AT&T launches 5G services for FirstNet subscribers in parts of 38 cities, 20+ venues
First responders can access millimeter-wave 5G services that are being enabled by recent upgrades to the FirstNet core in parts of 38 cities and in more than 20 venues, as well as tower-to-core encryption of FirstNet traffic nationwide in less than a year, according to FirstNet contractor AT&T and the FirstNet Authority.
At the moment, FirstNet 5G services will be available only in locations where AT&T has deployed 5G that leverages the company’s vast millimeter-wave spectrum assets that support significantly better data rates than 4G—commercially, this service from AT&T is branded as 5G+. Meanwhile, first responders will continue to use 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum—the airwaves licensed to the FirstNet Authority—for LTE connectivity and to access capabilities on the band that currently are unique to LTE, such as the new MegaRange service.
“This is the beginning of a multi-phase, multi-year journey to deliver full 5G capabilities on FirstNet for public safety,” according to a AT&T press release. “This phase of the upgrade only modified the dedicated FirstNet network core to provide access to mmWave spectrum and we will continue to approach 5G for public safety in a way that meets their unique mission needs.”
Jason Porter, president of AT&T’s public-sector and FirstNet business units, said the FirstNet approach to 5G is different than a commercial approach to the technology, because it is being deployed specifically to address the needs of first responders.
“5G for FirstNet is not your typical 5G,” Porter said in a prepared statement. “Now, there’s no doubt that 5G has a lot to offer the entire public-safety community, but what’s most important is ensuring that, as new technologies become available—whether it’s 5G, augmented reality, edge computing or others—that we take a first responder-centric view in how we approach its deployment. That’s what we committed to 4 years ago when we became public safety’s communications partner, and it’s what we will continue to do for decades to come.
“This commitment is why FirstNet is the only network to provide comprehensive, tower-to-core encryption for public safety. And it’s why our work with this community goes beyond connectivity by also helping ensure that those who put their lives on the line are holistically at their best day in and day out.”
FirstNet Authority CEO Ed Parkinson applauded the 5G launch but noted that the FirstNet broadband system will continue to evolve in the future in an effort to serve the public-safety use case.
“We are excited to bring 5G to FirstNet and see our investments in the next generation of public safety communications become reality,” Parkinson said in a prepared statement. “The FirstNet Authority has spent years working hand-in-hand with public safety across America to plan for, launch and innovate their network. They’ve told us about the need for a dedicated network that would continue to evolve as technology advanced.
“While there is more work to be done to advance mission-critical 5G capabilities for first responders, the FirstNet Authority is thrilled to deliver lifesaving capabilities to first responders with access to this new technology.”
FirstNet subscribers are able to access 5G connectivity for no additional charge, but they will need a 5G-capable FirstNet device, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 5G Ultra or the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot, according to the AT&T press release.
Of course, FirstNet 5G users also need to be located in an area where AT&T has deployed its 5G+ service, which currently is available in parts of 38 cities and more than 20 venues. AT&T revealed more about its 5G deployment strategy last month during a meeting with analysts and investors.
Leroy Barrera, administer of information technology for the Harris County (Texas) Juvenile Probation Department, said he was impressed by the performance of the FirstNet millimeter-wave 5G system that his team trialed.
“As the largest juvenile probation department in Texas, it is essential our teams in the field have not only reliable communications, but connectivity built and designed specifically for public safety—and that’s exactly what FirstNet is,” Barrera said in a prepared statement. “Being a part of the FirstNet 5G+ trial in Houston has given our team a glimpse into the future of what next-generation technology can provide for our first responders and the communities we serve, and we look forward to seeing public safety’s network continue to advance for years to come.”
From the FirstNet Authority’s inception, organization officials have stated the need to ensure FirstNet security, noting the opportunity to build the new nationwide public-safety broadband network with security in mind from the beginning. This philosophy is a key reason why “comprehensive encryption” is being implemented throughout the FirstNet network during the next year, according to the AT&T press release.
“FirstNet is designed with a defense-in-depth security strategy that goes well beyond standard commercial network security measures,” the AT&T press release states. “This provides protection without sacrificing usability or impacting public safety’s missions. And now, we’ve gone farther than anyone in the industry to secure public safety communications by introducing comprehensive tower-to-core encryption based on open industry standards.
“FirstNet will be the first-ever nationwide network with this comprehensive network encryption. That means FirstNet traffic will be automatically secured as it moves from the cell tower, through the backhaul, to the core and back again. Commercial networks may encrypt parts of the communications pathway, but only FirstNet will have encryption along the entire route. To achieve this, we’re rolling out security upgrades on every cell tower across the country.”
This encryption functionality will be implemented in Houston and Cleveland this month, with the security feature expected to be deployed nationwide by the first quarter of 2022, according to the AT&T press release.