1. What is FirstNet?
FirstNet, short for the First Responder Network Authority, is the governing body tasked with building and managing the first nationwide, high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety. FirstNet will provide a single interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety data communications.
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). FirstNet is governed by a 15-member board consisting of the Attorney General of the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and 12 members appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. The FirstNet Board is composed of representatives from public safety; local, state, and federal government; and the wireless communications industry.
Also, consistent with requisites of the statute, a Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) was created. The PSAC consists of 40 members who represent public safety organizations from all disciplines of public safety, as well as state, territorial, tribal and local governments. This advisory committee provides its advice to help ensure FirstNet delivers a network that meets the needs of public safety.
2. What is LTE?
LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. LTE is a mobile broadband standard and part of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) which covers cellular telecommunications, network technologies, and system specifications. This International standard is becoming the basis for all future mobile systems.
Because of its stability, flexibility, and ability to transmit high speed data, the FCC mandates the use of 3GPP standards-based LTE technologies for the build out of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). Adhering to this standard helps insure interoperability between systems and devices, and provides for a variety of infrastructure and device vendors.
3. Will the FirstNet replace my Land Mobile Radio (LMR) system?
No. The public safety broadband network will not replace LMR radio systems in the near future. This is because today’s LMR networks support push-to-talk, direct mode, and emergency call functionality. In addition, public safety users typically communicate one-to-many, instead of one-to-one. Current mobile voice communications on cellular service do not offer these functionalities and standards for mission-critical Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE) are still under development. Until VoLTE can meet public safety standards, it will not replace LMR systems.
4. When will mission-critical voice be available for the FirstNet users?
FirstNet can’t predict the arrival of mission‐critical voice in part because the standards are still under development. The standards work will determine the functionality and performance requirements for mission‐critical Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE). FirstNet is actively involved in the standards‐setting process and the industry at large is working to accelerate the development of this new worldwide standard.