Last month, AT&T announced that FirstNet public-safety subscribers have “ruthless preemption” capability across its entire network—not just the portion of the network operating on the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to FirstNet.

AT&T has pledged to complete the deployment of a FirstNet evolved-packet-core network featuring end-to-end encryption for all FirstNet traffic in March. Plans for the next year also call for FirstNet subscribers to have access to a Security Operations Center that will be open 24/7/365, and the rollout of next-generation public-safety tools, including mission-critical push to talk (MCPTT) and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) functionality, according to an AT&T press release.

Such plans have many public-safety officials excited about the future of first-responder communications.

“As first responders, we face an incredible amount of risk every day. So, to have a network that is focused on driving innovative capabilities to improve our safety is game changing,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a prepared statement. “2017 was a pivotal year for public safety. And, with the advancements planned for 2018, it’s only going to get better.”

Richard Carizzo, chief of the Southern Platte (Mo.) Fire Protection District and a board member for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), predicted that the implementation of FirstNet will have spur other advances in public-safety communications.

“This is a day that many of us in the fire service have been looking forward to for a long time,” Carizzo said in a prepared statement. “Not only will this network remedy current communications challenges, but it will also usher in a wave of innovation for public safety and allow us to communicate unthrottled with responders from other agencies, districts, regions, tribes and states.”

While most attention has been focused on FirstNet and AT&T, Verizon—currently the market leader in providing public-safety broadband—has committed to improving its first-responder offerings by mirroring key FirstNet features being implemented by AT&T. Notably, Verizon officials pledged to provide preemptive access across its network by the end of 2017 and a dedicated core network for public safety during the first quarter of this year.

“2017 generated significant dialogue regarding public-safety communications,” Verizon said in a prepared statement provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “That was good and it drew increased attention to this critical customer segment. 2018 will be the year that actions and results speak louder than words.

“For Verizon, that means continued leadership in network excellence by launching our dedicated public safety network and continuing to lead the market with the introduction of products, services and other advanced technologies designed for first responders—all running on the country’s only public safety-grade LTE network."