FirstNet officials yesterday announced the opening of the FirstNet Innovation and Test Lab at the organization’s technical headquarters in Boulder, Colo., where equipment and other solutions can be tested and evaluated before being deployed on the nationwide public-safety broadband network.

Such testing is a major differentiation between FirstNet and a typical commercial network, according to FirstNet Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson.

“This is no average commercial network, ladies and gentlemen,” Johnson said during a ribbon-cutting event to open the lab, which can be viewed online. “We can buy that on the street. But it wasn’t good enough for public safety.

“That’s why we marched on Capitol Hill and said, ‘We’ve got to have a dedicated, mission-critical network,’ because what we have isn’t good enough. It’s got to be mission critical, it’s got to be reliable, it’s got to have applications aimed at public safety and built around public safety, and it has to be proven in a lab like this—not guessed at, not built for my 14-year-old daughter. It has to be built for the public-safety professional, and that’s what we’re doing here. We’re here for public safety.”

FirstNet CEO Mike Poth echoed this sentiment.

“We’re the ones occupying the lab, but this is public safety’s lab,” Poth said during the event. “This is why we’re here and why we exist. This is the next exciting milestone of what FirstNet is all about—to make this happen for public safety.”

Poth also announced that FirstNet board member Neil Cox will replace Barry Boniface—a board member who will be leaving FirstNet at the end of the month—as the chairman for the FirstNet board’s Technology Committee.

Cox, who helped build the first cellular network in Chicago, attended the lab-opening event and discussed some of the possible ways that various types of first responders could leverage the FirstNet system.

“You’re going to see applications that are going to come out and be developed for first responders that will make all of our lives safer and better,” Cox said.

FirstNet Chief Technology Officer Jeff Bratcher described the type of work that will be conducted in the new facility, which already is equipped to validate gear and solutions proposed for use by First Net’s nationwide contractor.

“The FirstNet staff all understand that, when first responders are racing to help in disasters and emergencies, they need the communications tools that are tested and proven to work,” Bratcher said. “That’s why we’ve created the FirstNet Innovation and Test Lab. It’s to ensure first responders possess the innovative, effective, reliable technology that they need to protect and serve our communities.

“We’re going to be focusing on testing those mission-critical features, such as quality of service, priority and preemption, which are the key differentiators for this network to ensure the delivery of those critical services and features for first responders that they’ve long asked for.”

Bratcher said the FirstNet laboratory was built ahead of schedule and under budget. FirstNet’s board approved a long-term lease for the Boulder facility earlier this year, he said.