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AT&T Communications Government Network Networking Wireless Networking Technology

AT&T Receives $6.5 Billion To Build Wireless Network For First Responders (reuters.com) 57

The First Responder Network, FirstNet, an independent arm of the Department of Commerce, has awarded a contract to AT&T to build a nationwide wireless broadband network to better equip first responders. "FirstNet will provide 20MHz of high-value, telecommunications spectrum and success-based payments of $6.5 billion over the next five years to support the network buildout," AT&T said in its announcement. Reuters reports: The effort to set up a public safety network was triggered by communications failures during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when first responders were unable to effectively communicate as they used different technologies and networks. The FirstNet network will help emergency medical personnel, firefighters and police officers communicate vital information on one single network in real time, as opposed to using thousands of separate, incompatible systems. The rollout of the network, which will cover will cover all states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, will begin later this year, AT&T said on Thursday. AT&T will spend about $40 billion over the period of the 25-year agreement to build, operate and maintain the network.
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AT&T Receives $6.5 Billion To Build Wireless Network For First Responders

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  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Thursday March 30, 2017 @05:40PM (#54147093)

    ...we'll all gonna die.

  • 6.5 billion... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amoeba1911 ( 978485 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @05:58PM (#54147163) Homepage
    About 2 billion will be going to Randall L. Stephenson. Another 2 billions will be distributed among the executive officers. The remaining 2.5 billion will slowly sublimate over 5 years. When the project is nowhere near completion after 5 years and the money runs dry, government will allocate another $4 billion dollars to the project. About 1/5th of that 4 billion will be used to build the actual communication network...
    • SPOT FUCKING ON! Note that voice mail service with AT&T will still take hours or even days to deliver messages to ones voice mail box. This was a problem over 15 years ago and still to this day plagues them. Just what we need for a "First responders" network. I hate Verizon but they do have the most reliable network in terms of voice and message delivery.
    • I for one am so glad we gave AT&T $6.5 billion. I mean, they have such a beautiful track record [nypost.com] for emergency service.

  • ... FirstNet will provide 20MHz of high-value, telecommunications spectrum ...

    Anybody know what frequency range this spectrum is in?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Most likely this:
      https://www.fcc.gov/general/700-mhz-public-safety-spectrum-0

    • Re:What frequency? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @06:17PM (#54147265)

      Based on this [doc.gov] it appears to be 769-798MHz based on the guard bands for FirstNet, so near typical UHF cell network frequencies.

      15 years to get this ball rolling. And there's no credible answer for how this will serve anything outside major urban areas. Basically we've found a way to justify nationalizing first responder comms. Henceforth the deals with be handled in Washington by the "right" people. Yay.

      • And there's no credible answer for how this will serve anything outside major urban areas.

        The "credible answer" is first that providers will add this band to existing sites -- which covers a lot of ground outside "major urban areas" already. And second, there are intended to be portable COW or "cell in the air" systems to provide it outside existing coverage when an event takes place.

        Basically we've found a way to justify nationalizing first responder comms.

        There have been enough major events that required support from distant emergency service agencies that having a national plan and national capability is already well-justified. There already is a national communicat

    • Anybody know what frequency range this spectrum is in?

      It's Band 14 [awt-global.com]. FirstNet [firstnet.gov] has been in the works for a long time now.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget to add....
    Activation Fee - $2B
    Regulatory Cost Recovery Fee - $250M
    Franchise Tax Fee - $150M
    Federal Lobbying Fee - $100M
    Fee Fee - $450M
    USF - $0.45
    E911 Fee - $0.25

  • In 25 years whatever they are building out over the next 5 years will look pretty ancient tech. I bet they'll use the money to build out their network and run the first responder one on that.

    • Re:25 years (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @06:23PM (#54147283) Homepage Journal

      By any sane standards, this is a complete waste of money. What works best for first responders? Point-to-point radio communications. Walkie talkies. All these systems didn't work because the systems were incompatible, and the reason they didn't all use the same system was that none of the systems were significantly better than any others, and each organization bought its radios on separate contracts from separate companies at different times, and short of a major emergency, there was no real reason to replace all of those radios with new ones just for a small increase in compatibility.

