organization, will take on definition of FirstNet interoperability – this will end up being a U.S. effort.
Once an interoperability standard is defined, a test plan will be developed. This will require an extensive amount of laboratory and field work to ensure that the alternative RAN’s LTE uplink and downlink will work with user equipment from the opt-in network. Testing of user equipment in Direct Mode (which allows user-to-user communication, without a network) will also be done.
Investment in Test
The level of effort in this cannot be underestimated. States that believe they will save money by using an alternative RAN must factor in the added expense of people and management needed to realize those savings. Reducing those costs will require an investment in test equipment that can multiply the effectiveness of field test personnel and allow them to test more sites in less time.
Fortunately, Anritsu already has portable tools to field test FirstNet. The LMR Master™ S412E Land Mobile Radio Modulation Analyzer (figure 1) was designed from Day One to field test both digital narrowband and LTE systems.
We invite you to review our thought leadership on this topic by reading our Effectively Testing 700 MHz Public Safety LTE Broadband and P25 Narrowband Networks and The Impact of LTE on the LMR Industry white papers, as well as an application note entitled Receiver Blocking Analysis.
You can also visit the Anritsu website for additional materials, as well as contact information to learn more about how the LMR Master handheld analyzer can help make FirstNet a reality.