Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Vendor Negotiations for the LA-RICS LTE PSBN project -- First, a history lesson of LA-RICS, from an observational point-of-view!

It was recently announced, by Pat Mallon in an Urgent Communications article, that vendor negotiations have commenced with two respondents to build 252, 70-foot, greenfield monopole locations throughout the Fire and Police stations of the LA basin. In order to fully comprehend what is going on, everyone needs to understand the history of the LA-RICS program.

Hear me out here. Much like the High Speed Rail program in California, there are many obstacles that impede the progress of getting anything done in California, let alone in the LA area. Some credit is due to Pat Mallon on his efforts to keep the ball rolling with the LA-RICS program, much like those that are pushing for the High Speed Rail Program. In my personal view California needs the high-speed rail solution, have you driven in LA lately, let alone have you tried to get on an airplane. Having traveled on the high-speed rail systems in many different countries, the United States is way behind. When overseas, I would much rather take the train any day over flying…. it’s so comfortable and quite, it’s like your gliding on a smooth surface of ice with absolutely no bumps. Technically though, even the High Speed Rail program in California will require the use of broadband technology – or LTE. Why not FirstNet, but that’s another article I wrote about last year, or the year before, I digress.

Getting back to LA-RICs: to summarize the history, the program was originally started as a BTOP LMR project, whereas Raytheon, and Motorola, were the finalist on the bids. Raytheon was actually selected as the awardee, but through some background work Motorola protested. The RFP was re-advertised due to some improper actions (not sure what they were) whereas Motorola and Raytheon competed again, and then came along Public Safety Broadband, or LTE.

Seeing the collision of the LTE and the LMR technologies, it was decided to bid the two programs under one umbrella (you might add that it also included over 600 buildings for DAS as well) while still using the BTOP grant, so Motorola and Raytheon competed again, only this time it was a voluminous RFP response that covered both an LMR and LTE design footprint. You should note, that it cost a lot of money for these vendors to put this information together, and it’s even harder when the economy isn’t doing so well. The contract went into negotiations and it was about to be awarded to Motorola when FirstNet stepped in. The FirstNet organization had differing opinions on what the BTOP should be used for, so the BTOP program was frozen, but only for the LTE portion.  So, once again Pat Mallon and the JPA (Joint Powers Authority) had to re-bid the RFP, but this time it was only for the LMR portion. They decided to separately bid the LTE portion, which should have been the decision in the first place, but who’s complaining?

Eventually Motorola and Raytheon were the only respondents for the LMR bid, in that no one else wanted to bid because of the long history behind the previous bids. Why compete for a bid when you know the vendor has been talking, negotiating, bidding and re-bidding the same design that was already approved some time ago? Makes the case for non-competitive practices if you ask me, but once again who’s paying attention. Then came the real bid everyone was interested in – the LTE Public Safety Broadband Network.

The RFP for the LMR was eventually awarded to Motorola over the initial awardee Raytheon. As you can imagine this caused some friction in the market, and made for a bad taste in the competitive framework, but, the JPA moved forward on Pat Mallon’s recommendation to re-bid the LTE portion as a separate program and awarded the LMR to Motorola.

The LTE portion of the LA-RICS program is 252 greenfield, 70-foot, monopole locations on Police and Fire station land, reasons being is that they believe leasing and zoning will go smoother. In reality though, leasing and zoning still has to go through local zoning boards anyway, even if the site is on Police and Fire station properties. In my opinion, a majority of the sites will not have an issue, but as is the case for site acquisitioning, you always have holdouts that create a massive amount of frustration and delay. Building the tower is easy…or is it? You should note, that more than 80% of the 252-site build-out has to do with construction and absolutely nothing to do with Public Safety, so why have a vendor as your contractor at risk? Shouldn't you be talking with a major construction company? Plus, it's usually not the sight of a tower that the City Councils are concerned about, it's usually the construction activity and impedance on traffic. Yet, another article I wrote about sometime ago.

The LA-RCIS program has to be completed by the end of 2015, or they risk losing their BTOP funding, which was conditionally released to LA, along with the use of the spectrum. Houston, anyone can see that we may have a problem here (no pun intended for our Harris County guys and gals). If everything goes as planned, and there are absolutely no issues to deal with, the program has to be awarded in the first quarter of 2014, or they risk impacting the timeline. We have to remember that we’re talking about 252 sites in the LA basin, in a 14-month schedule, that means you have to build, at a minimum, 21 sites a day to meet the goal of completion. That’s 21 different crews driving concrete around the LA area, hauling 70-foot towers on the back of semis, in the LA traffic, trenching dirt in a small confined space, which the base of these towers go 36 feet down into the earth and will take a minimum of a week to cure the concrete; 21 separate tower contractors to install the towers, install and connect the power; 21 crews of tower contractors to install the LTE antennas and conduct site clearance, LOS, coverage drive-by analysis; and a hoard of contractors trying to put together the innards of the control centers, data centers and the interoperability requirements that will be essential to getting the network up and running. I hope there are no issues with the RF analysis, especially when you are at a 70 foot ceiling on your coverage umbrella. Do you know how many buildings are taller than 70 feet? To give you a hint, it's roughly 14 feet per floor. What about all those Spruces, don't they sway in the wind?  If the RF analysis gets into trouble then the whole thing is shot.  But what could go wrong?

What happens if the City Council of Malibu doesn’t like having a 70-foot monopole within its city limits, regardless if it is on Police or Fire land? At a minimum it will take a month for each site to get its clearance… can someone add up the timeline for 252 sites that need to get clearance from local zoning boards? Remember we have concrete, 70-foot towers, backhauls and antennas that have to get installed within 14-months, and they can’t move, or be fabricated, without proper clearance, or, the “contractor at risk” is exposed to liabilities.

But, we are where we are, that is the LA-RICS program has two bidders -- supposedly. Who wants to bet on whether or not Motorola is one of those bidders? You should note that Raytheon dropped out of bidding a few months ago, so did Parsons, so did NSN, as well as Alcatel-Lucent, but why?  It’s just a guess, but through my observations that leaves General Dynamics (IPWireless LTE) and Motorola (Ericsson LTE) as the likely bidders. Good luck on the Terms and Conditions!

In the end, have you ever come across someone who wanted to just get something done so badly that they would go to any lengths to move it forward no matter what the obstacles may be, good or bad? To me it sounds a lot like a website. :)

I’m more than just someone who can point out the issues, I’m also a person who also has answers, but I've been beating this dead horse for sometime now. In my opinion the LA-RICS team needs to have FirstNet ease up on the time constraints, so that they can truly install a system and solution that works all the way around. They need time to relook at their cost model, the revenue approach and the means to sustain their solution for the long haul. We can’t just have another program, funded by the taxpayers, that starts to fall apart just because we think we have to have it done yesterday. Why yesterday? Why not today and tomorrow? There is a solution for California, we just need to get the right party to take control.

I am really hoping for the best for Pat Mallon, and his team, they are the first to build the PSBN solution for a full county, and the country. My suggestion would be to stand back for a moment, re-look at your objectives, and think like a broadband entrepreneurial for the LA area, it’s not an LMR network, and it’s way more than just Public Safety. This LTE network will eat your lunch when it comes to cost of maintenance and operations, let alone upgrades.

But who am I…

Just some guy and a blog….

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