Frequently Asked Questions

Why LTE?

Long Term Evolution (LTE) is a fourth-generation wireless technology that bases its operating standards on the Internet Protocol (IP). IP-enabled networks and wireless devices provide higher capacity and transmission speeds than earlier technologies. The law that established FirstNet specified that the network shall be based on the minimum technical requirements on the commercial standards for LTE service.

It is expected that the rapid expansion in the commercial sector of mobile communications devices and the LTE network systems on which they operate will provide a platform for development of the public safety broadband network.

It is generally believed that the use of LTE and IP standards will greatly enhance communications for emergency response and recovery.

What will happen to land mobile radio systems currently in use?

The initial phases of the FirstNet network deployment will most likely use LTE for transmitting data and video content only. Mission critical voice communications using standards designed for Land Mobile Radio (LMR) will continue to be carried on separate networks. In time, many anticipate that IP standards for radios will replace LMR, bringing new economies of scale and higher levels of performance.

How will FirstNet ensure that service will be available in an emergency?

The law empowers FirstNet to enter into agreements with commercial providers that would cover rules for priority access in times of high demand for network capacity.

How will service be provided to rural and remote areas of the State?

The FCC has taken actions in support of full-spectrum roaming. Full-spectrum roaming is considered by many to provide advantages for public safety and also for the public at large. For example, it makes more network capacity available for shared emergency communications of all types, not just for first responders. Many believe that full-spectrum access supports competitiveness among wireless carriers—in particular assisting small wireless carriers serving rural areas to offer new broadband services—by providing access to all customers within the band.

What is the timetable for build-out of FirstNet?

A specific timetable has not been released. However, FirstNet is preparing a Comprehensive Network Solution Draft RFP to be issued in 2015, which solicits offers to develop a comprehensive network solution that possibly includes the core and all RAN components, backhaul, devices, network infrastructure, deployable capabilities and maintenance to fully function as an operational wireless public safety LTE network. Please see FirstNet.gov for more official updates.

How can we be sure the federal FirstNet solution is right for Pennsylvania?

Each state will make its own decision whether to join FirstNet (opt in), or to build a statewide radio access network subject to the provisions of the Spectrum Act (opt out). PA-FirstNet is the Pennsylvania initiative that is preparing a base of information to support an opt-in/opt-out decision that is right for the Commonwealth.

How will the opt in/out decision be made?

FirstNet has not yet issued a specific schedule, but it has given a general outline of milestone events: In 2015, the FirstNet team will hold an "initial consultation" with the PA-FirstNet team. Within a few months after that (time frame to be determined by FirstNet), FirstNet will prepare preliminary and intermediate designs, and issue its State Plan for how FirstNet can be deployed to meet Pennsylvania's needs.

Within 90 days of receipt of the State Plan from FirstNet, the Governor will choose whether to opt in or to opt out.

If the decision is to opt out, the State has 180 days to complete a plan for building a statewide network that meets FirstNet requirements.

What is and is not covered by the SLIGP grant?

Allowable costs may include categories such as:

  1. personnel costs
  2. costs associated with planning meetings with statewide stakeholders
  3. travel costs for state, local, and tribal representatives to attend planning meetings;
  4. costs to develop, modify, or enhance statewide plans and governance structures;
  5. costs for communications, education, and outreach activities with state, local, tribal, and regional stakeholders;
  6. costs to develop standardized Memoranda of Agreement and other types of agreements to facilitate access to and use of existing infrastructure;
  7. costs to identify potential public safety users for the public safety broadband network;
  8. administrative services costs, equipment costs, and supplies necessary to manage the grant program; and
  9. reasonable proposal expenses, which include costs related to preparing an application and pre-award costs to attend FirstNet technical assistance workshops, if they are incurred after the publication date of the Federal Funding Opportunity and prior to the date of the issuance of the grant award from NTIA.

Funds awarded under the SLIGP may not be used for activities related to site preparation, broadband deployment, installation, construction, lobbying costs, contingency fees, or the acquisition of equipment used to provide wireless broadband services.

What is the difference between FirstNet and BTOP and P25?

FirstNet is the initiative that is mandated to deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network.

The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) is a grant program associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that was created to promote the development and adoption of broadband throughout the United States, particularly in unserved and underserved areas. The program was designed to create jobs, advance technology and boost the economy. Most funded projects involve wireless broadband technologies, which are easier and less expensive to deploy in areas of sparse population. It also includes projects to expand or develop centers for public access, such as public libraries and community colleges.

P25 is a standard for the design and manufacture of interoperable digital two-way wireless communications products. To demonstrate compliance with P25, products must be able to meet a set of minimum requirements to fit the needs of public safety. These include the ability to interoperate with other P25 equipment, for example, so that users on different systems can talk via direct radio contact.

Are there any user fees?

FirstNet plans to charge user fees to offset the cost of the network operations and maintenance of the nationwide network. These costs have not been determined yet.

Question about funding: Is the county going to be expected to pay for a portion of the infrastructure when the time comes?

