FirstNet tops 1.3 million connections, 12,000 agencies, AT&T says
FirstNet supports more than 1.3 million connections across more than 12,000 agencies, according to figures supplied last week by AT&T, the FirstNet Authority’s nationwide contractor responsible for building the nationwide public-safety broadband network.
AT&T provided the updated FirstNet numbers as part of the company’s report of earnings for the first quarter—the first reporting period impacted by the economic downturn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which is proving to be the most significant test of FirstNet’s capabilities to date.
“We’re seeing unprecedented volumes of voice calls, text and video streaming, and our network is performing very well,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said during the quarterly conference call. “FirstNet is doing exactly what it was designed to do—provide critical connectivity to our first responders, health care providers, governments, military, police, fire and EMS.
“The demand from our FirstNet customers has been tremendous. These first responders are the true heroes, and it’s an honor to serve them.”
AT&T COO John Stankey—who will succeed the retiring Stephenson as CEO on July 1, the company announced Friday—echoed this sentiment.
“We’re going great guns on FirstNet,” Stankey said. “You look at the volumes of what’s occurred in the last couple of weeks in the first-responder community and some of the awareness that’s been building around what the offering is on that product and service and the awareness it’s driving, we’re going to get tailwinds from that as well and continued great performance.
“We’re now over 1.3 million devices connected to that network, and we’re seeing that pace accelerate over the last several weeks. Not that I’m enamored with the pandemic, but it has helped that product category and the awareness of that product category.”
Topping 1.3 million connections in the first quarter marks a 30% increase in FirstNet subscribers during the past four months, as AT&T announced that FirstNet reached 1 million connections in early December.
This increase in FirstNet connection was crucial to AT&T realizing 163,000 net additions of postpaid phone subscribers, according to AT&T CFO John Stephens.
During AT&T’s annual shareholder meeting—conducted virtually—Stephenson said the impact that FirstNet is having on AT&T’s overall wireless subscriber figures is expected to be a long-term trend.
“We’re building nationwide a very robust network dedicated just to our first responders, and we are well down the road of building this network,” Stephenson said. “During this crisis, the utilization of this network by our first-responder community has been overwhelming. The first responders’ experience has been a terrific experience, and it is fueling a lot of the wireless growth that you saw in our first-quarter results.
“So, this FirstNet service and capability is going to be very, very important to us for a number of years.
Earlier this year, Stankey indicated that AT&T had completed 80% of the planned FirstNet buildout of operations utilizing the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority, reaching that threshold a full year ahead of schedule. AT&T officials did not provide any such updates on the progress of the FirstNet deployment, but CFO Stephens said that the carrier giant is “staying committed” to completing the buildout.
Stephenson agreed that AT&T remains committed to the FirstNet buildout and to meeting its stated goal of deploying 5G nationwide on sub-6 GHz spectrum by the end of the summer. However, he noted that completing this work requires more than “just writing checks,” and the COVID-19 pandemic is creating some process-oriented issues that potentially could slow deployments in areas that require new cell sites.
“In terms of new cell site acquisition, which we’re doing a lot for FirstNet and enhancing density, these require permitting and government officials,” Stephenson said. “Government officials are sheltered in place, and a lot of the permitting and a lot of the logistics that go into allowing us to invest are a little bit hampered right now.
“So, while we have no intention of slowing down on 5G and fiber deployment and such, the reality is that a lot of it is not in our control. We’re having to work through some of those issues.”