The AT&T FirstNet mobile broadband public safety network is 25% faster than any commercial wireless network, AT&T said today. The claim is based on the company’s analysis of Ookla Speedtest data for the first quarter of 2019. AT&T FirstNet subscribers now number more than 500,000, AT&T added.

Ookla Speedtests are based on an automated testing system that end users conduct on their mobile devices. The company’s mobile report for the first half of 2018 – the most recent period displayed on the Ookla website – showed more than 12 million tests in the U.S. The data that AT&T used is from the first quarter of 2019.

AT&T attributed the FirstNet speed advantage to unique aspects of the FirstNet network. “[W]ith the specialized capabilities enabled by the physically separate and dedicated FirstNet network core – like priority and preemption – the FirstNet communications platform brings FirstNet subscribers the fastest overall experience,” the company said in a press release.

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The FirstNet network has dedicated spectrum that AT&T gained when it was awarded the contract to build the nationwide public safety network. Where that spectrum has not yet been built out, users get priority on AT&T’s commercial network. Conversely, AT&T is allowed to put commercial customer traffic on the FirstNet spectrum when and where it is not needed by public safety, but those calls are subject to preemption.

The FirstNet spectrum has now been deployed in more than 600 markets nationwide, according to today’s press release.

AT&T FirstNet Subscribers
AT&T FirstNet subscribers come from more than 7,250 public safety agencies, AT&T said. The company also noted that nearly 50% of FirstNet’s total connections are to people who did not use previously use AT&T. In addition, the company said the mix of new signups is skewing even more toward people who didn’t previously use AT&T.

Many of those new customers likely came from Verizon. That company traditionally has dominated the public safety market, but the company did not bid to build FirstNet.

Also in today’s press release, AT&T said it has launched a digital signup portal to enable first responders to subscribe to FirstNet service online. In addition, the company said it has added three more flying cells on wings (COWs) to the FirstNet program that can be deployed in areas where emergency communications are needed. The COWs are comprised of two tethered drones and a trailer for transport that is equipped with a satellite dish and fiber connections.

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