      Adding infrastructure just creates new points of failure, and when things go seriously wrong, the infrastructure will be nonfunctional, at which point everybody will go back to those incompatible radios, because they work by themselves, without any outside support. Short of AT&T designing a true mesh network for independent, moving radios, this is just a parallel cellular network, with all the problems that a cellular network has, only with lower usage and less financial incentive to expand the infrastructure and keep it up-to-date. And remember that those radios, despite incompatibility issues, mostly worked, whereas on 9/11, the cell network was DOA. Now imagine a world where they tried to use a parallel cellular network just for them, that (unlike the public cell network) never got regular load testing except during actual emergencies.

      My advice? Follow the money, figure out which politicians were bribed in exchange for funding this giant boondoggle, then vow to never elect any of them again. Rinse and repeat until politicians are clean again.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I'm the Chief of a rural fire agency in New England. We wrangle with radio issues constantly. Agencies immediately adjacent to us operate on a totally different chunk of the VHF spectrum than we do. These agencies use radios that aren't even made any longer, were someone to buy a new fire truck in this area, they would either be scavenging the radios from their old rig or purchasing the primary radio equipment on ebay. Since the 2013 VHF narrowbanding snagged half of our frequency bandwidth, our own point-t

        • These agencies use radios that aren't even made any longer, were someone to buy a new fire truck in this area, they would either be scavenging the radios from their old rig or purchasing the primary radio equipment on ebay.

          Or purchase new. You can get new radios that do analog narrowband. You can't do wideband legally, so if you're trying to buy a radio compatible with wideband, you need to get with the program.

          and operate our own repeater network on our own dime.

          When narrowbanding took place, the feds were handing out grants like candy to anyone who needed to replace their infrastructure with new stuff. You apparently didn't have anyone who was able to write one of those, but our local agencies got all new digital radio systems on the federal dime. And operating them costs no

    • So long as QOS guarantees emergency services get priority, fine.
      • That's the primary reason for FirstNet. Commercial LTE cannot do this. It can prioritize a call when there is bandwidth to connect in the first place, but if a cell overloads with civilian panic calls then the first responder calls don't go through.

        The plan to help finance this operation is to allow the cell providers to sell 'as available' space to the public when first responders don't need it.

  • Republicans tell us the government doesn't create jobs.

  • I see some centrally managed and controlled network infrastructure, while better than the adhoc, whatever the local responders can afford to buy for equipment, to be the wrong solution. This stuff needs to be in LOCAL control, not some national program's control. You need to make sure that the fire fighters who roll in from half a state away will have communications equipment that will be interoperable with the local system.

    What is needed is a set of interoperability standards for the communications equipm

    • This stuff needs to be in LOCAL control, not some national program's control. You need to make sure that the fire fighters who roll in from half a state away will have communications equipment that will be interoperable with the local system.

      You just contradicted yourself. The only way to make sure that interoperability is to do it at a level well above the local.

      What you get when you have full local control of designing communications is every agency on a different frequency and access method (CTCSS, DCS, NAC) and nobody can talk to anybody else when an event requires mutual aid. That's why the National Interoperability [dhs.gov] channels were allocated. And yet, you see what happens when there is only local control -- many agencies STILL have not pro

      • If you cannot maintain the solution locally, it's the wrong solution. Unless it's under local control it's going to be locally useless to first responders and they won't bother to spend their money on equipment that can use it. IF it's nothing more than another cell phone network, what's the point of building it? We already have multiple networks which are commercially available to use which will have the same reliability of anything they can build new.

        I urge you to do some thinking about what a local em

        • If you cannot maintain the solution locally, it's the wrong solution.

          This is a marvelous opinion, but the validity of this has been disproven by existing systems so often. Even "simple" VHF voice systems can be complex enough to be outside the scope of local maintenance. Are you arguing that a simple VHF voice solution is the wrong solution to providing local voice communications?

          Unless it's under local control it's going to be locally useless to first responders and they won't bother to spend their money on equipment that can use it.

          That is utter nonsense, and disproven by existing systems. Just one example, in Oregon there is something called OWIN [oregonlive.com] (or was called that) that many agencies have bought into. It is hardly useless.

  • by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @06:43PM (#54147401)

    It says in the article: "with telecom spectrum." Admittedly I don't really understand the plan here, but....

    This sounds ridiculous! So the government will just give 20Mhz of extremely valuable bandwidth to only AT&T. AT&T will just add it to their existing towers and phone/mobile system. And then the Fed will just mandate all the responders everywhere use AT&T? There, standardized!

    They make it sound like some "special" system, but to me, it just sounds like mobile broadband. Inotherwords A NETWORK. Isn't that what we already have with the carriers?

