FirstNet adoption expands to more than 16,000 agencies, 2.2 million connections
FirstNet’s nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) supported more than 2.2 million connections for more than 16,000 subscribing agencies as of March 31, according to figures released today by AT&T, the contractor responsible for building and maintaining the NPSBN for its first 25 years.
AT&T does not release precise figures regarding FirstNet adoption, but the latest figures mark the fifth consecutive quarter in which it appears that FirstNet has reported at least 200,000 new connections and gained at least 1,000 subscribing agencies. During the past year, FirstNet has gained about 4,000 new subscribing agencies and 900,000 connections.
For this same period, AT&T’s Mobility business unit reported a net gain of 16.9 million wireless subscribers—186.1 million at the end of last month, compared to 169.2 million on March 31, 2020. AT&T CEO John Stankey explained that FirstNet is one of the key reasons for this increase.
“We’ve been particularly strong in using our enterprise business and our business sales force in not only selling into business segments, but ensuring that affinity plans in those areas can reach customers and their families at home for being part of that business that we sell to,” Stankey said during the company’s earnings call, which was webcast. Stankey cited “the strength of FirstNet, which has opened up a vertical that we were under-indexed in, in [terms of] share, and we’re seeing really attractive share growth.
“Again, there’s an affinity characteristic that occurs within that vertical. It’s not only an affinity characteristic among co-workers, but we’ve managed to ensure that, if somebody chooses to come on [FirstNet] for the purpose of their work as a first responder, that they have a lot of incentives to maybe drag their family through that experience with attractive pricing and approach.”
AT&T did not provide an update on the pace of its deployment of LTE services on the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority, but the carrier giant announced in February that it had completed more than 90% of its contracted Band 14 buildout. AT&T is almost a year ahead of schedule, as its just completed the third year of a scheduled five-year deployment program.
Under the 2012 law that established the FirstNet Authority, the FirstNet system is supposed to be a financially self-sustaining network, even though Congress provided just $7 billion for a project that experts estimated would cost more than $50 billion to build.
But the FirstNet Authority effectively assured its financial security by signing its contract with AT&T in March 2017 after completing a procurement process. The 25-year deal provides AT&T with access to the 20 MHz of prime 700 MHz spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority, as well as potentially $6.5 billion in funds generated from FCC spectrum auctions.
In return, AT&T is responsible for building and maintaining the NPSBN and making annual payments totaling $18 billion to the FirstNet Authority over the 25-year period of the contract. Of this $18 billion in AT&T payments, about $3 billion is expected to fund FirstNet Authority operations, and $15 billion is slated to fund enhancements to the FirstNet system.
To date, most of the discretionary money allocated by the FirstNet Authority board has been used to upgrade the FirstNet network core to support 5G services, some of which were launched earlier this month. The rest of the money was earmarked to purchase new deployable-communications assets, but neither the FirstNet Authority nor AT&T have announced what type of deployables would be purchased with the funds or when those assets are expected to be available to support FirstNet subscribers.