AT&T is America’s public safety communications partner. In the nearly five years since we were selected by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) to build and operate the FirstNet wireless broadband public safety network, we have moved quickly to bring more coverage, boost capacity and offer new capabilities for first responders and the communities they serve — rural, urban and tribal. The public safety community on FirstNet has access to the United States’ largest coverage footprint, reaching more than 2.81 million square miles. That means we cover 50,000 more square miles than the largest commercial networks, which is about the size of Alabama, giving more first responders access to an entire ecosystem of innovative solutions to keep them mission-ready.
Public safety agencies and organizations in thousands of communities across the country are staying connected with the FirstNet network, More first responders are gaining access to a one-of-a-kind 5G experience on the FirstNet network. 5G connectivity on the FirstNet network has been launched in 10 new areas: Savannah, Georgia; western Kansas; Lansing, Michigan; Minneapolis; Toledo, Ohio; Charleston and Hilton Head, South Carolina; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Richmond; Virginia;and Redmond, Washington; to further support public safety’s unique mission needs. These areas join 10 other previously announced cities. Public safety also has access to 5G+ (mmWave) spectrum in parts of more than 40 cities and 35 stadiums and venues. We’re continuing to roll out additional 5G connectivity for the FirstNet network in more communities nationwide.
We’ve also deployed Band 14 spectrum nationwide. Band 14, public safety’s VIP lane, is nationwide, high-quality spectrum licensed to the First Responder Network (FirstNet) Authority for public safety specifically on the FirstNet network. In an emergency, this frequency band can be cleared and locked exclusively for first responders and the extended public safety community. This is vital because, as seen at this year’s Big Game, a first responder used more than 2 times more data for critical communications as compared to a general consumer.
Tens of thousands of communities are benefitting from the unique capabilities of Band 14. Since launching public safety’s network, we’ve upgraded tens of thousands of existing AT&T cell sites with public safety’s Band 14 spectrum, helping to surpass 95 percent of our Band 14 coverage target with the FirstNet Authority, as well as reaching several hundred thousand additional square miles that exceed our contractual target commitment. We continue to roll out Band 14 to help provide public safety with dedicated connectivity when needed.
Strengthening Public Safety’s Network Infrastructure
But we aren’t stopping there. The FCC estimates that more than 10,000 lives could be saved each year, if public safety were able to reach callers just one minute faster. Because 80 percent of wireless calls take place indoors, the need for in-building dedicated public safety connectivity is essential to public safety operations and overall safety. That’s why we are collaborating with Safer Buildings Coalition, an advocacy group that focuses on advancing policies, ideas and technologies that ensure effective in-building communications capabilities for public safety personnel and the people they serve.
No connection is more important than one that can help save a life. In 2021, the United States experienced more than 60 extreme weather and climate events, coupled with increasing instabilities in the commercial power infrastructure landscape. Although we’ve made significant investments to increase network resiliency, these unprecedented events have reinforced the need to take further action for today’s changing environment. That’s why we’re establishing a third emergency pathway to each mobility network hub (MTSO, or mobile telephone switching office). As public safety’s partner, we’ll continue to set the bar on what success looks like for network resiliency now and in the future.
Further reinforcing the reliability of the FirstNet network, we’ve gone farther than anyone in the industry to secure public safety’s communications. The FirstNet network is the first-ever nationwide network with comprehensive tower-to-core network encryption. Because FirstNet is designed with a defense-in-depth security strategy that goes well beyond standard commercial network security measures, first responders have superior protection without sacrificing usability or affecting public safety’s missions.
Why is this important? In less than five years, 56 states and territories unanimously opted-in to use the FirstNet network; we launched the highly secure, dedicated FirstNet network core to give first responders their own connectivity platform and added so many square miles to the FirstNet network service area that it was as though we added the entire state of California nearly three times over.
Today, the FirstNet network is solving for common and long-standing communications challenges that first responders face — things like interoperability, network congestion and commercial network providers slowing public safety’s data connection. The FirstNet network is giving them superior coverage for day-to-day response and life-saving missions. Although commercial wireless offerings remain available to public safety, the FirstNet network continues to grow because it offers distinct advantages from those commercial offerings. The FirstNet network comes with unique features, functionality and dedicated spectrum when needed for the public safety community. That’s why public safety fought for its own, separate, dedicated platform, pursuing the vision that led to the creation of the FirstNet network.
How does FirstNet help bridge the digital divide? Over the past five years (2017‒2021), AT&T’s investment in the United States, including capital investment and acquisitions of wireless spectrum, was more than $130 billion. The FirstNet network expansion is one way we are helping ensure all of public safety and the communities it serves have access to critical connectivity to help meet the urgent challenges of today and tomorrow.
