AT&T updates FirstNet numbers, says it has closed coverage gap with Verizon
FirstNet subscribers—more than 11,000 public-safety agencies representing more than 1.2 million connection—have access to an expanding AT&T LTE network that covers more than 2.61 million miles in the U.S., making the coverage difference between AT&T and Verizon “nearly imperceptible,” according to an AT&T executive.
“We’ve been on a mission for some time now to make AT&T’s network not only the nation’s fastest and most reliable, but the nation’s largest,” Chris Sambar, AT&T’s executive vice president, technology and operations, said in a quote appearing in a blog on the AT&T web site. “Despite what Verizon claims with their grossly outdated statistics, the truth is we added significantly more coverage than any other wireless provider last year—making our total coverage difference nearly imperceptible.
“And we’re on target to add more coverage than them again this year. By expanding our wireless coverage footprint, we’re laying the foundation for 5G, and we’re bringing our nation’s first responders the most expansive dedicated platform with innovative capabilities to strengthen their incident response wherever their mission takes them.”
AT&T eliminating the LTE coverage gap with Verizon would represent a significant step in the FirstNet program. Among public-safety agencies that have remained with Verizon rather than switching to FirstNet, the perception that Verizon provides better wireless broadband in their jurisdiction easily is the most-cited reason for the decision, according to numerous sources within the public-safety community.
In recent years, Verizon representatives repeatedly have claimed that Verizon holds at least a 400,000-square-mile coverage advantage over the next-largest U.S. carrier network, which is AT&T—a claim made as recently as last month during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
Such Verizon coverage claims have long been a source of frustration for Sambar, who served as AT&T’s senior vice president for the FirstNet program before being promoted last fall to his current role within AT&T.
“On the topic of misleading, Verizon keeps quoting that 450,000 square miles [as a coverage advantage],” Sambar said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications conducted during the APCO 2019 event in August. “We have sent them multiple cease-and-desist letters on that, because they know that’s not true—and if you want to quote me, that’s fine. But they [Verizon representatives] keep saying that, and that is a misleading thing for them to keep saying, so I’m surprised that they keep saying it.”
“It was true, probably two years ago. But it’s not true anymore, and that’s very frustrating.”
As part of the FirstNet state plans approved by 50 states and six territories in 2017, AT&T agreed to build 1,000 new LTE cell sites, typically in rural locations where cell coverage did not exist previously. During the APCO interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications, Sambar said that “hundreds” of those sites had been deployed as of August 2019 and that AT&T plans to build “well beyond” the 1,000 new cell sites included in the state plans.
Under its contract with the FirstNet Authority, AT&T is required to build out a nationwide LTE network operating on the 20 MHz of 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum that is licensed to the FirstNet Authority. When visiting cell sites to deploy Band 14 equipment, crews for AT&T also are deploying infrastructure supporting operations on 40 MHz of WCS and AWS-3 spectrum, as well as gear for the carrier’s 5G Evolution (5GE) initiative.
As a result of this buildout strategy, AT&T officials have said that FirstNet Band 14 deployment is 75%
AT&T has said that all FirstNet subscribers also have access to all of the carrier’s other LTE spectrum bands, with priority and preemption functionality.
In December, AT&T reported that the FirstNet Band 14 deployment is 75% complete. No update on the FirstNet buildout was provided in this week’s blog, but an AT&T official said during the January quarterly earning call that that the FirstNet deployment would be 80% complete “in the coming months.”
FirstNet adoption figures of more than 11,000 subscribing public-safety agencies and more than 1.2 million connections represent notable increases when compared to the 10,000 agencies and the 1 million connections announced by AT&T in December. FirstNet also is the fastest network in the U.S., according to an AT&T analysis of Ookla Speedtest Intelligence data comparing U.S. carrier network performance during the fourth quarter of 2019.
“FirstNet isn’t just any network, it is public safety’s communications highway,” Jason Porter, AT&T’s senior vice president for the FirstNet program, said in a quote included in the blog. “As more and more public safety agencies turn to FirstNet for their communication needs—from massive events to emergency situations like wildfires and hurricanes—we remain steadfast in our commitment to aggressively expand the network and the innovative solutions first responders depend on. And this is only the beginning.”
FirstNet Authority Executive Director Ed Parkinson expressed similar optimism about the development of the FirstNet network and its ecosystem of public-safety solutions.
“FirstNet is spurring innovation that will help save lives, and we are thrilled to see the network continue to grow to reach more communities and responders that serve them across the country,” Parkinson said in a quote included in the AT&T blog. “We look forward to another year of FirstNet expansion with AT&T and the public safety community.”