Monday, April 3, 2017

FirstNet and AT&T - the deal can be exposed? Do you really think deploying PSBN on a commercial network is a good thing?

So, finally, are getting past all the paid marketing material of the FirstNet and AT&T partnership. Now comes the time to really start analyzing the deal. There are so many areas to consider in this regard, I think we need to make a chart just to explain the core of what is going on. More on the chart later…maybe. 

What we know so far is the fact that AT&T has existing commercial grade infrastructure and wants the D-Block spectrum; AT&T has the need to upgrade and retrofit; FirstNet has opened the door for AT&T to use the D-Block Band-14 spectrum that was allocated to Public Safety; FirstNet also has access to the $6.5 Billion budgeted for the PSBN; and we also know that Public Safety doesn’t have their own network and are calling for a “Public Safety Grade Network” commissioned on the D-Block spectrum. Knowing what we have, what we need, and how we need to get there is the next step.

AT&T only has a couple of ways of deploying this infrastructure, but all their ideas stem from the use of their existing commercial grade infrastructure to host it…unless AT&T wants to spend the capital money to build an entire new infrastructure that meets Public Safety Grade. FirstNet is offering the $6.5 Billion to AT&T to help cover the build, but we all know that $6.5 Billion doesn’t even come close to building the “public safety grade network”, let alone try and cover all the rural areas and build its required long-term operational datacenters, NOCs and service offerings.  So if FirstNet doesn’t have the cash to fund such solutions, and the Act calls for complete “self-funding” and “self-sustainment” then who will pay? This is where the partnership starts to fall apart.

Regardless of what AT&T was going to do with FirstNet, AT&T already had plans to upgrade and install new infrastructure for the next 10-years. AT&T wants to upgrade facilities, deploy into AWS, as well as employ their 5G service offerings. AT&T was already forecasting a $45 Billion capital expenditure program for the next 10-years to accomplish those desires. Now comes along FirstNet who is willing to give them an additional 6.5 Billion, and some pristine spectrum, if AT&T would include FirstNet’s Public Safety Offering in their 10-year plan and allow “preemption”.

The difference between “commercial grade” and “public safety grade”, are two drastically different solutions. Long story short, commercial grade is designed to maximize revenue from commercially provided services, thus is designed to accommodate low-overheads and minimalistic characteristics of service infrastructure. This is why their networks go down during catastrophic events. They really don't care it the network goes down as long as they can fix it in a relative fixed timeframe. The carriers budget for this type of thing all the time. 

“Public safety grade” is a network solution that employs all the hardened features of a secure and hardened infrastructure to isolate, protect, and sustain operations during times of stress or disasters. A “public safety grade” network does not consider the revenue aspects to be the end-all for the deployment of services -- public safety is the primary factor of deploying a “public safety grade” network. So why would anyone believe that combining a commercial grade operation with a public safety grade operation would work? One is for profit at any cost, one is thievery, and yet another is for greed.

We can sugarcoat all the hoopla we want, but the decision surrounding the deployment of a “public safety grade” solution into a commercial platform is ludicrous and seeps of the nefarious intentions to employ the fear of time to enforce one's view. All FirstNet has done is create a sensation of fear among its Public Safety leadership in that the AT&T FirstNet partnership is the only viable solution to deploying the Public Safety Broadband Network...that’s if they want it fast and consistent across all service areas. Not true!

People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons. – Zig Ziglar

The entire offering of the AT&T and FirstNet deal stinks of collusion and self-endowed confidence based on career indulgent insight. The power of those few members that drive the carrier relationship, thus the carrier only way to succeed, have seeped into all the crevices of the Board and the top leadership of the Administration who are signing off on a deal they really know nothing about. The fact is that the leadership within the Trump Administration hasn’t been involved in FirstNet since its inception and frankly rely on a bunch of lawyers and FirstNet telling what a great deal this is. As someone once said, “what a bunch of bullarky!”

There has been no opposition to FirstNet’s offering except for some little blogger who calls himself “just some guy and a blog”. How can such a little guy in this world compete with such a behemoth of overly contorted federal bureaucracy? I will let you know when I do. How anyone can make such a blessing of an award based on such an asinine solution is way beyond me. What FirstNet is pitching is the selling sea water to the lost city of Atlantis. 

I have been in the carrier and telecom industry for more than 30 years, and if you had asked me to consider such a deal, I would have flat out bawled “no way, are you kidding me?” But what has a 30-year veteran of the telecom space got against a lawyer and a carrier executive whose intentions are just to take the spectrum? Why you ask? Why would a carrier executive and some lawyers think that 20-Mhz of spectrum is just too much for Public Safety? Their benevolent attitude of selling snake-oil to the needy derives from the notion that they know more about what Public Safety needs than Public Safety itself. I find it disheartening to watch those, like Harlen McEwen and others, who fought so hard and for so long to get the spectrum allocated to Public Safety only to be bedazzled and swooned into thinking that such a deal should even be considered.

Let’s get simple with this with this notion of salesmanship. There is a lot of talk about preemption. Let’s consider what preemption will mean in the context of what FirstNet is trying to sell. Preemption is the idea that a Public Safety person can be talking on a SMART Phone or tablet and be allowed to take priority over everyone else on the network when they choose too. That sounds really good, but only touches the “oooo wow” side of this solution. AT&T plans are to allow First Responders, note that I did not say Secondary Responders, to preempt any calls on its commercial network for the deal. If AT&T is supposed to deploy on the Band-14 spectrum, for Public Safety, then why would Public Safety need any preemption on their own Band-14 network? Unless, AT&T is just saying they can preempt calls on the commercial network. But if the band-14 network is deployed throughout the nation, why would Public Safety need the commercial networks? I mean, let’s get real, how many local Sheriff Deputies end up needing their radios to work with a Police Officer 1500 miles away? I can understand the need to get LMR to talk consistently, but for broadband the option already exists. Regardless, if the network standard is to deploy on Band-14 nationwide, then naturally they all will be able to use the same network anywhere they choose. But, what happens if you mix in the commercial network usage and why? I mean it’s nice to surf the Internet, but is it really necessary? If an emergency happens, and if the Band-14 network is up and running, why would a First Responder need carrier connectivity? Their really is no reason because adjoining States that deploy on the same Band-14 solution will, in fact, have interoperability naturally. 

