AT&T is making headway on a national wireless connection dedicated to public safety. It replaces the 800 MHz system and other frequencies that have sometimes failed due to capacity problems.

 And FirstNet is promising to deliver.

The network helps public safety officers overcome issues such as overloaded and inaccessible communications networks.

With features such as priority access, preemption, and more network capacity, FirstNet will allow us to respond faster and more effectively to emergencies, disasters and large events.

FirstNet is still in the build-out process and no date has been set for completion. But in the last year, it has provided resources for roughly 100 emergency disasters and large events, keeping first responders connected during Hurricanes Florence and Michael and affairs like the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and the Boston Marathon.

In March 2019, FirstNet unveiled a cell site in Baltimore, bringing the Chesapeake Bay region to “a whole new level of fire suppression and marine emergencies,” said Matt Fairley, Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department Captain.

“We’ve been able to get reliable coverage on land and on the water where we’ve previously struggled,” Fairley said in a recent press release. “And as a 100% volunteer organization, knowing our members can easily subscribe to the public safety’s network – it’s changing the game for us.”

Congress established FirstNet after the 9/11 Commission Report identified gaps in emergency communications. Public safety advocacy led to legislation in 2012 to deploy the network in all 50 states and territories, including rural communities and tribal nations.

In 2016, FirstNet awarded AT&T the contract under a public-private partnership to build, operate and maintain the network. Congress provided $7 billion in initial funding for the project through the sale of communications airwaves on the FCC spectrum.

In return, AT&T is investing about $40 billion over the life of the contract. It has consulted extensively with public safety experts across the country to get our perspective on the challenges we face during emergencies and disasters.

So far, more than 3,600 public safety agencies nationwide have subscribed to FirstNet.

In 2018, FirstNet and AT&T completed the core infrastructure. Viewed as the brain and nervous system of the network, it provides full encryption of public safety data and end-to-end cybersecurity.

AT&T also began building the radio access network (RAN), a network that connects devices, such as mobile phones, computers or remotely controlled machines, with the core network.

FirstNet relies on Band 14 capacity and coverage, a 700 MHz band class set aside for public safety that lets signals penetrate buildings and cover larger geographic areas with less infrastructure.

In October 2018, FirstNet subscribers gained access to 72 dedicated deployable network assets. These assets include Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs), a large, heavy-duty portable cell site that connects via satellite rather than fiber. They are available at no cost to FirstNet subscribers.

A recent event supported by FirstNet was the American Birkebeiner, a 30-mile race that takes place in February in Northwestern Wisconsin. As the largest cross-country race in North America, typically drawing about 30,000 skiers and spectators, it presents a huge emergency communications challenge for first responders.

In the past, they lacked the radio coverage needed to help injured skiers on the course due to congested cellular data networks, said Josh Ripp, the Wisconsin Interoperable System for Communications program manager.

As a member of FirstNet, they had access to a SatCOLT. Combined with the state’s Site on Wheels trailer (SOW), first responders stayed connected, even in the most remote areas along the race.

“It worked wonderfully,” Ripp said in a FirstNet press release. “We know it helped EMS crews communicate and get appropriate help for those skiers and spectators that needed first aid.”

For information on how to subscribe to FirstNet, visit www.firstnet.com/marketing/index.html#/marketing/index/plans

Resources:

Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://firstnet.gov/sites/default/files/FirstNet_Top_Ten_FAQs.pdf

Communications Boosted at Birkebeiner Race with FirstNet Deployable (March 2019) Retrieved from https://www.firstnet.gov/newsroom/blog/communications-boosted-birkebeiner-race-firstnet-deployable

Law Enforcement Take (Winter 2018) Retrieved from https://firstnet.gov/sites/default/files/Law%20enforcement%20newslet.pdf

FirstNet Momentum: More Than 3,600 Public Safety Agencies Subscribed. (Oct. 23) Retrieved from https://www.firstnet.gov/newsroom/press-releases/firstnet-momentum-more-3600-public-safety-agencies-subscribed

Communications Boosted at Birkebeiner Race with FirstNet Deployable. (March 13) Retrieved from https://www.firstnet.gov/newsroom/blog/communications-boosted-birkebeiner-race-firstnet-deployable