    How is this fair to T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon? How does this foster competition, good service, good pricing, or good support? How does this using a single carrier create redundancy? How does this allow us to change to some other company if we don't like how it works?

    Oops, the nearby AT&T tower went down. NONE of our stuff works now. Wonderful!

    • AT&T will just add it to their existing towers and phone/mobile system.

      No. At worst, civilian users will get 'as available' access. First responders will get first access. That's what the "First" part means.

      They make it sound like some "special" system, but to me, it just sounds like mobile broadband. Inotherwords A NETWORK. Isn't that what we already have with the carriers?

      No. Almost, but not exactly.

      How is this fair to T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon?

      They had a chance to bid on it. They lost the bid.

      How does this foster competition, good service, good pricing, or good support?

      It's not a commercial system, so competition is not a criterion.

      How does this allow us to change to some other company if we don't like how it works?

      It sounds like you are not a potential user (not a first responder), so nobody cares if you don't like how it works. If AT&T cannot pull it off, it will be rebid to someone else, that's how we change to come other company.

      Oops, the nearby AT&T tower went down. NONE of our stuff works now.

      FirstNe

  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @06:43PM (#54147405)
    Trow money at this problem all they want to, and it won't fix it. When the shit hits the fan, and their wireless network fails, like they always do, they'll have to rely on people who actually understand RF, and propagation, and all of the tricks and techniques that cannot be duplicated by infrastructure.

    Then they'll want 20 billion for the next sytem that won't work.

  • This was the subject that was covered in 2001 and 2002. So, after 16 years, the government is going to do something. sigh No wonder politicians are so low on the scale of respected groups...
  • by ebusinessmedia1 ( 561777 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @07:33PM (#54147603)
    Welcome to the new grifter economy. Think about it: within just the last week ATT has scored permission to sell ANY of your data to ANYONE willing to put up the $$. They have leanred that they no longer have to provide Lifeline service (reduced rates) to millions of poor people. And, finally, they get $6.5Billion to build a 911 network that should only cost about $500M, and even then will be unreliable in a true, national emergency. We can thank the GOP-appointed justices, the corrupt GOP Congress and our grifter POTUS for helping ATT, one of the worst telcos in the world.
    • to build a 911 network that should only cost about $500M

      It's not a 911 network. It's a data network for first responders, and it's covering the US. Your $500 million quote is supported by what engineering and coverage study?

      and even then will be unreliable in a true, national emergency.

      FirstNet is not intended to deal with national emergencies. It is for regional or local events. It's intended to provide the ability for a fire responder to get building plans for the factory or schoolhouse he's managing the response to. It's intended to provide data for incidents where the existing LTE infrastructure may be overloaded by civ

  • by WolfgangVL ( 3494585 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @07:55PM (#54147733)

    Not a single responsible party thought to themselves....
    "Gee... It sure would be nice if we could broadcast messages long distances over the air using already in place infrastructure"
    "I sure wish we had a fault tolerant communications network already in place nationwide for just such emergencies"
    "Golly, those young warfighters we keep training must be using magic to communicate with each other in all those hostile 3rd world countries we keep sending them to"

    Nope, another 6.5 Billion goin out!

    Hungry children in school?
    -No free lunch for students..... cant afford it.
    Rising sea-levels?
    -No climate change research...cant afford it.

    Seriously,. wtf is really going here? There has GOT to be more to this. It's like the whole country is being punked.

  • I'm ICS 100, 200, 300, and NIMS 700 certified, so I definitely buy the need for coordination - but this is a lot of the same stuff that people have been talking about forever, and they've been trying to throw money at the problem with absolutely no success. And our agency actually responded (before I joined) to the staging area at Jersey City on 9/11/2011. (There were effectively no injuries - everyone was fine and dusty, or dead...)

    We mostly use a UHF system on a spare frequency the police already had a repeater set up for. It's a huge upgrade from our low-band VHF system (46MHz) that was unrepeated, though we still use that for dispatch because we can't afford to buy UHF pagers for everyone. We have no shortage of frequencies, and can mostly talk to the people we need to talk to, but it's not easy. On our UHF radio we can talk to our police, ourselves, one of the two neighboring towns' police departments - the other one is on a trunking system we can't access, so we have their fire department programmed in (which doesn't do us any good except at a fire standby).

