FirstNet surpasses marks for 75% Band 14 buildout, 1 million connections and 10,000 agencies subscribed
Deployment of FirstNet on 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum is more than 75% complete, with the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) supporting more than 1 million connections from more than 10,000 subscribed first-responder agencies, according to statistics released yesterday by contractor AT&T.
With the buildout update, AT&T has surpassed the FirstNet deployment goal set by company executives of finishing at least 70% of the planned geographic coverage on Band 14 spectrum in the carrier’s contract with the FirstNet Authority by the end of the year.
AT&T is contracted to deploy equipment establishing a physically separate public-safety LTE core for FirstNet users and supporting LTE coverage on the 20 MHz of Band 14 airwaves licensed to the FirstNet Authority in a five-year period that began with AT&T being selected as the FirstNet contractor in March 2017. FirstNet subscribers have been able to access the AT&T commercial network—covering more than 99% of the U.S. population—since the contract was awarded.
In June, AT&T reached the 60% buildout threshold nine months ahead of the schedule in its contract with the FirstNet Authority. The next major threshold for AT&T is to reach 80% completion of the network buildout, which is the primary requirement that the carrier giant must achieve to qualify for a payment of more than $1 billion from the FirstNet Authority.
AT&T CFO John Stephens expressed optimism about the progress the company has made in deploying Band 14 coverage for FirstNet.
“It’s well ahead of schedule … the team’s doing a great job,” Stephens said yesterday while being interviewed during a telecom conference led by Wells Fargo. “When you think about that [75% completion of FirstNet Band 14 coverage], that means we only have 25% left to build over the next 27 months.”
Stephens also reiterated AT&T’s strategy associated with the FirstNet buildout, which calls for crews deploying FirstNet Band 14 operations to also install gear for the WCS and AWS-3 spectrum bands, as well as equipment that will enable the carrier’s 5G offerings.
But the primary goal of the FirstNet initiative is to support public safety, according to Jason Porter, AT&T’s senior vice president for the FirstNet program.
“Public safety is called upon to handle emergencies every single day. They have to be ready for the worst with the best tools to help them respond safely, efficiently and effectively,” Porter said in a prepared statement. “We’re honored to see FirstNet play a supporting role in that response for thousands of agencies across the country.
“FirstNet is the only wireless communications platform that’s been architected from the ground up just for the public-safety community. It’s specifically designed to advance public-safety communications, equipping subscribing first responders with the innovative, mission-focused tools, technologies and features they can’t get anywhere else.”
One of those features is subscriber access to deployable infrastructure like SatCOLTs and flying cells-on-wings (Flying COWS, LTE coverage delivered from a base station attached to a drone) at no additional cost. This portfolio has been expanded with yesterday’s announcement of FirstNet One, an inflatable blimp that is designed to provide continuous LTE coverage for as long as two weeks to a geographic area that is twice as large as one that can be served via a Flying COW.
This kind of innovation has helped FirstNet attract more than 1 million connections across 10,000 subscribing agencies in less than two years, according to the FirstNet Authority’s Ed Parkinson.
“Since its launch, FirstNet has created a dedicated marketplace for public safety broadband communications that never existed before, and we are only scratching the surface on the innovations this network is driving,” Parkinson said in a prepared statement.
“Public safety’s critical communications needs will always be at the center of their network, and we are proud to support more than 10,000 agencies using more than 1 million FirstNet connections across the country. We look forward to continuing to work hand-in-hand with public safety and AT&T as we head into a new year of network expansion and growth.”
Under the FirstNet Authority contract, AT&T has access to the 20 MHz of Band 14 spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority and has the potential to receive $6.5 billion by executing all network-deployment milestones in a timely manner. In return, AT&T must make payments to the FirstNet Authority that total more than $18 billion during the 25-year contract period. This money is expected to pay the FirstNet Authority’s operating costs during the time of the contract and fund about $15 billion in technological updates to the broadband system.