Rural Network Deployment is Key for First Responders

Rural Network Deployment is Key for First Responders

Given their steadfast commitment to public safety, first responders appreciate the importance of a ubiquitous and advanced wireless broadband network in urban and rural areas alike. Indeed, rural consumers have unique public safety needs, from devastating forest fires, floods and tornadoes, to concerns related to military and border facilities. Fortunately, the governing authority overseeing the establishment of a nationwide public safety broadband network (FirstNet) is committed to meeting the communications needs of all first responders – regardless of where they are located.

It is important not to lose sight of this goal, especially given the increasing public dialog associated with 5G technology as a potential solution to our country’s broadband challenges. Many times during the past year I have heard 5G touted as a possible replacement to fiber to expand broadband deployment in rural areas and, therefore, resolve any additional rural broadband challenges – for consumers and public safety alike.

I understand the allure of this new technology. Rural network deployment is incredibly challenging, expensive and time consuming. And it is tempting to believe that a new technology by itself can overcome these innate challenges, thereby making it cheaper, easier and more efficient to connect rural first responders to an advanced broadband network.

But as 5G technology is still taking shape, we need to take a step back and look at the building blocks of a network to recognize the technology pieces that need to be in place for all Americans, especially those living in rural areas, to be part of the 5G evolution.

At the top of the list is the very important, but often overlooked fact that fiber-fed broadband is the foundation of a wireless network – including 5G. Indeed, we have a mantra at NTCA that “wireless needs wires.” To put it quite simply, a wireless network is only as good as the wired infrastructure that lies beneath it.  More users and devices on a wireless network eventually lead to more wired infrastructure upgrades to accommodate increased traffic and consumer demands.

No doubts about it, there is a symbiotic relationship between wired and wireless networks. And when it comes to a wireless network for first responders, the backbone of the network is wired fiber infrastructure.


Ed Parkinson, acting chief executive officer of FirstNet, will address NTCA’s membership at the upcoming 2019 Technology & Business Conference, April 23-25, in Chicago, Ill. Join us to learn more about FirstNet’s strategic vision for rural public-safety communications.


Given the parameters of network technology, FirstNet has long-recognized the need to utilize existing assets and infrastructure; in fact, this was a central tenet of the presiding legislation which created FirstNet.

Fortunately, in rural America, independent service providers like NTCA’s members have been leading the charge, deploying a vast array of infrastructure and assets in rural and remote areas of the country which can serve as a foundation for public safety’s critical communications needs, such as wireless networks and towers, copper and fiber infrastructure, transport connections, utility poles and data centers.

The existing assets of small telecom operators can be hardened to meet the unique needs of first responders, including by adding back-up power and redundant backhaul links. In fact, it is a much more efficient use of capital to harden existing assets versus creating a new site and hardening it from scratch.

In addition to their traditional network assets, NTCA’s members have unparalleled technical expertise regarding planning and constructing telecom networks in rural areas. Based in the communities where they serve, rural operators understand where public safety coverage is needed most, and how to efficiently and effectively construct a network – with limited financial investment – to meet these requirements given constraints related to geography, topography and weather.

NTCA’s small operators already provide the fiber backhaul for large, nationwide mobile wireless carriers, and in places where larger carriers do not have native service, mobile roaming capabilities. In addition, NTCA’s membership also serves vast tribal areas with advanced telecom services, bringing established relationships with tribal leaders to the table.

NTCA’s rural telecom members stand ready to meet the needs of rural public responders. Indeed, the future of public safety communications in rural America depends upon it.

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