FirstNet, AT&T Invest in 10-Year Transformation of Public Safety Broadband

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) is embarking on the next phase of FirstNet, with a significant investment initiative totaling over $8 billion over the next decade. The partnership between the FirstNet Authority and AT&T is unveiling a groundbreaking network investment of $6.3 billion, bringing full 5G capabilities to FirstNet, expanding mission-critical services, and enhancing coverage. An additional $2 billion in ongoing investments for coverage enhancements is currently under discussion.

Commencing in March, FirstNet will emerge as the exclusive wireless network providing America’s first responders with always-on priority and preemption across 5G, encompassing all AT&T 5G commercial spectrum. AT&T is deploying a new standalone FirstNet 5G network core adhering to the latest industry standards, featuring dedicated public safety functionality.

Key highlights of this investment initiative include:

  1. Network Expansion: The plan involves building thousands of purpose-built FirstNet cell sites nationwide, including 1,000 new sites within the next two years, with additional investments over the decade for Band 14 coverage enhancements.
  2. 5G Core Development: A standalone 5G core is being created to enhance 5G functionality on FirstNet with specific public safety features, supporting the transition of public safety’s Band 14 spectrum from LTE to 5G.
  3. Mission-Critical Service Expansion: The initiative aims to expand voice, video, data, and location-based mission-critical services, complementing public safety’s existing radio systems with reliable wireless connectivity.
  4. Fleet Upgrade: Public safety’s dedicated fleet of deployable network assets will be upgraded with 5G connectivity to enhance operational safety, security, and resiliency.
  5. Future-Ready Network: The network is being readied for evolution beyond 5G, with a focus on public safety’s unique needs and emerging requirements.

This development positions FirstNet as a catalyst for technology and innovation in public safety. The network, built in a public-private partnership following the 9/11 attacks, has already covered more first responders than any other network nationwide. With over 5.5 million connections and approximately 27,500 public safety agencies and organizations on FirstNet, it has become a vital communication tool during various operations.

The investment initiative ensures that FirstNet remains at the forefront of technology, addressing current communication challenges faced by public safety and adapting to future needs. The transition to a full 5G network is expected to bring faster speeds, increased capacity, improved service quality, and innovations in 5G mission-critical services. Importantly, the existing FirstNet 4G LTE network will remain operational throughout this transition.

The announcement underscores the significance of a unified, standalone 5G core for FirstNet, enabling the network to evolve with public safety-specific technological advancements while maintaining critical always-on priority and preemption. The integration of 5G with 9-1-1 enhances emergency response capabilities, allowing for more informed and rapid responses.

FirstNet, shaped by the vision of Congress and the first responder community, stands as a dedicated network providing unparalleled coverage, mission-critical services, and high-quality Band 14 spectrum to support first responders in saving lives and protecting communities. The FirstNet Authority, with a legislative mandate and a self-sustaining business model, reinvests program-generated funds back into the network.

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