Airgain announces FirstNet Ready status, collaboration with AT&T on HPUE trials
Airgain recently announced that the company’s AirgainConnect AC-HPUE antenna-modem has earned FirstNet Ready status and is being used by FirstNet contractor AT&T during field trials of high-power user equipment (HPUE) in preparation for the launch of HPUE service slated for early next year.
AirgainConnect is an antenna platform that delivers about 60% more power to a wireless signal than a typical vehicle-mounted antenna by eliminating 2 dB of typical cable loss, according to Airgain officials. The first announced AirgainConnect product is the AirgainConnect AC-HPUE, which includes an integrated Assured Wireless high-powered user equipment (HPUE) modem and is designed to effectively double the range of an LTE modem.
This significant coverage advantage—potentially quadrupling the total coverage area of an isolated cell site—is available only to FirstNet users operating on the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority and utilized by AT&T. AT&T officials have said that more than 80% of the planned Band 14 footprint under the initial FirstNet contract has been deployed.
Scott Agnew, AT&T’s assistant vice president for FirstNet Program product marketing, said that the Airgain antenna-modem has been subject to hundreds of test in an effort to ensure that it will perform as needed for public safety.
“FirstNet devices and modules go through extensive review, so first responders can be confident that Airgain’s AirgainConnect AC-HPUE meets our highest standards for reliability, security and performance,” Agnew said in a prepared statement. “The more tools public safety has access to on their network, the more we can help them achieve their mission.”
Airgain announced that its AirgainConnect antenna-modem has been part of HPUE trials in collaboration with AT&T, but officials said they are not yet allowed to share any information detailing the connectivity performance during those tests.
“We’re proud to be collaborating with FirstNet, Built with AT&T on some of the first HPUE products launching with FirstNet in early 2021, supporting the FirstNet mission of providing first responders the advanced communications technology they need to help them do their jobs safely and effectively,” Airgain President and CEO Jacob Suen said in a prepared statement.
“AirgainConnect represents a new level of advanced solutions that provide far greater performance for public safety and fleet applications, delivering a dramatic increase in uplink power compared to routers with standard LTE modems. We are very pleased with the product’s performance in field trials, and excited to be ramping up production having received initial stocking orders.”
With its unique design, the AirgainConnect antenna platform is expected to provide stronger connectivity in any spectrum band, according to company officials. However, combining this technology with the Assured Wireless HPUE modem in the AirgainConnect AC-HPUE is expected to deliver significantly greater range and data-throughput performance in rural areas and inside building or underground parking lots.
Such connectivity improvements are crucial to first responders, according to Ken Rehbehn, directing analyst for critical communications at Omdia.
“Ubiquitous LTE coverage commitments are a fundamental part of FirstNet’s offering,” Rehbehn said in a prepared statement. “High-power UE provides a vital transmission boost that improves connectivity in a variety of difficult to reach areas. Airgain’s unique integration of HPUE into a vehicle antenna assembly bolsters emergency communications flow when emergency responders need it the most.”
AirgainConnect AC-HPUE integrates a FirstNet Ready Band 14 HPUE modem from Assured Wireless—an Airgain partner—within the antenna assembly, effectively eliminating the approximate 2 dB loss experienced as the signal is transmitted on a coaxial cable that connects an LTE router to a typical vehicle-mounted antenna. Only the Band 14 spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority is allowed to support HPUE devices that transmit signals at 1.25 watts, compared to the 0.20 watts of power used by typical commercial LTE devices.
For an isolated cell site, doubling the range of an LTE device effectively quadruples the total coverage area, given a consistent environment surrounding the cell site. Such a performance gain is expected to be particularly helpful in rural areas, where economic factors often limit the number of cell sites deployed. In addition, HPUE is designed to improve signal strength in challenging urban environments, such as underground parking garages.
Such performance has been anticipated by many in the public-safety community. If HPUE products can deliver the promised performance gains, the implications could be significant for FirstNet adoption by public-safety entities.
In past years, officials surrounding the FirstNet initiative have acknowledged that adoption likely would be greater if not for a perception that the LTE coverage for FirstNet—using AT&T’s radio access network, as well as the carrier’s commercial spectrum—is inferior to the coverage provided by Verizon.
But figures released earlier this year by both carriers and third-party sources indicate that Verizon’s LTE coverage advantage has narrowed to 70,000 square miles. If FirstNet subscribers are able to realize the performance gains from HPUE on the outskirts of AT&T’s network, that effective coverage gap presumably would narrow further, if not disappear entirely.