The FirstNet communications platform, built with AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority), continues to gain rapid momentum as it brings advanced capabilities to first responders across the country. It has well surpassed the half-million mark, with more than 600,000 device connections being used by more than 7,250 public safety agencies. It continues to expand the coverage, capacity and capability available to first responders, giving public safety agencies a network experience that consistently performs over 25 percent faster than any commercial network, according to an AT&T analysis of Ookla Speedtest Intelligence data average download speeds for the first quarter of 2019.
Transforming Public Safety Communications
Recent agencies to subscribe to FirstNet include AAA Ambulance Service, American Medical Response, Anchorage Police Department, Chicago Police Department, Elmore County Sheriff’s Office, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Seattle Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Last year’s 7.0 earthquake really brought the significance of the FirstNet system to light,” said Justin Doll, the Anchorage, Alaska, police chief. “When the shaking stopped, I relied on my FirstNet phone to begin our response to the disaster. Where others had trouble connecting due to network congestion, FirstNet gave us the uninterrupted ability to coordinate our tireless efforts to keep the citizens of Anchorage safe.”
A majority of agencies and nearly 50 percent of FirstNet’s total connections are new subscribers (not AT&T migrations), and that mix continues to shift. Since January 2019, most of the FirstNet connections added are new subscribers to AT&T. This underscores the role FirstNet is playing to expand the public safety community’s adoption of wireless capabilities.
Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said his department is always looking for new ways to be innovative in the fire service. “FirstNet is highly beneficial to the first responder community and will improve our communications during and following a major disaster, such as an earthquake,” he said. “This system provides firefighters with a tool to communicate with one another, without the worry of congestion issues.”
FirstNet is for all public safety agencies: career and volunteer, urban, rural or tribal. AT&T launched the FirstNet digital signup portal to help qualified first responders gain access to FirstNet service. Individual first responders can now subscribe online at virtually any time, from anywhere.
Reid Vaughan, executive director of the Alabama Firefighters Association, said that FirstNet is a game-changer for first responders, from volunteer firefighters in the rural part of Alabama to the emergency medical technicians in more populous metro areas.
Extending Connectivity to New Communities
To better serve public safety agencies, we continue to extend the reach of the FirstNet communications platform. Band 14 spectrum has been deployed in more than 600 markets, as defined by FCC cellular market areas, further giving FirstNet the ability to reach agencies large and small, urban, rural and tribal with the connectivity and modern communications tools they need.
Elmore County (Idaho) Sheriff Mike Hollinshead said that rural Idaho presents significant challenges in terms of emergency communications coverage and interoperability. “FirstNet is addressing our challenges of coverage and providing state of the art capabilities needed to ensure the safety of the public and our law enforcement officers,” he said.
Andy Geske, the chief of information technology for AAA Ambulance Service, said that his company provides emergency ambulance services to 1.2 million residents across 16 counties in rural Mississippi. “Serving a large rural environment can present a number of challenges, but with FirstNet, communications are no longer one of those,” he said. “No matter where we go in or outside of the counties we cover, FirstNet has given us clear communications to coordinate and interoperate across our crews. When it comes to providing time-critical, life-saving services, FirstNet’s reliable, easy-to-access and persistent connection is vital. It’ll also enable us to advance our services forward; we expect capabilities like emergency telemedicine are now just around the corner.”
Enabling the Fastest Overall Experience for Public Safety
AT&T was recently recognized as the fastest wireless network in the nation, according to the first quarter 2019 results of tests taken with Speedtest as analyzed by Ookla. Since FirstNet subscribers have access to all AT&T LTE bands in addition to Band 14, these results translate to the network experience delivered by the public safety communications platform.
Even better, with the specialized capabilities enabled by the physically separate and dedicated FirstNet network core — such as priority and preemption — the FirstNet communications platform brings FirstNet subscribers the fastest overall experience. According to the results of tests taken with Speedtest as analyzed by AT&T, FirstNet consistently performs over 25 percent faster than any commercial network.
Chris Sambar, senior vice president of FirstNet at AT&T, said the company’s team remains focused on delivering the modern capabilities, coverage and capacity needed to strengthen first responders’ communications nationwide. “These results serve as another proof point to show the work is paying off for public safety,” he said. “We’ve entered the second year of our FirstNet Band 14 rollout with incredible momentum, already tracking well ahead of schedule, covering more than 50 percent of our total nationwide coverage targets. And we don’t intend to slow down as we keep delivering for those we rely on most.”
Taking FirstNet Connectivity to New Heights
Connectivity is going airborne. We’ve added three flying cells on wings (COWs) to the FirstNet deployable program. Each flying COW is comprised of two tethered drones and a trailer for transport that is equipped with a satellite dish and fiber connections. A flying COW can withstand light rain and wind speeds up to 25 miles per hour. It is able to reach heights of up to 400 feet, making it ideal for situations like wildfires and mountain rescue missions where the terrain may have previously made it difficult to maintain connectivity. Flying COWs are set to be outfitted with Band 14 in the second half of 2019.
With access to a nationwide fleet of deployable network assets that now includes the flying COWs, we can help equip FirstNet subscribers in the United States with the unthrottled connectivity they need, no matter the emergency. Like the other 72 assets, the FirstNet flying COWs are available at all times at no additional charge. The FirstNet team at AT&T will determine the appropriate asset to send — or resolution — based on the situation.
Ed Parkinson, the acting CEO of the FirstNet Authority, said that FirstNet is transforming the marketplace for public safety communications by delivering products, services and technologies that are making a difference for first responders. “We are excited about the progress of the network enhancements,” he said. “As we move forward, the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T will continue to work with public safety to advance and evolve the network platform to meet their ongoing communications needs.”
FirstNet is the public safety community’s dedicated, nationwide communications platform. It’s bringing public safety communications into the 21st century with new, innovative capabilities to strengthen first responders’ incident response. And it’s helping them connect to the critical information they need, every day and in every emergency.
FirstNet is built with AT&T in a public-private partnership with the FirstNet Authority, an independent agency within the federal government. This helps ensure that the FirstNet communications platform and service offerings meet the short- and long-term needs of the public safety community.
April Ward is senior media relations advisor at the First Responder Network Authority.