FirstNet to Invest in More Deployables, Upgrading Core to 5G
Wednesday, September 18, 2019 | Comments

Expanding AT&T’s fleet of deployables and upgrading the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) core to 5G-ready technology are the first two investment areas for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

The FirstNet board approved plans to move forward with a procurement process guided by federal acquisition regulations to expand the FirstNet fleet of 72 deployables to enhance network coverage and capacity for public safety during emergencies and events. The process will also see initial generational upgrades to the FirstNet core to enable 5G network capabilities.

Each investment area will have its own procurement but the board didn't make available details on how much would be invested in each area or a timeline for the procurements. FirstNet management plans to report back to the board on progress and next steps.

In March, the FirstNet board endorsed a set of principles to guide its financial reinvestments in the network, which is required under the legislation that created FirstNet. The principles noted that the reinvestment funds should:

• Be derived from and benefit public safety. • Maintain and advance the foundation of the network. • Consider a balanced approach and provide value to public safety. • Be fiscally responsible and reflect strong financial management. In August, FirstNet released a road map to guide its investments. Two of the six domains of the road map include coverage and capacity, along with the network core. Last month, the board approved an $82 million budget for operations in fiscal year 2020 (FY20), including $145 million for reinvestment in the network. FirstNet’s FY 2019 budged included a $78 million option in network enhancements.

FirstNet has seen a three-fold increase in demand for AT&T’s deployables during the past 18 months, said Jeremy Zollo, FirstNet director, enterprise strategy division. “We anticipate it will continue to increase,” he said.

FirstNet will consider adding aerial and amphibious platforms to the deployables fleet. The assets are available free to FirstNet subscribers and are staged throughout the United States. Multiple deployables were activated along the East Coast to support the initial response to and recovery efforts following Hurricane Dorian.

FirstNet Chief Technology and Operations Officer Jeff Bratcher said the public-safety community expects the network to evolve with technology. “They don’t want to be stranded on outdated technology,” he said. The authority will investigate the evolution of the core to take advantage of next-generation enhancements.

“The board’s actions focus on public safety’s near-term and future needs by expanding on-demand coverage solutions and ensuring the network evolves with broader technological advancements,” said FirstNet Authority Board Chair Edward Horowitz at the Sept. 18 board meeting. “Public safety has been instrumental in shaping our investment strategies for the network. The FirstNet Authority will continue to work with public safety as we fulfill these investments and develop future proposals for reinvesting back into their network.”

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