AT&T addresses public safety concerns

By Jonathan Nally
Wednesday, 13 September, 2017

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In recent weeks, there has been heated discussion in the US regarding AT&T’s plans to build and maintain the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) in accordance with public safety grade objectives as outlined in the FirstNet Request for Proposal (RFP) and FirstNet’s contract with AT&T.

The objectives were informed by FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), which used a National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) report on public safety grade communications.

AT&T Senior Vice President Chris Sambar attended an NPSTC Governing Board meeting on Wednesday, 6 September 2017, in Washington, DC, to address the concerns.

“I am familiar with NPSTC’s commendable work, including the public safety grade report,” Sambar said. “AT&T has a total commitment to public safety and its requirements.”

Addressing rumours that AT&T will not use Band 14, Sambar said AT&T will use Band 14 for capacity and coverage.

“The band came with significant commitments. The strategy is to deploy everywhere capacity is needed and for all new rural sites. In the first five years, Band 14 will comprise over 50% of the network,” he said.

Regarding encryption, Sambar said, “All of the traffic from first responder subscribers, regardless of what spectrum band it’s on, will be on the encrypted core... the core network will be encrypted end to end.”

In response to an NPSTC question regarding AT&T’s approach to interoperability, Sambar stated, “AT&T will not be building proprietary push-to-talk or mission-critical solutions. Their solutions will be built on internationally recognised standards, such as 3GPP.

“Regarding interoperability between cores, the issue becomes much more complicated,” he added. “FirstNet’s decision, through the process of investigation from its Boulder, CO, labs, is that where there are seams in a network, that’s where there is vulnerability and significant security concerns. That’s why the network is being built as it is.”

In a statement, NPSTC said that it “appreciates AT&T’s commitment and remains committed to supporting the implementation of the FirstNet broadband network” and acknowledged AT&T’s participation in the development of its public safety grade definition, published in 2014.

NPSTC Chair Ralph Haller provided an open invitation to AT&T and FirstNet to provide updates at future NPSTC meetings.

Image courtesy FirstNet.

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