We already cover more than 99 percentof the U.S. population, but the FirstNet network is built for all public safety. That means every first responder — career or volunteer; federal, tribal, state or local; urban, suburban or rural, and those that support them. We are working closely with local telecom providers across the country to more quickly address rural and tribal coverage needs and expand the reach of the FirstNet network for the public safety community. For example, thanks to these collaborations, we were able to nearly quadruple our coverage in Nebraska since launching the FirstNet network. Additionally, we’ve deployed Band 14 across nearly 100 cell sites on the Navajo Nation.
With FirstNet, it’s about where first responders need connectivity. That’s why the build is being done with direct feedback from public safety and local stakeholders. This feedback has been instrumental in deploying Band 14 spectrum nationwide. It’s helped to launch nearly 1,000 new sites in rural, remote and tribal areas so far, including areas where emergency responses have been previously challenged.
From collaborating with local providers to building out new, purpose-built cell sites in rural and remote locations, this new infrastructure will help improve the overall coverage and network capacity experience for public safety on the FirstNet network and for AT&T wireless customers in the area. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T commercial spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when not being used by FirstNet subscribers.
What makes 5G on the FirstNet network one of a kind? The FirstNet network is not a commercial network. That means our approach to 5G wireless communications for public safety must be different from the way your friends and family experience 5G. With the FirstNet network, we’re taking the right steps for public safety in a way that meets its unique mission needs. Although 5G connectivity will ultimately bring a combination of benefits, such as ultra-low latency and ultra-high speeds to support all kinds of users, it’s essential we approach 5G in a different way for first responders. That’s why first responders maintain voice communications with priority and preemption on LTE, while the FirstNet network determines the best route for data traffic, whether that’s 5G or LTE spectrum.
The FirstNet network is the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community. Shaped by the vision of Congress and the first responder community following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FirstNet network stands above commercial offerings. It is built with AT&T in public-private partnership with the FirstNet Authority, an independent agency within the federal government. With more than 19,500 agencies and organizations, accounting for more than 3 million connections nationwide as of the end of 2021, the FirstNet network is providing public safety with dedicated coverage and capacity when it needs it, unique benefits such as always-on priority and preemption, and high-quality Band 14 spectrum. These advanced capabilities enable the FirstNet network to help fire, EMS and law enforcement save lives and protect their communities.
Here’s what some people have said about the FirstNet network:
Jason Porter, president of Public Sector and FirstNet at AT&T, said that interoperable connectivity is the foundation of the FirstNet network and the public safety-centric ecosystem it supports.
“As public safety’s partner, we’ve moved faster than anyone to deliver more coverage across tribal, rural and urban areas, powering the connections first responders count on most,” Porter said. “We’re doing it all with a hyper focus on the unique security, resiliency and reliability that their missions demand. Public safety is our priority and we’ll continue to be there for this vital community, no matter where their mission takes them.”
Edward Parkinson, the CEO of the FirstNet Authority, spoke of being pleased to see the FirstNet network continue to grow and deliver coverage and capacity where public safety said it needed it the most.
“The FirstNet Authority has taken a public-safety-first approach that is unlike commercial networks,” Parkinson said. “As we head into the fifth year of network deployment with our partner AT&T, we will continue to keep public safety at the forefront of everything we do.”
Jonathan Nez, the president of the Navajo Nation, said that the Navajo Nation continues to work with the FirstNet Authority and AT&T to build out FirstNet coverage throughout the Navajo Nation as part of a large collaborative effort to better serve the Navajo people, especially those in underserved areas.
“Ninety FirstNet towers sites have launched on the Navajo Nation so far, and we’re continuing to work together with the FirstNet Authority and AT&T to get additional sites launched,” Nez said. “The FirstNet buildout represents a historic investment in broadband infrastructure for the Navajo Nation. Our first responders have used FirstNet mobile technology during wildfires, large public events and for COVID-19 mitigation efforts. We look forward to expanding our telecommunications capabilities further to provide more resources for our frontline warriors with the help of FirstNet.”
Jeanine Sterling, an industry director with Frost & Sullivan, said that as weather intensifies and commercial power grids flicker in and out, first responder communications can become less reliable just when it becomes most critical.
“AT&T recognizes that secure, reliable communications are paramount,” she said, “and Frost & Sullivan is impressed with the network resiliency measures that AT&T continues to take to help public safety personnel stay connected even under the most trying conditions. One of AT&T’s latest moves, establishing a tertiary link — a backup for a backup — is an extensive process that injects even more reliability and further differentiates AT&T and FirstNet as custodians of public safe