Monday, March 18, 2013

Addressing Concerns and the Next Steps for FirstNet

Last week I was able to make a preliminary presentation of my Public Private Partnership model to a few of the FirstNet Board members. I wanted to address some of their concerns that were brought up, which I believe are not concerns we should be concerned about -- which just the thought of bringing it up is disconcerting. ;)

The first topic of "concern" was that “the network has to be one overall network”. This one statement is confusing a lot of people. The statement should be reworded to say, “the network has to be one overall private network”. People are being confused into believing that technically, and tactically, there will be 56 separate networks designed and built per the State’s needs -- that’s actually not true. We've been building the same type of backhaul infrastructure for more than 20 40 years now and it’s been deployed in almost all of the major vertical industries the same way. Plus, we only have a few vendor solutions for LTE, so it will be theoretically impossible to have a bunch of drastically different networks. The only real threat we have to the overall national private LTE network is the introduction of multiple technology layers; as was laid out in the first conceptual presentation by Craig Farrell.

If we start introducing satellite, and the inequity of carrier based network designs, then the threat of 56 different networks is real.  My suggestion would be to focus on the LTE and its backhaul considerations only. The real issue will come from the rural coverage areas, but with my proposed P3 model we can provide coverage by including Utilities, Transportation, Agriculture, Forestry and others.  If we still have voids within the network design then we should start considering -- and only then -- satellite-based backhaul technologies (I can safely guess that the carrier solution will be out of the question). I can think of one State that will have a hard time getting the coverage needed if it wants to meet the 99% coverage requirement – that being Alaska. Alaska’s solution will come from a modified P3 arrangement between the Feds, the State and the private equity team, which I can address later. But for now I want to reiterate the point that by NOT focusing purely on the LTE and backhaul design solutions we will come face-to-face with Craig Farrell’s original design concept…. again.
FirstNet has said the public safety broadband network will "cover every square meter of the United States," noted Chris McIntosh, statewide interoperability coordinator for the commonwealth of Virginia. "They must do that with a network that greatly exceeds the design specifications and redundancies of commercial networks, but with a fraction of the resources the private sector has currently expended on a network that only covers two-thirds of the country," he said. (David Perera, Fierce Government IT, 2013)
“What are the next steps?” The importance will remain with FirstNet in that it must set the ground rules and establish (which it already has) the technical requirements that the network has to be built upon. That would include the approved vendor solutions, of which there are only a limited few.
The only vendor solutions available for an LTE deployment are Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and IP Wireless (General Dynamics). But NSN is an FDD design, which means more physical-footprint of the design and increased cost. The IP Wireless solution, by General Dynamics, has not been deployed in a carrier environment (At least not that I’m aware of). This leaves only ALU and Ericsson. Huawei is out due to its Chinese ownership.
Following the technical requirements all that needs to be done is for FirstNet to explain how it believes the business relationship between the State and FirstNet needs to be conducted. To do this FirstNet needs to adopt the overall Public Private Partnership model and how it can be executed at the State level in coordination with its desires. FirstNet can then indicate (on an individual State basis) its ownership responsibilities as laid out in the Feds stake of the Public Private Partnership that is associated with the States portion of the P3 investment (in my model 49% would go to the private equity investors and the remaining 51% would remain with the State/FirstNet). Unless the Feds just want to see a leasing payment for the use of the spectrum allocated to the State, which could actually be more beneficial for FirstNet in its ease of adaptation. I think the bigger question here is whether or not FirstNet can collect revenue for itself, or does it have to reinvest in the network as well?

The final concern surrounds the perception that “if the State’s were to build their own part of the overall private network then we would have 56 simultaneously deployed networks”. This is not true either. At first it should be just a chosen few States to start with -- maybe one or two. Once the P3 model has been instituted, and proven successful, then we can start to establish a timeline of phased approaches; which can be accomplished in regional simultaneously builds. Such programmatic models and scheduling aspects are nothing new to the industry and are quite common with the commercial carriers who they themselves run simultaneous turf markets of LTE deployments. The tactical and technical complexities are not actually the issue (including "CORE" relationships) . The issue will be the financial governance control. Once we have successfully proven the P3 financial implementation of the programs, then we can easily adopt the same concept to the other States; thus the reason for starting with just one or two States.
"Who builds the network and who operates the network, that, I think, is open and negotiable," Ginn told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology March 14th, 2013.FirstNet oversees creation of a nationwide broadband network for use by first responders; it currently is in the process of developing a network architecture. "The network will not be a network of networks". Ginn said, stating that "multiple architectures would challenge interoperability, as well as unitary standards for network security, reliability and maintenance".  (David Perera, Fierce Government IT, 2013Observation: This runs counter to the conceptual design laid out by Craig Farrell.
It’s important to remember that the tactical design, construction and deployment of the network has to be done by the State. The State is better positioned to interface directly with all the local resources that will deliver the physical network construction and installation (else the cost of construction will be to high). There is no way around that. Even if FirstNet were to bring in an overall program manager -- the entire national build-out would still need to execute locally.

What I carried away from this conversation last week is that the passion to build the network is strong; as is the lack of experience in deploying broadband solutions. Take it from a 25 year veteran of the telecommunications industry.... the technical deployment of this network is nothing new; we have been deploying these types of broadband networks for many years -- to include LTE for the last 5.  In short, we are facing an Abilene paradox! Everyone is heading for the same place only doing it on separate paths.

Just some guy and a blog….

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