Is FirstNet the network of the future?

The wireless spotlight has been on FirstNet, the First Responder Network Authority, for some time as the government, mobile operators and first responders interrogated the organization on devices, unification, legislation and more pending a detailed plan for the network's launch.

Now as FirstNet moves closer to realizing a final Request for Proposals (RFP), attention has turned from paperwork and speculation to the reality of deploying a nationwide first responder network and how that network will fit into the country's existing carrier landscape.

With that, the focus switches from the legislative arm of FirstNet to its Boulder, Colo,-based technology arm. Acting CTO Jeff Bratcher anticipates integrating developing technology, most notably Internet of Things and 5G, as the first responder network deploys.

So how does a public safety network fit into an industry that has previously been incredibly focused on the commercial aspects of use? While that may be an important question, Bratcher flipped the script -- how will wireless standards and technology take into account the innovation that has gone into the creation of FirstNet?

Bratcher is optimistic that FirstNet will be able to keep pace with the U.S.'s top carriers, rolling out LTE technology and updated devices as they become available commercially to the likes of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. But he's also optimistic that FirstNet's success -- and he's confident the network will be a success -- will have the ability to change the way devices are made, what safety applications are created and even what technology standards-setting bodies take into account.

For now, FirstNet's standards focus is on priority and pre-emption, a feature that shuffles network traffic on FirstNet's Band 14 in the event of an emergency to allow first responders the best possible connection. But Bratcher has also expressed a hope for Band 14 implementation in commercial devices, like future iterations of the iPhone, and said the industry is already seeing a boon in software that aids first responders, much of which has been developed by enterprising emergency service workers themselves.

Because FirstNet's network deployment isn't likely anytime soon (the organization's final RFP is expected by the end of 2015, with carrier partnership negotiations stretching through 2016), it faces the additional challenge of hitting the ground running with current technology once deployment is ready. In our latest feature, we spoke to Bratcher, analysts and vendors to get an idea of what the future holds for FirstNet, as well as what FirstNet will offer wireless innovation in the future. You can read the article here. --Nicole

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