FirstNet Annual Report Highlights Increased Connections; Band 14, Rural Buildout
Monday, March 01, 2021 | Comments
In its annual report to Congress, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) highlighted efforts it and FirstNet contractor AT&T took to serve first responders during an unprecedented year, as well as the rising number of connections to the network and the success of the buildout.

The report said that AT&T’s buildout of band 14 spectrum for the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) was ahead of schedule at the end of 2020. Additionally, the authority said that at the end of 2020, the network’s rural coverage had increased and now covers 54%, or 27.9 million, people in rural areas.

“This growth in coverage surpasses the network deployment targets for the year as FirstNet continues the initial five-year network deployment, scheduled for completion in 2023,” the report said.

Overall, the network buildout was at about 80 percent complete at the end of 2020, the report said. “AT&T has met all contractual milestones, including rural and non-rural coverage requirements and adoption targets, and continues to deliver key services to the public-safety community.”

On the connections side, the FirstNet Authority said that it has seen extensive growth in the amount of users on the FirstNet network. At the start of 2020, the network served approximately 9,000 public-safety agencies and had 750,000 device connections. At the end of the year, the network was used by more than 13,000 agencies, accounting for 1.5 million device connections.

The FirstNet application and device ecosystem also grew during the year, the report said. At the end of 2020, the number of device manufacturers contributing to the FirstNet ecosystem was 41, compared to 29 at the end of 2019. Currently, more than 200 devices are available for FirstNet. The FirstNet Authority said it continues to work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology on the device review process and the list of approved devices. That list was updated 11 times during the year.

On the application side of the ecosystem, the number of FirstNet certified applications grew to more than 150. The authority said the FirstNet App Catalog now includes apps that cover seven branches/disciplines of responders across 11 categories.

During 2020, AT&T launched the FirstNet Push-to-Talk (FNPTT) mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) service. The FirstNet authority noted that interworking with existing systems is important and said that it expects LMR to FNPTT via radio over IP (RoIP) interfaces to be available sometime in 2021.

During 2021, the FirstNet Authority will also begin working with the FCC on the process to renew its band 14 spectrum license. That license must be renewed by 2022.

“Renewal of this license is fundamental and essential to the continued operation of the NPSBN,” the report said. “The FirstNet Authority’s enabling legislation does not provide for an automatic renewal. As a result, the FirstNet Authority must re-apply for the license to the band 14 spectrum through the FCC in order to continue providing this dedicated spectrum to public safety.”

The report also highlighted efforts by AT&T to support agencies during an unprecedented year for first responders. The network supported coronavirus relief efforts, the response to tornadoes in northeast Arkansas, the response to hurricanes such as Hurricane Laura, and supporting the battle against massive wildfires in the western United States.

Other successes the report highlighted were the release of FirstNet’s technology road map and the FirstNet Authority’s first reinvestments back into the network.

Find the full report to Congress here.

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