FirstNet to build 'apps ecosystem' for first responders

Firefighters training a hose on a fire
FirstNet said it is building an ecosystem of apps specifically designed for first responders.

FirstNet said it’s building an ecosystem for applications developed specifically to meet the needs of first responders.

The organization said it is working with emergency personnel to garner feedback from first responders and use that information “to cultivate an open, integrated applications ecosystem” on its network to ensure public safety officials have access to targeted apps as quickly as possible. FirstNet said the initiative aims to ensure that public safety “drives new applications for the network” and provides capabilities over the entire life cycle of apps.

“Having vetted, standardized, secured apps on a secure network is extremely important,” Phoenix Fire Department Deputy Chief Amos Chalmers said in a press release. “We rely very heavily on those systems because when we’re on a traffic stop, we don’t know who we’re dealing with.”

The FirstNet organization was created in 2012, but the U.S. Department of Commerce didn’t award the contract to a service provider until March 2017, when it granted AT&T the right to build the nation’s first network dedicated to first responders. The organization announced its second state customer two weeks ago, and since then three more states have voiced their support for FirstNet’s offering.

Under terms of the FirstNet contract, AT&T will get access to FirstNet’s 20 MHz of 700 MHz low-band spectrum and $6.5 billion for designing and operating the nationwide network for federal, state and local authorities, with the right to sell excess capacity on the system. AT&T will spend roughly $40 billion over the life of the 25-year contract to deploy and maintain the network, the Department of Commerce said, integrating its network assets with FirstNet.

Rivada Networks, which lost the FirstNet contract to AT&T, said last month that it continues to respond to states that issue RFPs seeking vendors willing to build and maintain a statewide public safety LTE radio access network (RAN) that would be interoperable with FirstNet’s offering. Rivada continues to market its alternative to FirstNet, and governmental agencies in Michigan and New Hampshire have recommended those respective states analyze Rivada's bid alongside FirstNet's. States have a legal right to opt out of FirstNet’s service, and Rivada is positioning its offering as an alternative.

Building a broad ecosystem of apps specifically designed to help first responders could be a major weapon for FirstNet, however. States must decide in the next several months whether to sign on to FirstNet’s offering or to begin an opt-out process for alternatives to FirstNet’s plan.