FirstNet gets first test in Boston

AT&T put waterproof FirstNet radios into the hands of first responders at the rainy Boston Marathon this year. It was the first high-profile test for the carrier's public safety network, which AT&T says has already won the business of more than 600 agencies across the country. 

 

Brookline police officer Scott Willis said in a statement that the FirstNet devices were easy for his officers to use without a lot of training, and that FirstNet gives his team the much-needed ability to segment wireless traffic.

 

"We're able to use our radio frequency over the device, we have talk groups for public safety, for fire ... so chatter that you don't really need to be over the main frequency flows over to these other groups so the channel doesn't stay congested, and we just have basically the traffic that we need flowing over the main radio," Willis said. 

 

It has been five years since two homemade bombs killed three people at the Boston Marathon. Hundreds more were injured that day, and first responders were handicapped that day by lack of communication as overloaded cellular networks stopped working. FirstNet gives police, fire and EMS workers a dedicated channel during emergencies.

 

"The FirstNet network also is open for FirstNet-ready and FirstNet-capable devices," AT&T CFO John Stephens said during the company's most recent earnings call. "These devices support all AT&T commercial LTE bands and the FirstNet Band 14 and meet band priority selection technical requirements. So far, nearly 650 agencies across 48 states and territories are already subscribing to FirstNet services."  

 

AT&T has built a separate core network for FirstNet, using dedicated hardware to carry public safety network traffic. The next steps are adding Band 14 radios to cell towers (AT&T says it will get to about one-third of its towers this year) and getting tiny FirstNet radios into smartphones so that first responders will not always need a separate device to access the network.

 

Samsung recently said its Galaxy S9 and S9+ will support FirstNet, and AT&T said it is pushing more manufacturers to support Band 14. The carrier walks a delicate line here because there is a robust market for handheld public safety radios which could start to deteriorate if more smartphones can start to serve this purpose.  

 

In Boston, police chief Willis said the devices issued to his teams were "weatherproof, waterproof and drop-proof," and that the applications were easy for the officers to learn and use. The devices look a lot like smartphones, but the buttons are bigger and the suite of applications is streamlined to focus on mission-critical tasks. 

 

 

Featured Research: 3.5 GHz spectrum

Mobile network operators in Europe and Asia plan to deploy 5G in the 3.5 GHz spectrum bands, but will U.S. operators have the same opportunity? Cable network operators, fixed wireless providers, neutral host providers and even private companies are all expected to be buyers of CBRS spectrum, depending on how the FCC auctions play out. 

 

The latest CBRS market study from iGR Research  provides an explanation of how the CBRS licensing scheme works and how the technical elements of the new band work. This report includes a forecast of the total number of CBRS nodes expected to be deployed in the U.S. through 2022. The forecasted number of nodes is categorized by Outdoor WISP, Outdoor nonWISP, Inside Commercial, and Inside Residential.

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