    We have a VHF radio for exactly this sort of cross-agency collaboration, but it's hardly simple. There's 4 different state police frequencies, there's something called JEMS which has 5(?) frequencies, some of which are used for normal operations by some city's paramedic team, and several other tactical (VTAC) frequencies as well. (We don't have access to UTAC, I don't think.) Basically we assume the next time "the big one" happens, we'll show up and ought to have the frequencies programmed in that they tell us to use, but we don't know what those are and we don't really expect any coordination to work very well. Radio protocol is shit even (especially?) by the pros, and between range and availability concerns we're not really convinced. I'm really the only one who knows how to use it, and maybe a few of the emergency management wonks who are planning to make a living in public safety. With the main radio being in the ambulance, coordination with folks in the field is difficult and likely to happen on agency frequencies. The state gave us one or two VHF handheld radios with most of the same frequencies, but that doesn't really help. Mostly we use our VHF gear for calling the hospitals and I sometimes put up the NOAA weather or medic dispatch frequency, but that's just me.

    It sounds like what they're proposing is sort of uber-trunking-system, which would be pretty cool if it actually worked - basically you mostly live on your agency's and other commonly used talkgroups like today's programmed frequencies, but then when you need to, just type in some nationwide ID and everyone's radio can talk to everyone else's.

    Simple enough, right? The problem is:
    - The existing tech is mostly proprietary.
    - It doesn't scale to this level.
    - Trunking radio has a nasty fallback mode when the coordinator(name?) fails - basically the radios revert to normal analog operation. That's obviously not acceptable for any nationwide effort, so it really can't fail. But it can't be like a cellphone base station either, where it turns into a brick if the base is down.
    - Public safety radios are hilariously expensive - think >$800 per (basic!) handheld, far more for a mobile or base station, and then labor for programming and setup - so if you want people to actually switch you're gonna need to drop a lot of cash. If we were to upgrade everyone's radio this year it would cost more than our entire annual expenditures on *everything else*. (Mind you, they are worth the money - they are virtually indestructible and it's not something you want to fail at a bad time.)

    I also don't like how they play up the data aspect. Data is occasionally useful for computer-aided dispatch purposes (which we have, technically, because our dispatcher isn't using pen and paper - except they do, mostly) but it's overhyped. Big cities make more effective use, where multiple units can be coordinated more automatically than with voice, but even there that's more about e

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      A small team of engineers worth their salt could devise a workable, cheap, open system in a matter of months for both voice and data systems, probably even pluggable into existing systems with a bit more work. The problem is indeed, as you point out, a closed, proprietary system that has no significant market will remain very expensive, giving the contract to AT&T will not change the status quo.

      • by cdwiegand ( 2267 )

        Then why haven't they yet? Open source isn't just for software - but no one yet has devised a scalable (to 1000+ units), open, reliable, and low-cost voice and data network that Just Works.

    • (We don't have access to UTAC, I don't think.)

      If you don't have access to it, it is because you haven't bought a UHF radio.

      We mostly use a UHF system on a spare frequency the police already had a repeater set up for.

      Wait a minute. You HAVE a UHF radio and you don't have the National Interoperability channels programmed into it?

      Basically we assume the next time "the big one" happens, we'll show up and ought to have the frequencies programmed in that they tell us to use, but we don't know what those are and we don't really expect any coordination to work very well.

      You cannot expect coordination based on ZERO planning will work at all. If your radios "ought" to have things programmed in, and you don't know what they are, then it is YOUR planning and training that has failed. Communications is a CRITICAL service that demands planning and training, and you clearly don't have either

    • Missed this gem:

      - Trunking radio has a nasty fallback mode when the coordinator(name?) fails - basically the radios revert to normal analog operation.

      No. The radios revert to "do nothing" when the trunking controller fails. There is no controller telling all the other radios in the talk group what channel to listen to, and no controller telling your radio what channel to transmit on.

      That's why you need to have non-trunked communications systems as a backup whenever a trunked system is in use.

      And that is why only a fool for a communications engineer has a fire service relying on a trunked system. Only a fool (or untrained) fireman walk

  • because wireless hasn't changed since 2001./s
  • by Anonymous Coward

    AT&T will spend about $40 billion over the period of the 25-year agreement to build, operate and maintain the network.

    Here I thought AT&T would charge FirstNet $40+billion over the agreement to build, operate, and maintain the network.
    The actual expenditure will be either much lower, or that $40b will end up being a lot higher charge to FirstNet.

  • When I read this I first think of 2 things: 1. Who got paid to lobby for AT&T 2. Who had insider knowledge of this, and how much they made by investing in AT&T on the market. This is surely gonna affect the stock prices

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