Neither the State, County, Township, or City are expected to pay for FirstNet infrastructure.

Will Pennsylvania opt-in or out of the FirstNet solution?

The PA-FirstNet team has developed a iterative process that leverages critical local input to make an informed opt-In or opt-out decision. We have just started our process and will not make a opt-in or opt-out decision until we have collected our requested information and compared it to the FirstNet State Plan for Pennsylvania.

Each department has their own equipment that don’t talk to each other. It is hard enough to do inter-operation within PA - How do you see that happening with other states and jurisdictions?

By establishing a comprehensive nationwide standard - namely, LTE - deploying a nationwide interconnected architecture, and implementing nationwide governance that accounts for Regional, State, Local and Tribal needs and controls, we will establish nationwide interoperability.

Will FirstNet use the Open Sky Network?

The FirstNet system may share the backhaul network that OpenSky uses, but OpenSky supports LMR voice and FirstNet plans to support LTE for data.

Please briefly describe broadband network technology vs UHF/VHF technology.

UHF/VHF are frequency bands, but the acronyms are also used to signify land mobile radio (LMR) systems, also called public land mobile radio or private land mobile radio. These radio systems are for terrestrial users in vehicles (mobiles) or on foot (portables). Examples are walkie-talkies and two way radios in vehicles. Such systems are used by emergency first responder organizations such as police, fire, and ambulance services, public works organizations, dispatched services such as taxis, or companies with large vehicle fleets or numerous field staff.

A broadband network is a digital radio system with a very high bit rate. The phrase has also come to mean a specific technology and service: LTE (Long Term Evolution), which is a set of international standards that allow devices (our cellphones) to send and receive non-voice data, such as images and video. A 4G phone is a device that works with the fourth generation of LTE standards.

For public safety communications, LTE is a game changer -- but, it is being planned to AUGMENT and not replace existing mission-critical voice networks such as LMR. A future generation of public safety LTE technology MAY also include voice.

How does currently 500 MHz (that we are using now) interact with 700 MHz?

500 MHz is currently voice only, 700MHz will be used for data. Later, we hope to use 700MHz for voice as well.

Will my radio work in Florida (or another state) if I go there?

By establishing a comprehensive nationwide standard (LTE), deploying a Nationwide interconnected architecture, and implementing nationwide governance that accounts for Regional, State, Local and Tribal needs and controls, we will establish nationwide interoperability. This will allow user devices to work all over the country.

Some agencies are having some problems with voice data, and would love to get off the same channels. Can you expand on how this might affect voice in the future?

The long term plan is for LTE to include mission critical voice. However, this is a long term vision and we therefore need to continue to invest in the LMR systems that are saving lives today.

Are the PA-FIRSTNET surveys to be completed by county or by region?

The Agency survey and Field User survey will be distributed at the agency level within each city, county, and township.

As a city in rural PA, our needs are different than those of the county. For example, the City has paid police and fire which are not supported by County EMS. Will the City be able to give information directly to you?

Yes. We desire to hear from as many agencies as possible.

Will the counties get to see the data from the surveys?

We intend to share the survey results with the agencies that contributed at our Interoperability Conference.

The PA-FIRSTNET Surveys may be intimidating to some agencies. Can you populate some of the data for small township and boroughs?

We understand that the survey may be intimidating and we will do our best to simplify it for agencies. However, we must ask detailed questions in order to get detailed requirements. The better our requirements, the better chance we have of meeting them.

Can counties hire consultants to help them coordinate some of the questions that we may have about the surveys?

The PA-FirstNet team is here to help Counties/Cities/Townships agencies fill out their surveys. The agencies have the ability to hire consultants to help them with the survey, but they must leverage local funding to do so.

Who is expected to designate the County/Township/City point-of-contact (POC)? How are you establishing what person/entity has this authority?

As every County/Township/City is different, we believe the County/Township/City has the discretion to select who it believes is the best person to represent the County/Township/City's interests/requirements.

Is there a plan under the new administration to reformulate the makeup of the PA FirstNet Board or will those persons previously represented remain on the team?

Consistent with many states that use their interoperability governing board, Pennsylvania will receive guidance from the Public Safety Communications Council (PSCC), which will incorporate a FirstNet committee.

This committee will provide guidance to the state's FirstNet Single Point of Contact, who is the Director of the PSP Bureau of Communications & Information Services.

The structure of the PSCC was recently changed by Executive Order 2014-06, which includes membership from multiple state agencies, county governments, and public safety and communications associations.

What revisions in the States Interoperability Plan do you see coming?

The plan will be updated to document changes in technology and operations made possible by the introduction of LTE broadband wireless communications in the implementation of FirstNet.

Do you have the meeting locations and times for the PA-FIRSTNET Workshops that you are holding across the state?

Please the Events page on this website for meeting locations, dates, times, and registration information.

Are the slides that were presented at the PA-FIRSTNET Regional Workshops available?

Yes, the slides will be available on the Download page on this web site.