FirstNet hits 1 million connections, launches blimp for disaster comms

FirstNet is now being used by more than 10,000 public safety agencies and organisations in the US, with more than 1 million FirstNet connections now in service.

FirstNet has also added FirstNet One – an approximately 55-foot aerostat or blimp – to its disaster response toolkit, taking the number of its deployable network assets to 76.

FirstNet One has the following capabilities:

  • It can fly up to 1,000 feet, potentially providing more than two times the coverage area as compared to other deployable solutions, like Satellite Cells on Wheels and Flying Cells on Wings (COWs).
  • It is fully operational in windspeeds up to 50 mph and capable of withstanding windspeeds up to 70 mph.
  • It is able to stay aloft for about two weeks before needing additional helium top-off, giving first responders wide-scale portable connectivity over an extended period of time.
  • It is tethered to a trailer to provide either satellite or wireline backhaul.
  • FirstNet One reduces the need for multiple ground-based portable cell sites, freeing those dedicated assets to be used by other agencies nationwide.

It was recently tested in Tuskegee, Ala. Flight testing established its initial coverage area, airworthiness, payload lift potential, avionics and flight controls, and performance of the power and data transmission lines connecting to the FirstNet network core. Operational methods, procedures and safety standards required to deploy, launch, operate and recover the asset in a public safety incident response scenario were also tested.

Source: AT&T

Like FirstNet’s other portable assets, FirstNet One will be available 24/7 to FirstNet subscribers for potential use during major incidents. The FirstNet team at AT&T, led by former first responders, will determine the appropriate asset to send – or resolution – based on the situation.

Public safety agencies have used FirstNet deployable network assets during more than 450 emergencies and planned events. As an example, Santa Clara County Sheriff Search and Rescue called on the FirstNet team to support a large-scale training drill in a mountainous region across numerous agencies spanning multiple jurisdictions. It was here that the FirstNet Flying COW made its debut flight to support first responders.

FirstNet Push-to-Talk is planned for launch in early 2020. It is a standards-compliant, mission-centric solution that’s being purpose-built for public safety and is being designed to provide reliable, high-performance calling.

Using all of AT&T’s LTE bands, FirstNet now covers more than 99 per cent of the US population. It has deployed Band 14 in more than 675 markets – completing more than 75 per cent of its Band 14 nationwide coverage target, which it says is well ahead of schedule. This includes every major city from coast to coast, rural towns like Hempstead, Ark., Lincoln, N.M., and Maury, Tenn., and tribal areas like White Earth Reservation where a new purpose-built site recently went on-air nearby.

“Since its launch, FirstNet has created a dedicated marketplace for public safety broadband communications that never existed before, and we are only scratching the surface on the innovations this network is driving,” said FirstNet Authority’s Edward Parkinson. “Public safety’s critical communications needs will always be at the centre of their network, and we are proud to support more than 10,000 agencies using more than 1 million FirstNet connections across the country. We look forward to continuing to work hand-in-hand with public safety and AT&T as we head into a new year of network expansion and growth.”