AT&T – FirstNet Partner to Bring Dedicated Wireless Broadband to First Responders

AT&T and FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority) announced that as of January 4, 2018, all 50 states, including Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, have been opted-in to FirstNet.

FirstNet is the first and only broadband network of its kind, reaching 99% of Americans and offering first responders their own dedicated, interoperable LTE wireless broadband network. It will allow first responders to easily communicate and send data such as images, video, files, and texts during emergencies, disasters, and large events when typical commercial networks become congested.

FirstNet was created under the “Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012” when the demand came for a network for first responders after they encountered significant communications challenges with other public safety agencies during September 11, 2001. First responders, including police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, are the professionals at the forefront of providing safety and security to the public. Reliable communications connectivity is a crucial aspect of ensuring that all public safety agencies have the tools necessary to make quick, critical, and life-saving decisions.

In March 2017, AT&T won a 25-year contract to design, deploy, and manage FirstNet. AT&T is confident in their innovative abilities to deliver FirstNet’s public safety mission, as AT&T has been “helping to enable public safety communications for nearly 140 years.” According to Forbes, AT&T is expected to invest approximately $40 billion into “building and operating the network,” and “the federal government will designate 20 MHz of spectrum to AT&T for the buildout, while also making payments of $6.5 billion to AT&T each year.”

Setbacks with Current Communications

Currently, first responders communicate over approximately “10,000 different networks” across the country, many of which are not interoperable between agencies. According to an officer with a local city police department in Central Florida, when “…servers go down, officers have to continue operations without their network-connected computers and communication is limited to radio use.” When multiple agencies from outside the county need to coordinate a response to a critical situation that enters the local city police department’s jurisdiction, dispatch communicates the necessary information from one agency to another. During these situations when officers need information as quickly as possible, communication delays between dispatch and the appropriate responding officers can absolutely be fatal.

During Hurricane Irma, thousands of cell towers and fiber optic cables had been damaged, causing broadband and mobile network outages across Florida, Puerto Rico, and many Caribbean islands. In California recently, the wildfires that tore through several counties left 77 cell towers damaged. During both disasters, the cell towers that remained undamaged became extremely congested due to traffic, significantly slowing down service for users. The heavy congestion on commercial carrier networks made it incredibly difficult for first responders to communicate, deploy operations, and connect with other local agencies during disaster relief and rescue efforts.

Advantages of FirstNet

With a broadband network dedicated to first responders, police offers will remain connected to their computers, without interruption, allowing them to quickly and easily access the information and data they need to carry out operations. FirstNet is also interoperable and will allow agencies across jurisdictions to easily communicate, coordinate, and work together to save lives.

FirstNet will significantly improve disaster and emergency relief and recovery. Currently, first responders use commercial wireless networks. FirstNet’s preemption service is already available to first responders who are opted-in to FirstNet. Preemption will put first responders at the front of the line during disasters and emergencies. Chris Sambar, Senior Vice President, AT&T – FirstNet, states that preemption will also go one step further. “If the line becomes congested, it will shift all non-emergency traffic to another line to free up space for first responders and eliminate interruptions to service.” This allows first responders to continue operations without interruption or slow network speeds.

The network will also have “hardened cell tower sites” and maximum resiliency and redundancy for unfavorable weather conditions. Redundancy is vital to increasing the reliability of the network. When critical network infrastructures are damaged, FirstNet’s backup modalities keep the network fully functional. FirstNet states that the process of hardening infrastructure will vary by state, such as strengthening infrastructure to uphold during hurricanes in the southeastern United States.

FirstNet provides law enforcement, fire departments, EMT professionals, and other public safety agencies with a dedicated broadband network delivered and managed by AT&T. First responder’s access to interoperable communications and services ensures that they have the communication connections necessary to save lives and protect communities across the nation.

GeoTel is the leading provider of telecommunications infrastructure data, including cell tower locations. For over sixteen years, GeoTel’s products have been providing companies and government entities with the leverage and insight necessary to make intelligent, location-based business decisions. For more information or a demo, please contact our experts at (407) 788-8888.


by Sarah Pereau | 05 Jan 2018