I hear everyone talking about assets; assets this, assets that, we all like big assets we cannot lie. Or was that a song? It is easy to believe that existing assets are the way to go when considering the build for FirstNet. The reality of those assets being used is minimal. Allow me to explain…
There is more to the equation than just the technical aspect when considering a tower site. A typical cell site for a carrier is designed around 8-hour battery backup incase of outage, so all we need is to add more batteries or a diesel generator…right? Wrong, in actuality the main issues will not be the batteries, although is a pretty hefty cost item, the primary issue of FirstNet’s network will be security. Each site will require video and access controls; at least two orders of perimeter security; high mounting of equipment (best to be pole mounted); some cases floating platforms in flood plains; and redundant power sources. These are just a few. I think you get the message. I’m not even going into Cyber Security yet.
Even if the cell site -- owned by the carrier, tower company, or individual -- has all the batteries, and meets all the hardening aspects, how do you cut the carrier, tower company, or owner, off from accessing the secure site, where as their own contractors need to be cleared before the can enter the site, let alone the communication HUT? After all, in most cases we will be sharing those towers with multiple carriers. We can’t have some rouge contractor on the site implanting listening devices on the critical communication ingress and egress points. It’s bad enough the wireless signals have to be fully encrypted transmissions; we can’t take the risk on espionage, or sabotage, with someone accessing the site to penetrate within the perimeter of the communications topology…. let alone we haven’t even started talking about the centralized point of communications for the power grid. Anyone heard about the attacks on the electrical sub-stations in California? (Hackers want to exploit Power Grid) If anyone takes out the power grid, we're all doomed.
The fact of the matter is that even the very best existing tower asset realistically will not meet the standard, so we either save the money, time and heartache now and commit to a stand-alone, hardened, new tower site design, or we complicate it with a vetting process of thousands of existing assets when in the end they won’t meet standard anyway. Complicating the issue with existing assets is not going to help. That doesn’t mean we ignore those assets, it just means we have to take special care when considering them as viable assets for FirstNet. Just look at LA-RICS… there are plenty of commercial assets available, instead all the towers are new and placed on Police and Fire land. Which by the way, if the bid for LA-RICS was awarded at $179 Million, well then $179 Million / 232 towers = $770,000 a site. Just to put that into perspective, that’s 7 times the cost of a typical commercial cell-site. All the sites in LA were on Public Safety property and in a flat coverage zone of the LA basin. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what those numbers will look like in the rural mountains or forest covered settings of the United States. If the carriers can’t afford to build their own towers, at a $100K apiece, in the rural areas; why would we think FirstNet could do any better?
But then again I’m….
Just some guy and a blog….