AT&T plans to add Band 14 to one-third of its cell sites this year
ORLANDO, Fla.–One year into the public-private partnership between AT&T and the First Responders Network Authority, the focus has significantly shifted from the years-long planning and outreach process gathering support for state opt ins to the FirstNet network, to what FirstNet means for the day-to-day and emergency operations of first responders.
Dave Buchanan, director of consultation for FirstNet, said during a Friday morning panel that the organization has pivoted from focusing on 56 states and territories, to the roughly 60,000 public safety agencies in the U.S. that FirstNet wants to bring on as customers. He also said that FirstNet’s sense of the possibilities for the network have changed because instead of a network built from scratch and limited to the 20 megahertz of Band 14 700 MHz spectrum that were allocated to FirstNet, AT&T has opened up its entire network and spectrum holdings for prioritization and preemption services for first responders.
AT&T says that in the first year of its 25-year contract with FirstNet, the partnership has more than 30,000 connections running on AT&T’s network from more than 350 public safety agencies. The user devices range from in-vehicle modems to smartphones. The carrier plans to add Band 14 coverage to about one-third of its cell sites this year, and devices with Band 14 capabilities are already beginning to emerge. Those include both devices for public safety specifically, such as Sonim’s two newly launched, ruggedized XP8 and XP5s handsets and commercial handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S9 devices.
Panel moderator Michael Marusich, senior program manager for the state of Washington’s Technology Solutions and the lead for the state’s FirstNet program, wanted to know how AT&T and FirstNet will continue their outreach efforts to the state which were at first mandated by the law that created FirstNet, with accompanying federal grants to help states with planning and implementation. Dave Buchanan, director of consultation with FirstNet, indicated that the organization wants to continue engagement with first responders and is interested in supporting FirstNet regional and local user groups. He added that states should soon expect information about a webinar in which FirstNet will outline its outreach efforts for 2018 and beyond.
AT&T and FirstNet, he said, don’t just want to deliver a device to public safety, but is focused on “bringing about solutions that will help you do your job faster, help you do your job safer and help you save money.”
Buchanan said that FirstNet is working with AT&T to expand its coverage, although panelist
Rosa Akhtarkhavari, CIO for the city of Orlando, also pointed out that for her city, capacity is important — particularly in the wake of natural disasters such as hurricanes, when video information on conditions may be widely needed. Akhtarkhavari also noted that risks of a communications transition are high when first responders’ lives and public safety are at stake — and cities also have to think hard about how their existing investments in communications fit into the overall picture as they consider what FirstNet means to them.
“How do you get value if you have investments, and balance that with operational risks?” she said.
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