​FirstNet is now being used by more than 7,250 public safety agencies, which are using more than 600,000 devices on the network.

This is up from the more than 5,250 public safety agencies using more than 425,000+ connections that was announced by AT&T back in January, implying gains of around 2,000 agencies, and approximately 175,000 connections in four months. AT&T is the mobile network operator that is rolling out FirstNet (which is a combination of AT&T’s commercial network, a dedicated core for public safety users and access to 20MHz of Band 14 spectrum) with the aid of the FirstNet Authority.

Most of the agencies on FirstNet and nearly half of the network’s total connections are new subscribers (that haven’t migrated to FirstNet from an existing AT&T subscription) and since January 2019, most of the FirstNet connections that have been added are new subscribers to AT&T. Recent agencies to subscribe to FirstNet include AAA Ambulance Service, American Medical Response, Anchorage Police Department, Chicago Police Department, Elmore County Sheriff’s Office, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Seattle Fire Department and the US Coast Guard.

FirstNet has also added three flying cells on wings (COWs) to its deployable programme. Each of these is comprised of two tethered drones and a trailer to transport them, which is equipped with a satellite dish and fibre connections. They are capable of withstanding light rain and wind speeds up to 25 miles per hour, are capable of reaching heights of up to 400 feet, making them ideal for situations like wildfires and mountain rescue missions where the terrain may have previously made it difficult to maintain connectivity. The COWS are due to be equipped with Band 14 in the second half of this year. AT&T is also continuing its work to expand the coverage, capacity and capability available to first responders.

AT&T recently beat its competition on mean download speeds for major operators for 1Q19 – clocking in at 34.65Mbps, compared to the 34.11Mbps seen for the next highest MNO, T-Mobile, according to SpeedTest data as analysed by Ookla, which is based on user-initiated speed tests.

Ookla noted an increase in faster tests taken on AT&T’s network in the last week of the quarter, which correlated with the release of iOS 12.2 and the roll out of AT&T’s controversial 5G E icon (which indicates an LTE Advanced rather than 5G New Radio). It also found that the increase in tests was coming from newer device models that would have started to display the 5G E icon – i.e. people were performing more speed tests to see what performance they got with their device with ‘5G E’ . However, even if data from the last week of the quarter was excluded, AT&T still had the fastest LTE network in the quarter.

AT&T has stated that based on its own analysis of Ookla Speedtest Intelligence data (average download speeds for Q1 2019), FirstNet consistently performs more than 25 per cent faster than any commercial network.

“Our team remains focused on delivering the modern capabilities, coverage and capacity needed to strengthen first responders’ communications nationwide. These results serve as another proof point to show the work is paying off for Public Safety,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president of FirstNet, AT&T. “We’ve entered the second year of our FirstNet Band 14 rollout with incredible momentum, already tracking well ahead of schedule, covering more than 50 per cent of our total nationwide coverage targets. And we don’t intend to slow down as we keep delivering for those we rely on most.”

“FirstNet is transforming the marketplace for public safety communications – delivering products, services and technologies that are making a difference for our first responders,” said Ed Parkinson, acting CEO of the FirstNet Authority. “We are excited about the progress of the network enhancements. As we move forward, the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T will continue to work with Public Safety to advance and evolve the network platform to meet their ongoing communications needs.”

Author: Sam Fenwick