FirstNet public safety agencies now number over 1,000, AT&T announced yesterday. The carrier is the exclusive operator of the FirstNet nationwide mobile broadband network. Although that network is still under construction, the carrier already gives public safety users priority access and, when necessary, pre-emption on its existing mobile network.

Authorized FirstNet public safety users can use the network to communicate and share video and data with other FirstNet users nationwide.

FirstNet Public Safety Agencies
Since May, first responders have used FirstNet during active shooter situations, flooding events, large events such as the 2018 Volvo Ocean Race, search and recovery missions in remote locations, tornadoes and wildfires, AT&T said.

The company noted that current users include:

  • 11 state patrol agencies
  • Tribal public safety agencies
  • Volunteer firefighters and responders
  • Federal agencies
  • School districts that can use the service to communicate and coordinate with public safety during times of crisis

AT&T early last year was awarded a federal contract and spectrum to build the nationwide public safety FirstNet network. In addition, individual states and territories chose AT&T to build the radio access network in their state or territory. The U.S. government is contributing $6.5 billion to network construction costs and AT&T has pledged to invest an additional $40 billion over the next 25 years. In addition, AT&T gains the ability to put its own commercial customers on the public safety radio access network when it is not needed by public safety personnel.

Only authorized first responders will be able to use the nationwide core transport network supporting the network, however. Access to that network is required to use certain functions designed specifically for public safety users such as improved location services, priority and pre-emption.

AT&T also has touted other benefits of its FirstNet win, including the ability to sell plans to family members of first responders. Many first responders, including volunteer fire fighters, will be purchasing their own FirstNet-capable devices and plans and may want to also use AT&T for other family members. In addition, cities purchasing devices and plans for first responders may be more likely to consider AT&T for non-emergency personnel.

FirstNet Impact on AT&T 5G
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson commented yesterday at the Wells Fargo Securities 2018 Telecom 5G Forum that FirstNet will help AT&T get to 5G more quickly. FirstNet upgrades are required at AT&T towers, allowing the FirstNet process to in effect help ‘subsidize’ AT&T’s move to 5G. As those towers are equipped with FirstNet capabilities, technicians are also preparing that same infrastructure for 5G, allowing future software upgrades to make them 5G ready.

“As we build out this FirstNet capability, the first responder network, we have to go climb every cell tower, literally we have to go touch every cell tower over the next couple of years,” Stephenson said. “We’ll be equipping every single cell site for 5G, such that when 5G is ready to go, is ready for prime time, our turn-up of 5G is a software load, it’s a software upgrade.”