A 5G standalone (SA) core is one of several upgrades in the works for the US' emergency services network.

Nick Wood

February 14, 2024

2 Min Read

AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) have hatched an ambitious plan to potentially spend more than $8 billion over the next 10 years to evolve and expand FirstNet's coverage and capabilities.

The initial five-year buildout of FirstNet's wireless broadband network was completed last year. Rolled out across all 56 US states and territories, it covers 2.91 million square miles, making it the country's biggest network in terms of geographic coverage. It is used by roughly 27,500 public safety agencies and has more than 5.5 million connections.

FirstNet and AT&T are now gearing up for the next phase of its development.

Under the new plan, they will build thousands of new cell sites across the country, 1,000 of which will be deployed in the next two years. The FirstNet Authority said it will consult with public safety agencies across all states, territories and tribal lands to identify areas that would benefit from broader coverage.

AT&T will also roll out a 5G SA core with dedicated public safety functionality and features.

It said upgrading to 5G SA will provide the throughput and latency FirstNet needs to support new public safety and mission critical use cases, like using drones to transmit HD video during search and rescue operations, or leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) data to enhance situational awareness and improve emergency patient care.

Furthermore, FirstNet will get access to all of AT&T's 5G frequency bands – on top of the 20 MHz of dedicated 700-MHz LTE spectrum known as Band 14 – and first responder traffic will continue to be prioritised.

"FirstNet is critical infrastructure that is reliably connecting those who tirelessly protect and serve," said Jim Bugel, president of FirstNet at AT&T. "With 5G, public safety will unlock new and innovative tools to keep them mission ready – and we aren't stopping there. Together with the FirstNet Authority, we will continue to expand and enhance public safety's network based on their feedback, giving them the solutions and connectivity they need, both now and in the future."

The FirstNet Authority said it expects to spend an initial $6.3 billion on the plan via its network contract with AT&T. An additional $2 billion of spending on further coverage improvements is currently under discussion by both parties.

"With this investment, we are ensuring FirstNet remains at the forefront of technology so that public safety can respond smarter, safer, and more effectively," said Joe Wassel, executive director and CEO of the FirstNet Authority. "I look forward to our continued partnership with the public safety community and AT&T to deliver the most reliable, innovative communications network for public safety."

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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