LTE networks for emergency services
THE US IS ON THE POINT OF DECIDING WHICH COMPANY WILL WIN THE CONTRACT TO BUILD A NATIONAL LTE EMERGENCY NETWORK. IN THE UK, WORK IS ALREADY TAKING PLACE. BUT THE RISKS ARE HIGH, WRITES ALAN BURKITT-GRAY
On each side of the Atlantic, in the US and the UK, there are ambitious programmes to develop nationwide LTE mobile networks for emergency services.
These will essentially be wholesale networks – because the Firstnet system in the US and the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) in the UK will provide services for hundreds of first responders.
The aim is similar: in each country police officers – including officers from more than one force – will be able to talk to firefighters and other emergency workers during a crisis.
They will become critical users of the networks, potentially without the ability to move to a rival when and if the quality of service falls. They will be in the public eye, especially in times of disaster.
They will also have access to modern mobile technology. In the UK, the current system, Airwave, dates from the turn of the century, with limited data capabilities. It is used by 412 different services.
In the US, where services are arranged by city and county, there is no standard system. A total of 18,000 police departments and 27,000 fire departments – and all their officers – will have to be connected to Firstnet.
World Trade Center
The idea for Firstnet dates back to the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001, when police officers in helicopters were unable to talk to firefighters in the World Trade Center. In August this year, almost 15 years later, the Firstnet board approved a budget for the fiscal year 2017 of $6.58 billion, almost all of which will be spent on contract awards.
A few weeks earlier, Sue Swenson, chair of the Firstnet board, said: “We have a clear focus to ensure the partnership is successful starting day one. Our goal is to hit the ground running with our partner to deliver the best solution to public safety and the States.”
In the UK, the government chose EE in December 2015 to connect 300,000 emergency service personnel from 2020 with a 4G network that will replace the Airwave system that has been in operation since 2000. Since the start of 2016, EE has been owned by BT.
In the US, Firstnet is examining a number of tenders for a 25-year deal to run its Nationwide Public Safety Broadband
Network (NPSBN). In October the organisation told one of the bidders, pdvwireless, that it would no longer consider its proposals. The other two companies known to be in contention are AT&T and Rivada Mercury.
AT&T’S chief strategy officer John Donovan said in early January at a Citibank conference in Las Vegas that the company would pursue the opportunity “aggressively”. He said: “The timing of the spectrum, the position of the spectrum, the customer opportunity that comes with it – it is a rare event.”
John Stephens, AT&T’S CFO, confirmed the bid during a second-quarter earnings call in July. “While we are not going to elaborate, AT&T has applied to be a participant in the broadcast spectrum auction and has also submitted a bid in the Firstnet process that is currently underway,” he said. However, AT&T has stuck to that determination not to elaborate.
The spectrum question is important, because the US government has reserved 20MHZ of spectrum in the 700MHZ band for Firstnet. That is digital dividend spectrum from the top of the UHF band once used for broadcast television. The TV services digitised and were moved to the lower channels in the band, leaving the space for mobile.
By the very nature of emergency services, that 20MHZ does not need to be reserved for them 24 hours a day. When the blue lights are not flashing, the operator that wins the Firstnet deal will be able to use the spectrum for commercial 4G business.
Rivada Mercury is the other declared bidder. It is a little known company with some powerful names behind it. It is backed by Rivada Networks, a company chaired by Irish entrepreneur Declan Ganley.
Partners in Rivada Mercury, with Rivada Networks, include Ericsson, Fujitsu, Intel Security and Nokia, along with infrastructure construction company Black & Veatch and public safety specialist Harris.
The CEO is Joe Euteneuer. Until 2015 he was CFO of Sprint. He joined Rivada – also as CO-COO of Rivada Networks – earlier this year and set about recruiting a number of former colleagues to the linked companies.
He says: “The Rivada Mercury team is comprised of proven technology companies – each leaders in their field with unmatched technology capabilities and experience serving the public safety community with innovative and forward-leaning solutions.”
Former Sprint CTO Stephen Bye is now CTO of Rivada Networks. Other former Sprint executives who have joined the Euteneuer team are Pierre Elisseeff, Peter Campbell, Bill Esrey and Todd Rowley.
Elisseeff, previously CFO of Sprint’s wholesale business unit, is now Rivada Mercury’s CFO. Campbell is its chief information officer, a position he also held at Sprint, where he oversaw the upgrade of its LTE network across the US. Rowley is senior VP of business development, the role he had at Sprint for 16 years.
Esrey joined Rivada Mercury as senior VP of wholesale and business development, having been VP of operations in Sprint’s global wholesale business. In the 1980s his father, William Esrey, was chairman and CEO of United Telecom, which he renamed Sprint, turning it from a rural operator into a global business.
Dynamic spectrum arbitrage
Rivada Networks is developing a technology called dynamic spectrum arbitrage – tiered priority access, which will allow wireless broadband capacity to be dynamically bought and sold on a wholesale basis in what the company calls “a fully competitive on-demand process” to competing operators.
That is clearly the relevance for Firstnet. If Rivada Networks wins the deal, it will not only have to share the spectrum between the different first responders, but it will also be able to offer slices dynamically to any commercial operator, on a wholesale basis, so long as it can whip the spectrum away as soon as one of the emergency services needs it.
It’s no coincidence that, of the four big mobile operators in the US, Sprint led the way in offering wholesale deals to mobile virtual network operators (MVNOS). It has the largest selection of Lte-based MVNOS in the US. It owns the US version of Virgin Mobile and is one of Google’s partners – along with T-mobile US – in Google Fi, its 4G and Wifi mobile project.
That means the wholesale team in Sprint has a vast amount of experience in working with other mobile networks – and many of them are now at Rivada.
CTO Bye says: “America’s public safety community needs what Rivada Networks proposing, and as with all such noble causes, others too will benefit. The innovation that Rivada’s open access wireless market will deliver has the potential to unleash the full power of next-generation wireless networks in a way that was previously difficult to imagine. It is a tremendous opportunity, and I am looking forward to getting started.
According to Euteneuer, the company aiming to build “a dedicated, resilient, reliable, and self-sustaining network for America’s first responders”. He adds: “Such a challenge requires not just the innovative solutions Rivada already has – it requires proven leaders to fortify our team. In Stephen, I am delighted to have secured just such a leader.”
As well as CEO Ganley, the board includes a former deputy secretary and COO of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and a former under-secretary for national protection and programmes at DHS; a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US; and a former Chief of the Defence Staff of the UK. They will be powerfully connected advocates.
Meanwhile, in the UK, BT’S mobile arm EE is busy building its emergency services network (ESN). The National Audit Office (NAO) in September says that the benefits of the service over 17 years will be £3.7 billion.
Unlike Firstnet in the US, the UK will use EE’S commercial 4G network, though EE will have to invest heavily in base stations to achieve 97% national coverage, to match that of Airwave. EE currently covers 70% of the UK’S area.
The ESN will have features that are familiar to emergency workers, including push-to-talk. However, the NAO said that the project was “inherently high risk” because the technology had not been used before.
The blue-light services are due to start moving over from September 2017. Peak transition will be mid-2018 and it due to be complete by the end of 2019.
Back in the US, Firstnet is expected to announce its contractor in early November. The risks on both sides of the Atlantic are high: these designs will be pushing wholesale technology to its limits. is is
We aim to buid a dedicated, resilient, reliable and self-sustaining network for America’s first reponders” Joe Euteneuer, CEO, Rivada Networks