All 50 U.S. States Join FirstNet, a Nationwide Cell Network for First Responders

All 50 U.S. States Join FirstNet, a Nationwide Cell Network for First Responders

In the United States, firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and other first responders are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to mobile communications. Congestion on commercial networks can impede their ability to communicate with team members, and local jurisdictions use technologies that aren’t always interoperable. Those were the motivations behind FirstNet, a nationwide mobile broadband network reserved for emergency services. It’s making progress: As of this week, all 50 states have opted into the program.

Congress passed the legislation that established FirstNet in 2012, and AT&T, which won the contract to build it, got to work, drawing funding from $7 billion in proceeds from a government airwave auction (funded by a 2015 FCC auction). The legislation didn’t force states to join FirstNet, but the deadline for enrollment ended this month, and all 50 states — including Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico — decided to opt in.

Here’s how FirstNet works, courtesy Axios:

  • Fast lane”: First responders get their own “fast lane” on the network to communicate during emergencies or large events. The core network will be built by Spring 2018, with the full network being complete over 3 to 5 years.

  • Boon for AT&T: The company gets access to a sizable swatch of airwaves, which are extremely valuable because they can travel decent distances and through obstructions like trees and buildings.

  • Sharing bandwidth: When the airwaves are not in use by public safety agencies, AT&T can use these airwaves to supplement their own commercial wireless coverage — a significant incentive to agree to the government requirements for building the network.

  • The catch: If first responders need to use the network, commercial applications will be slowed down or bumped off to give first responders priority access. This will also be a boon for cell-site tower companies that will be needed to build the nationwide network in both cities and rural areas.

  • App Store: FirstNet will have an app store with approved mobile apps that are optimized for public safety use.

  • Security: The network will provide full encryption of public safety data, and states will have access to a dedicated Security Operations Center.

No matter how you slice it, FirstNet’s progress is good news for emergency service workers. Here’s hoping it rolls out as planned.

Source: Axios

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