AT&T and U.S.-Backed FirstNet Proved Useful During Emergency Situations and More

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Service providers and command staff at the last Super Bowl lost wireless hotspot signals at various times. The solution presented itself in the form of First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

FirstNet is a service that was created for emergency personnel to quickly access a telecommunication network in order to effectively communicate and assist in emergency situations. It was signed into being February 22, 2012 as part of the Middle Class Relief and Job Creation Act. However, FirstNet has proved itself useful in not just emergency situations.

FirstNet allowed the stadium to continue operations via the use of mobile devices and phones when these hotspots were experiencing hiccups due to massive demand among other reasons, according to Urgent Communications. The service allowed for online communications and operations related to running computers, uploads, downloads, carrying voice conversations and even droid-based video streaming.

FirstNet is a government program that was authorized by Congress in 2012. It resides within the U.S. Department of Commerce as an independent authority. Its mission is to operate and build a nationwide network in order for first responders to access it and reach those in need of help. You can read more about it on the official FirstNet website.

Even though it was designed for first responders and medical staff to have access to broadband connectivity and be able to quickly access emergency situations, it proved its value in other venues or was as well with the recent case of the Super Bowl.

The drones and other video equipment apparently experienced zero downtime due to its use and there were no interoperability problems reported, according to the report from Urgent Communications. It also is a step up in capturing voice feedback from previous technologies.

“It’s almost cellular quality — even landline,” Warren Shepard, manager of the critical-infrastructure and key-resource unit for Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA) and the FirstNet coordinator for the state of Georgia, was quoted saying. “There’s very little garble; voices are clear and very easy to understand. In the old days with Nextel, I remember struggling to hear what they were saying — the garbleness of it, the premature cutoff, whatever you want to say. With Enhanced Push to Talk, the people you are speaking with are just crystal clear.”

FirstNet currently is tied to AT&T as the U.S. government has made a contract with the telecom giant in its operations. This can be seen as controversial due to the fact FCC has previously been hard on monopolies within the telecom companies’ spheres of influences and in this case it may appear to be a collusion between just one network provider (within the private sector) and the U.S. government (within the public sector setting policies).

According to FirstNet’s history section on its website, it appears to be a mix of private and public dealings and a contract that took place with the U.S. govt. and AT&T to make it possible. There also appears to be some safety check in place or overseeing of AT&T’s activities by the government.

The beginning of FirstNet can be tracked back to the terror bombings of the World trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2011. Communications between medical personnel or first responders proved inadequate as they tried to help people stuck in the buildings and save lives. Mobile networks were overwhelmed and personnel often could not reach contact with one another or victims. Thus, a need arose for a dedicated, national and high-speed network for such situations.

On February 22, 2012 FirstNet became a reality when it was signed into being as part of the Middle Class Relief and Job Creation Act. The inaugural meeting of the FirstNet board took place on September 25, 2012.

Consultation was critical since its inception in 2012. FirstNet Authority is required to consult with federal, state, tribal and local public safety entities to ensure its network is designed to meet the needs of public safety. However, AT&T is currently the sole network provider or partner with the U.S. government, which again can draw criticisms particularly for those that want free and open networking options even within government contracts. AT&T was awarded a 25-year contract in March of 2017.

The networking service has also been used as a public safety measure in nearly 100 events since last year, according to a press release from last October. It also comes with dedicated assets such as Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs), which link mobile cell sites with a satellite signal and do not rely on any commercial power.

What Lies Ahead for FirstNet

According to recent news from LightReading, FirstNet has 5G as one of its goals to hit this year. It also currently boasts 1.3 million connections across 12,000 public service agencies in the U.S. Keep in mind that this has all occurred within just roughly two years or At&T’s launch of the service.

5G is a hot topic these days although it will take a while for it to truly take off due to constraints in infrastructure. It is good seeing an emergency, or public assistance, network take a step in this direction.

Device to Device (D2D) and enhanced Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (MBMS) for 5G were listed as some of its top priorities currently.

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