AT&T has been tapped by the U.S. Army to deliver FirstNet services for public safety personnel at 72 Army locations following a pilot program and testing earlier this year.
AT&T said it will deliver almost 3,200 lines of FirstNet services, including for firefighters, law enforcement and security personnel at the Army installations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The U.S. Army also signed on for more than 3,000 FirstNet-capable devices and over 700 signal boosters for better connectivity indoors.
FirstNet is a dedicated public safety network that AT&T has been building out, alongside its 4G LTE and 5G network upgrades. AT&T won the 25-year FirstNet contract in 2017, under public-private partnership with FirstNet Authority. FirstNet has its own dedicated core network, which the carrier plans to transition to 5G. So far AT&T has around 13,000 public agencies subscribed to FirstNet with about 1.5 million connections.
The Army piloted FirstNet this past spring and tested capabilities under storm conditions with its fire and military police. AT&T said the Army was also able to evaluate the benefits of in-building signal boosters.
In late August, FirstNet devices were tested and assisted on-site after Category 4 Hurricane Laura hit Fort Polk in Louisiana. FirstNet-capable wireless routers that were affixed on vehicles equipped with cameras so that operations teams at the base could have close to real-time video in the face of extreme weather conditions (maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour).
According to AT&T, the Army agreed FirstNet was effective to help restore base operations and for incident management after a national disaster.
FirstNet also has a fleet of 76 deployable assets available to agencies for emergency response. That includes the 55-foot FirstNet One Aerostat (also known as a blimp), which can fly up to 1,500 feet and acts as a floating cell tower. It was used in response to Hurricane Laura (separate from the Army testing), marking its first flight deployed for that purpose.
“FirstNet is helping us improve vital communications on our installations, depots and arsenals, including during catastrophic disasters or emergencies when communications capabilities are strained. We’re adopting FirstNet because it is designed for public safety professionals with priority, preemption and highly reliable data communications that will improve our overall response and our interoperability with our civilian partners,” said Colonel Kevin Comfort, Command Provost Marshal at Headquarters Installation Management Command in Joint Base San Antonio in a statement.
Just last week AT&T was selected last week by the Department of Defense as one of more than a dozen companies supplying 5G testbeds at a handful of military installations. The DoD awards total $600 million. AT&T is providing connectivity and will set up a network that supports millimeter wave and sub-6 GHz 5G.
Verizon has faced stiffer competition in the public safety market as AT&T continues to make challenge with FirstNet. T-Mobile too has made efforts to court the public safety segment. This year T-Mobile launched its “Connecting Heroes” program, offering free unlimited wireless service to first responder agencies.