The solution FirstNet is boasting about for Public Safety, is that Public Safety will have their own Band-14 network, which sounds good, but in fact is to be deployed on existing AT&T infrastructure. Doesn’t this kind of defeat the purpose of having a Public Safety Network? I mean all Public Safety agencies already deploy on commercial networks today and all have experienced downtimes, crashed 911 services, and outages due to over utilization and commercial congestion; then you add on top of that an earthquake, fire or hurricane? We have all heard about the commercial infrastructure networks and their disastrous functionality when the time comes for preemptive type service, I mean, that was the whole reason Public Safety wanted their own network in the first place. Wasn't it?

Preemption goes a lot deeper than just allowing for “prioritized preemption” on the network. In order for AT&T to meet the obligations that Public Safety requires, then what about prioritized tower placement of antennas? What happens to a crowded existing antenna array? Does someone get kicked off? Who? What about Hut placement? Does FirstNet get their own Huts at the base of the towers? If not, how will they get prioritized accommodations within the existing Rackspace or power consumption schedule? If they do get their own Hut solutions, then where and how will it be placed within the confines of the existing tower location footprint? Do we expand the footprint? If so who pays for that? How will the power at the site be increase to accommodate a new Hut, or even a new antenna array for Band-14? Even the racks will increase the air conditioning loads for the site, thus costing more in the capital budget…who will pay for that? How about security? This still doesn’t address the fact that IT’S STILL THE SAME NETWORK! It doesn’t matter how much preemption power you may have -- on anyone’s network -- if it gets knocked out by a tornado or hurricane the chances you will get priority and preemption go to zero. Why? You can have all the prioritized service on a network but what good is it if the network isn’t working -- heck, everyone will have priority service then.

Security will also be a big deal at an existing commercial site. At any given tower location, you may have 4-5 different carriers hoisted on the tower. Each carrier having their own hut and rack space requirements all tied into the same power base. To install, manage, replace, and upgrade those tower locations you may see 6-12 different contracted vendors all coming for differing reasons to the site. All these individuals need to have access to these sites for their own needs and for servicing their own carrier partners. I mean even the crew that cuts the grass has to have access. Given the nature of the immigration problems we face today, anybody want to bet on how dysfunctional the clearing process is in place today for anyone that wants, needs, or requires access the sites just to cut the grass? It really is a whole industry onto itself. It’s quite easy to just insert a small USB dongle into slot on a transmission card of a live cell site if you have unfettered access. Even if you just have access to the chain link fence, you can still break into the facilities with ample time to inject your agenda on the site. All you need is access to one location to infect the entire network. Why target a big central city macro tower location, when I can just roll up onto a remote cell site out in the middle of open farm fields? Better yet, why not access a Micro-site on the side of a light pole in a neighborhood?

Commercial tower sites lack tremendously when it comes to the physical and monitored secure functionalities. The site locations are all over the place when it comes to site security – some are tight, some not, some you wouldn’t even consider. We’ve deployed antennas in church steeples, thus needed access to the church. We’ve even deployed antennas onto wood poles at the edge of a farm field. How about a 110-foot tower site on a school football field? You name it, we have a solution. How do you start to track access to over 50,000 sites? How do you track who cuts the grass when the crews changes every time the INS or ICE representatives eat lunch across the street? We’ve even had sites where the cables were chewed by cows or severed by rats. This is the nature of the commercial carrier business. Just get the service up and start generating revenue is the standing motto. They could care less that Hamid, who cuts the grass, comes from Pakistan; or that Carlos is a life-time member of MS-13. If they can get the grass cut for cheap, then do it.

With all the talk about Cyber Security and restricted access to those that wish to do harm to Americans, how can we not deploy the Public Safety Broadband Network onto its own infrastructure…I mean if your serious that is? The FirstNet AT&T partnership will not even come close to meeting the objectives of securing the Public Safety Network -- the way it should be deployed. In fact, the partnership will only continue to confuse and expose Americans to “other” ways of attacking our way of life, while at the same time allowing AT&T to enhance its profitability on the backs of Public Safety and the taxpayer. Could you imagine if the Department of Defense deployed its highly classified networks on any open commercial carrier grade network? Ultimately this is exactly what FirstNet is doing. The lack of insight within FirstNet into how these networks are funded, designed, built and managed is way beyond my understanding. I mean come on, if this is a State’s choice of how they want to Opt-In and run their Public Safety Communications needs, then maybe they deserve the solution and all that it brings. If this is the case, then why doesn’t AT&T just open up “preemption” today on the existing contracts? Wouldn’t it save a lot of heartaches and headaches?

Do not be fooled by all the flowering talk of protective measures to accommodate Public Safety needs. Once things get rolling, you are going to have hundreds of people trying to conquer the mixture of a privately needed network on a commercial platform. Don’t think for one minute that things won’t get screwed up and that people will be trying to fit a square peg into their existing life of a round hole. The only way to insure you will have the best Public Safety Broadband Network is by doing it yourself at the State level – Opting Out!

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.” (Ronald Reagan,August 12th, 1986)

Just some guy and a blog….

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