FirstNet today announced that nationwide contractor AT&T has delivered upon its promise to complete a dedicated public-safety LTE evolved packet core to serve FirstNet subscribers on schedule, while a key AT&T official dismissed concerns of communications issues between FirstNet and Verizon subscribers.

“One year ago this week, following a rigorous procurement process, we formed a public-private partnership with AT&T to execute on public safety’s vision for this network,” FirstNet CTO Jeff Bratcher states in a blog post published today on FirstNet’s web site. “This includes the construction of a dedicated, robust, highly available and redundant distributed core infrastructure.

“This week, AT&T has met another monumental contractual milestone by launching and delivering the FirstNet core to the First Responder Network Authority. The input and feedback we received from public safety has come to life with this core.”

Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet, echoed this sentiment.

“The launch of the network core comes a year into the FirstNet public-private partnership. It’s been a non-stop 12 months. And we’re proud of the quick progress we’ve made in this short timeframe, consistently delivering on or ahead of schedule,” Sambar said in a prepared statement. “But bringing the FirstNet network core to life is one of the most exciting milestones yet.”

As for concerns about interoperability between FirstNet subscribers and users of Verizon—the current market-share leader for public-safety broadband that also announced its public-safety LTE core today—Sambar said he does not believe an issue exists, describing it as “more smoke and mirrors from Verizon” in a statement provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications

“Verizon knows full well that its customers will be able to communicate with FirstNet customers, and vice versa, because both networks interconnect per industry standards,” Sambar said. “The truth is AT&T-FirstNet and Verizon spoke to each other on this exact topic about six months ago. There is nothing else to discuss, as far as we’re concerned.”

Public-safety entities have been able to enter into FirstNet service contracts since their state’s governor announced their “opt-in” decisions during latter half of 2017, and FirstNet subscribers have had priority and preemption functionality across AT&T’s commercial network for months.

But the launch of the FirstNet evolved packet core “built on physically separate hardware” means first responders have a separate broadband network and that “FirstNet traffic is separated end to end, as the FirstNet core completely separates public safety’s traffic from all commercial traffic,” according to a statement from Sambar provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

For first-responder agencies, key capabilities enabled by the launch of the FirstNet core include:

  • First Priority—In addition to basic priority and preemption functionality, public-safety agencies will have the ability to assign priority levels on a real-time basis, based on local-control decisions made during an emergency response. In total, there will be three priority levels within given to first responders, and “extended primary” users like utilities or transportation can be granted a top priority level, if the need arises.
  • Incident Management Portal—The dynamic-prioritization capabilities enabled by First Priority will be executed in the Incident Management Portal, which gives public safety the ability to execute traffic-management decisions in near real time.
  • End-to-end encryption—Public-safety users will be able to transmit encrypted data securely across LTE-enabled devices. The core includes VPN solutions that comply with the FIPS 140-2 standard, as well as encryption at the radio, transport and network core layers.
  • Monitoring, reliability and availability—Tested and certified by FirstNet, the dedicated public-safety LTE core will be monitored at all times by a dedicated team at the Security Operations Centers. Network elements of the core are located in different areas of the country to provide the geographic redundancy needed to enable the network’s 99.99% end-to-end service availability.
  • Next-generation public-safety capabilities—Much-anticipated applications and services like mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT), location-based offerings that can provide even Z-axis information and others are expected to leverage functionality that is only available through the dedicated FirstNet core.

Although the FirstNet core is being announced today, FirstNet will continue to conduct testing of the core before it is used by public-safety subscribers on a widespread basis, according to Bratcher.

“To ensure the network delivers the performance and integrity public safety demands, the FirstNet core will continue to undergo validation and testing with the First Responder Network Authority,” Bratcher states in his blog. “Alongside AT&T, we will exercise the functionality of the public safety features, measure redundancy under a variety of conditions, and validate the overall performance and resiliency of network components. With the results of these tests, the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T will validate that the network will be there when public safety needs it.

“While we are moving to expedite this process, we will not sacrifice delivering a robust, first class, secure broadband experience to our public safety users. This final phase of testing and validation is expected to be completed in the April/May timeframe. In the meantime, FirstNet users can begin moving to the core as part of a controlled introduction by AT&T. Once this phase of testing and validation is completed, more FirstNet users will move to the core.”