Thursday, September 7, 2017

AT&T, thus FirstNet, are losing their grip of Public Safety?

Have you read the latest from Urgent entitled “AT&T’s Sambar apologizes to NPSTC, describes core-to-core interoperability as a ‘slippery slope’”(Sep 7, 2017 Donny Jackson  | Urgent Communications)

How do we go from statements made by Sambar most notably in testimony during a U.S. Senate hearing that AT&T “is not aware of a single agreed-upon definition for public-safety grade” to “I’m going to apologize on comments that I made that may have been misleading or may have made anyone … think that AT&T was not 100% committed to public safety and to fulfilling public-safety grade as FirstNet has delivered it to us,” Sambar said during a NPSTC meeting.So, I want to make that commitment to all of you, in addition to the apology. If my comments misled or concern anyone, please know that we are absolutely 100% committed.”

Damage Control -- It seems to me that someone is backpedaling on some statements made to the Senate –CYA—and trying to re-build some bridges. How can one possibly not be aware of the NPSTC definition of “Public Safety Grade”, and its subsequent push for standardization, when it was clearly laid out in the Request for Proposal? Maybe someone was asleep at the wheel, or maybe someone was just ignoring it as a minor issue and hoping it goes away? In fact, the statements made shed a lot of light on the subject at hand – how is AT&T going to deploy, and pay for, truly hardened sites across the Nation that will meet the standards defined in the RFP? Mark my words, it will not happen with only $6.5 Billion, so someone will have to pay for it. The real question is who? AT&T and its shareholders or the taxpayers? Anyone want to make a wager? ;)

Sambar actually hinted at the AT&T version of “Public Safety Grade” when stating the following:

“Their [central-office personnel’s] job, with a shop vac, was to make sure that water didn’t get into the central office,” Sambar said. “When we put them in there, we caulked the doors, we taped the doors and we put sandbags on the doors, from the outside, so these guys were essentially locked in a vault—they did a fantastic job and made a heroic effort.”

The reason they had to put sandbags down is because the site was “Public Safety Grade” in the first place.

“While AT&T is committed to providing public safety with reliable service, the carrier cannot be expected to harden all elements of its network to highest levels of the public-safety-grade definition”, Sambar said.

I have to say that I’m a bit surprised by AT&T in this regard. One, for the fact that they would even consider such remediation as “Public Safety Grade” and; two, putting out such a statement without vetting it first for publication. It just makes them look bad. They can, and do, perform much better than this statement conveys. In the follow-on statement, you have to make note of the statement “carrier cannot be expected to harden all elements of its network”. This is in fact true, a carrier can’t and it won’t – why? Because “their network” is based on commercial services and paid for by its shareholders. A carrier can be expected, especially one that signed up and won the RFP, to harden all the assets of the network as required – why? Because this network belongs to Public Safety not AT&T. The fact remains, of which I have pointed out on numerous occasions, you can’t mix the commercial operations with those of Public Safety, they are two totally different business cases. In fact, I stated this from day one back in 2012. This network has to be separated from the AT&T commercial network, else you have no Public Safety, or “Public Safety Grade” network. Let’s move on though.

Out of one side of their mouths they state that “Our strategy is to deploy Band 14 everywhere we need the capacity, as well as at all new sites in rural areas”, but then make another statement saying, that public-safety grade is a very broad and very vast term.”  Even in the Senate hearing in July, Sambar stated that AT&T would deploy equipment that operates on Band 14 spectrum—as well as AWS-3 and WCS spectrum—only in areas where the carrier needed additional capacity. Sambar even went further to clarify and double down that “we’re not just going to put Band 14 on those towers; we’re going to put our commercial bands on those towers, as well.” How does mixing the physical infrastructure of commercial service, which is based on much less stringent requirements, compliment a secure network solution that is required? The fact is, it doesn’t.

Once the networks are physically located on the same infrastructure, then all the “Public Safety Grade” and secure communication solutions go out the door.  The only way to meet the requirements of “Public Safety Grade” is through isolating the physical infrastructure as well as any access to network traffic. Is it realistic to think you can get a “truly hardened” network, probably not, but the idea is to push for complete protection no matter what disaster, network breach, bettering what any commercial complicated deals have to offer. As it stands, deploying a “Public Safety Grade” network on top of a commercial network, is in fact, not a “Public Safety Grade” network at all. In the end we aren’t talking about Vodka and Coke, we’re talking about Oil and Water.

I also found the following statement to be kind of funny, but also kind of tacky.

“Are we all comfortable that some of them use Chinese hardware in their network?” Sambar said. “Are we comfortable interoperating with cores that use Chinese equipment, because we told FirstNet that we’re not using any Chinese-made equipment in our core? If we interoperate with one core, do we need to make it available to any reputable wireless company’s core?”

Name one network that has an “American Made” piece of networking equipment? You may find it in some of the Cisco gear within the enterprise network, or Motorola gear for mobility handsets, but all the RAN and the network layers are driven by foreign companies. So, what will AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have to say when the Chinese buy-out Ericsson? Or maybe Nokia? What then? You can’t make such statements when your own network runs just as much a risk of foreign exposure as the company you are talking about. To me, that was a cheap shot. The fact is, that America has not made a single “Made in America” piece of communications gear in years, except for such things as Motorola, but even Motorola didn’t actually start as an American company. Open up any access router and tell me how many “Made in Taiwan” labels you find.

A lot of people may say that I’m against AT&T. But, the truth is I’m not. AT&T is doing what AT&T does, it provides commercial services. What AT&T is trying to do is fit a square peg into a round hole with Public Safety. In the end, AT&T will never be able to deploy “Public Safety Grade” on its commercial network, not without taking a huge hit on capital expenditures and its bottom line. If FirstNet, the board and the organization, really understood this from the start, then we wouldn’t be in the predicament that AT&T and Public Safety are in. Rivada’s solution to New Hampshire is a perfect example of what really needs to happen. FirstNet should have sought out a partner on the operations of the network nationwide, not try and force a national carrier into becoming a construction company for its new network, then allow the States to build their own networks using their own Public Private Partnerships. But what the hell do I know I’m….

Just some guy and a blog…..

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