FirstNet tops 1.7 million connections, 14,000 subscribing agencies during Q3, AT&T says
More than 14,000 first-responder entities subscribe to FirstNet and have made more than 1.7 million connections to the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) as of the end of September, meaning FirstNet added almost 1 million connection during the previous 14 months, according to figures from contractor AT&T.
AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens announced the 1.7 million connections figure during AT&T’s conference call last week that highlighted the company’s performance for the third quarter. This marked an increase from the 1.5 million FirstNet connections cited by AT&T in July.
An AT&T spokesperson today confirmed to IWCE’s Urgent Communications that more than 14,000 agencies and organizations subscribed to FirstNet as of the end of September. In July, AT&T official stated that FirstNet had more than 13,000 subscribing agencies.
Last August, AT&T reported that FirstNet had more than 750,000 connections and almost 9,000 subscribing agencies, so FirstNet added more than 5,000 subscribing agencies and organizations—and more than 900,000 connections—during the subsequent 14 months, according to the AT&T figures.
When FirstNet was established in 2012, industry experts noted that there were about 3 million potential subscribers in the traditional public-safety arenas of law enforcement, fire and EMS that make up most of the “primary” category of FirstNet users. The potential FirstNet market increased to more than 10 million when the “extended primary” users—a category that includes personnel in government, healthcare, utilities, transit and other critical-infrastructure sectors.
But not all FirstNet connections are smartphones used by first-responder personnel. As is the case in the broader market—particularly during the era of the COVID-19 pandemic—other types of devices increasingly are leveraging FirstNet connectivity, according to Stephens. Overall, AT&T had about 4 million connected devices added to the network during the third quarter, he said.
“On the FirstNet business that we have—the 1.7 million connections we have—some of those are those connected devices as opposed to just the phone aspect of it,” Stephens said during last week’s conference call. “So it’s happening now. We’re responding, and I feel good about it.”
AT&T CEO John Stankey said one reason for the carrier’s low churn rate in its mobile wireless offerings during the third quarter is attributable in part to the network enhancements made in an effort to meet FirstNet obligations—as well as the opportunity to leverage the 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority.
“That’s working, because we have been very deliberate over the last several years building a much-higher-quality network, starting with the FirstNet construct,” Stankey said during the conference call. “And that higher-quality network has removed a reason for customers to leave, because they’re satisfied with the service that they’re getting on the network infrastructure.
“As COVID hit and the wireless networks became much more suburban-oriented than urban-oriented, our strength in low-band spectrum—our literally undisputed strength in volume of low-band spectrum—has helped, because the suburban experience is oftentimes a more distributed experience. And when you think about penetrating inside buildings, you need low-band spectrum to do that. Mid-band is not going to do that in a suburban environment, nor is millimeter wave—at least not anytime soon, until density starts to pick up.”