AT&T adds secure messaging, drone-video-streaming capabilities to FirstNet
FirstNet subscribers will have access to new secure-messaging and video-streaming functionalities that can be used to support their first-responder missions, according to AT&T, which is building the nationwide public-safety broadband network through a contract with the FirstNet Authority.
In conjunction with the unveiling of a collaboration with Motorola Solutions to develop a second mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) offering, AT&T last week announced the immediate availability of FirstNet Messaging—a secure text-messaging application—and MissionKeeper for Public Safety, which is designed to support near-real-time video streaming, particularly from drones and robots being used by first-responder agencies.
FirstNet Messaging—developed with Syniverse—is a “highly secure group notification and messaging service” that is being provisioned automatically to all qualified FirstNet primary subscribers at no additional charge, according to an AT&T press release.
When asked how FirstNet Messaging’s security is different from other messaging services, AT&T provided the following response to IWCE’s Urgent Communications:
“With FirstNet Messaging, messages are end-to-end encrypted, meaning no one but the sender and receiver can see the messages,” according to the AT&T statement. “Messages are encrypted and sent over a closed secure messaging gateway of verified and registered known FirstNet users. Many messaging apps claim to be secure, however they do not have the ability to really prevent spam, because it is a free service and anyone can download the app and start messaging anyone on the platform.”
Scott Agnew, AT&T’s assistant vice president for FirstNet products, said that FirstNet Messaging does support messages and notifications being sent to users on other carrier networks, but the security levels could be different when doing so.
“You can actually send it [a message] cross-carrier—it’s not just messaging within the FirstNet ecosystem,” Agnew said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications, although he noted that “you don’t get the enhanced security” that comes with FirstNet-to-FirstNet communications utilizing the new messaging service.
MissionKeeper for Public Safety is a “scalable, secure, affordable solutions” that leverages technology from KSI Data Sciences to support near-real-time streaming of video from multiple to a web-based environment that enables collaboration between decision makers overseeing response resources.
“It’s just a very interesting concept,” Agnew said. “We know that there’s a lot of buzz around drones in public safety, and we see tremendous use cases for it, whether it’s for surveillance or if you’re in a car chase. We spent a lot of time with the MissionKeeper solution, beta-tested it with customers, and received overwhelming about the use cases for it.”
Agnew acknowledged that public safety does face some challenges associated with integrating drone video into its operations—for instance, getting certified pilots to fly the drones and dealing with new government regulations—but the potential impact is significant.
“It’s definitely an opportunity to innovate in public safety, and we were really excited to bring the MissionKeeper solution [to FirstNet subscribers], because it’s going to help with that surveillance and it’s going to help with that video utilization for drones,” Agnew said.
AT&T also announced an “expanded relationship” with NetMotion, the mobile VPN platform that recently was acquired by Absolute Software. NetMotion historically has been a popular mobile-VPN choice for public-safety agencies for its session-persistence and quality-of-service capabilities and already is part of the FirstNet ecosystem, but last week’s announcement provides greater purchasing flexibility—enabling monthly payments, instead of just an annual payment, according to Agnew.
“We gave customers more options, in terms of how they buy NetMotion,” he said.