AT&T was selected nearly five years ago to build and operate the nation’s first network dedicated to public safety. Today, it’s boasting another milestone in its endeavor to bring more capabilities to public safety by expanding 5G access to new locations.
AT&T’s FirstNet now offers low-band 5G in 10 new areas: Savannah (Georgia), Western Kansas, Lansing (Michigan), Minneapolis (Minnesota), Toledo (Ohio), Charleston (South Carolina), Hilton Head (South Carolina), Sioux Falls (South Dakota), Richmond (Virginia) and Redmond (Washington).
These areas join 10 other previously announced cities for FirstNet’s 5G.
Public safety also has access to millimeter wave 5G (dubbed 5G+ in AT&T parlance) in parts of more than 40 cities and 35 stadiums and venues. AT&T says it continues to roll out 5G connectivity for FirstNet in more communities all the time.
The public safety community on FirstNet now reaches more than 2.81 million square miles across the country, according to AT&T. That means it covers 50,000+ more square miles than the largest commercial networks.
FirstNet’s Band 14 spectrum is mostly deployed using LTE. Band 14 corresponds to the 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum licensed to FirstNet.
AT&T surpassed 95% of the planned FirstNet buildout last year, so it’s well on its way to completing the network by the deadline. AT&T, which was awarded the FirstNet contract in 2017, needs to complete it by March 2023.
Public safety agencies aren’t required to use FirstNet, but AT&T has been gaining traction. Verizon traditionally served the lion’s share of the public safety market, and T-Mobile is pursuing the market as well.
According to AT&T, more than 19,500 agencies and organizations, accounting for more than 3 million connections nationwide, are using FirstNet, as of the end of 2021.
Part of their mission at AT&T is to improve in-building public safety connectivity. About 80% of wireless calls take place indoors – and GPS has a hard time finding people indoors, much less which floor they’re on in a high-rise.
The FirstNet team within AT&T is collaborating with Safer Buildings Coalition to support the deployment of Band 14 and promote in-building installation standards that meet or exceed existing code and industry best practices, according to AT&T.
C-band and FirstNet
Given the amount of attention dedicated to C-band – not to mention dollars spent at auction – a lot of folks might wonder if FirstNet will use AT&T’s C-band spectrum. According to AT&T, public safety on FirstNet currently do not have access to AT&T’s C-band spectrum.
“While 5G will ultimately bring a combination of benefits like ultra-low latency and ultra-high speeds to support all kinds of users, it’s essential we approach 5G in a different way for first responders,” said AT&T Public Sector/FirstNet President Jason Porter, in a statement. “That’s why, with FirstNet, we’re taking the right steps for public safety. We’ve upgraded the dedicated FirstNet network core to enable reliable 5G connectivity. This gives first responders priority access across AT&T 5G+ (mmWave) spectrum in parts of more than 40 cities and 35 stadiums and venues, as well as across AT&T 5G in 20 cities across the country (10 newly added as part of this announcement). We look forward to continuing our work with the FirstNet Authority to evolve public safety’s network and grow access to 5G for America’s first responders.”
Article updated to reflect that AT&T has surpassed 95% of the buildout. An earlier version erroneously said it was on the hook to do that in 2022.