FirstNet Clarifies Position on LTE Core Use in Opt-Out States, Says it Also Applies to Extended Primary Groups

By Stephanie Waye FirstNet, NPSBN With 0 Comments

November 29, 2017

By Donny Jackson for Urgent Communications

States or territories that achieve “opt-out” status must use the FirstNet LTE core network to provide broadband services to FirstNet public-safety users in both the “primary” and “extended primary” groups, according to information released recently by FirstNet and published on the organization’s web site.

Expected to be operational in March, the dedicated FirstNet core network being built by nationwide contractor AT&T will service all public-safety subscribers to FirstNet services. Use of the core network is required whether the user is in “opt-in” state/territory—where AT&T will build the LTE radio access network (RAN)—or in an “opt-out” state/territory that uses an alternative RAN built by a vendor selected by the state.

In information provided to new core-related questions added to its “Get the FirstNet Facts” page last week, FirstNet states that its approach is “essential to nationwide interoperability” and is consistent with the 2012 law that established FirstNet.

“FirstNet determined that the deployment of a single, national network architecture with a core network dedicated to public safety users across the country will reduce the risk of complications inherent in a multi-core architecture (operated by distinct entities), such as operational complexity, security complexity, and increased latency,” according to FirstNet. “The FirstNet core will have built-in redundancy to provide end-to-end cybersecurity.”

FirstNet’s core network will provide primary functions that “are vital to public safety’s life-saving mission and will differentiate FirstNet services from commercial offerings,” according to FirstNet.

“For example, it will be responsible for identity, credential, and access management (ICAM); application assurance; Quality of Service, priority, and preemption (QPP); monitoring and reporting of network health; and securing highly sensitive data with full encryption over the FirstNet network,” FirstNet states.

With all FirstNet public-safety subscribers utilizing the FirstNet core network, interoperable communications will be achieved, whether the user is in an “opt-in” state served by an AT&T-built RAN or in an “opt-out” state served by a RAN deployed by a different vendor, according to FirstNet.

And those public-safety subscribers that must use the FirstNet core network are not limited to the “primary” user groups consisting of subscribers in the traditional key public-safety groups of law enforcement, fire, EMS, 911 and emergency management. FirstNet subscribers in the “extended primary” user groups also must utilize the FirstNet core network, FirstNet spokesman Ryan Oremland informed IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

Exactly which subscribers will be part of the “extended primary” user group has not been defined yet, although FirstNet has provided some guidelines on the matter to state officials, according to Oremland.

However, the “extended primary” user group is expected to consist of subscribers that service critical infrastructure or provide public-safety support services, including hospitals, utilities, transportation agencies and government entities.

Whether an “opt-out” state or territory must utilize the FirstNet core network has been a subject of considerable debate throughout the past year. While FirstNet officials have pointed to need to use its core to ensure interoperability and cybersecurity for all public-safety subscribers, representatives of potential vendors for “opt-out” states have claimed that LTE is inherently interoperable and that security concerns can be addressed in other ways.

Such arguments were made before the FCC as the agency was trying to determine its criteria for determining whether an alternative RAN plan for a potential “opt-out” state would be interoperable with the nationwide FirstNet network. However, the FCC decided that the matter was outside of its jurisdiction, leaving the core policy to be determined by FirstNet and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Although FirstNet public-safety subscribers must use the FirstNet core, an “opt-out” state and its vendor can still sell end-user services directly to first-responder agencies, according to FirstNet.

“In an opt-out state, the state or the state’s contractor will be responsible for providing services to end users utilizing the state built-RAN, including public safety end users,” FirstNet states in its updated fact sheet. “Like FirstNet and AT&T, the opt-out state, or the opt-out state’s contractor, must compete in the marketplace to sell services to end users.

“While the Act requires opt-out states to connect their RAN with the FirstNet core and pay fees associated with the state’s use of the elements of the core network, these ‘core services’ are carrier-to-carrier services and distinct from services provided to public-safety end users.”

But Don Brittingham, Verizon’s vice president of public-safety policy, has said the FirstNet core policy would make it very difficult for vendors in “opt-out” states.

“States should not be required to use the network core deployed by FirstNet, as such a requirement would put the state in the untenable position of being driven by the interests and decisions of FirstNet’s commercial partner—a condition that would be unattractive to any prospective state commercial partner,” Brittingham said during a hearing before the Pennsylvania legislature.

Verizon representatives met with FirstNet officials to discuss interoperability concerns in September, but the carrier—currently the market leader in providing wireless broadband services to the public-safety sector—has not had a subsequent meeting with FirstNet or AT&T officials to address the matter, according to a Verizon official.

Governors in most states and territories must make their “opt-in/opt-out” decisions by Dec. 28.