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LTE net­works for emer­gency ser­vices


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.

Dig­i­tal div­i­dend

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

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