FirstNet tops 600,000 connections, adds three flying COWs to deployable assets, according to AT&T
More than 7,250 agencies have subscribed to 600,000-plus connections over the FirstNet system, which has been bolstered by three flying cell on wings (flying COWs) that are designed to provide deployable LTE coverage during emergency response efforts, FirstNet contractor AT&T announced today.
Less than two weeks ago, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson announced on April 24 that FirstNet was serving 570,000 “subscribers” and more than 7,000 agencies. Today’s update represents an increase of about 30,000 connections and 250 agencies from those figures cited during AT&T first-quarter earnings call.
Some of the notable agencies subscribing to FirstNet include the Chicago police department and the Seattle fire department, according to an AT&T press release. In addition, two federal agencies—the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Coast Guard—now subscribe to FirstNet.
While most early FirstNet subscribers were existing AT&T customers, that trend is changing rapidly, according to the AT&T press release.
“A majority of agencies and nearly 50% of FirstNet’s total connections are new subscribers (not AT&T migrations), and that mix continues to shift,” the press release states. “Since January 2019, most of the FirstNet connections added are new subscribers to AT&T.”
Today’s press release reiterated the fact that AT&T has completed more than half of the contracted initial FirstNet buildout, deploying the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority in more than 600 markets. AT&T also cited a Speedtest assessment of broadband offerings and concluded that FirstNet “consistently performs over 25% faster than any commercial network,” according to the press release.
“Our team remains focused on delivering the modern capabilities, coverage and capacity needed to strengthen first responders’ communications nationwide, Chris Sambar, senior vice president of FirstNet, AT&T. “These results serve as another proof point to show the work is paying off for public safety.
“We’ve entered the second year of our FirstNet Band 14 rollout with incredible momentum, already tracking well ahead of schedule, covering more than 50% of our total nationwide coverage targets. And we don’t intend to slow down as we keep delivering for those we rely on most.”
Ed Parkinson, acting CEO of the FirstNet Authority, expressed optimism about the progress being realized in the deployment of the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).
“FirstNet is transforming the marketplace for public safety communications – delivering products, services and technologies that are making a difference for our first responders,” Parkinson said in a prepared statement. “We are excited about the progress of the network enhancements. As we move forward, the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T will continue to work with public safety to advance and evolve the network platform to meet their ongoing communications needs.”
One new wrinkle in the FirstNet offering revealed in AT&T’s press release is the fact that the 72 vehicular deployable assets delivered last year are being augmented by three flying COWs, each of which includes two tethered drones, a satellite dish and fiber connections to provide LTE coverage and necessary backhaul.
Designed to withstand light rains and 25-miles-per-hour winds, these LTE drones are able to reach heights of 400 feet and are expected to be used in wildfire and rescue missions where terrain made connectivity difficult in the past. Although available for use immediately, the flying COWs are scheduled to be outfitted with gear to support Band 14 operations during the second half of 2019, according to the AT&T press release.
AT&T demonstrated the capability of using tethered drones to provide LTE coverage in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria striking Puerto Rico in September 2017.
As with other FirstNet deployable assets, the flying COWs are available to FirstNet subscribers at no additional cost, according to the AT&T press release.