FirstNet Board Approves $218M to Upgrade Core to 5G, Add Deployables
Wednesday, June 17, 2020 | Comments

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board approved $218 million for two network upgrades: transitioning the FirstNet core to 5G technology and adding to FirstNet’s fleet of 72 deployables.

The board met in a closed session during its quarterly board meeting to discuss the specifics of the task orders, which fall under the existing nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) contract with AT&T, and associated procurements.

FirstNet staff will now execute the task orders, and AT&T will implement them as part of the overall NPBSN contract. The majority of the $218 million investment is for initial generational upgrades to the FirstNet core for 5G technology. Specific amounts and timelines associated with each investment is contract sensitive, a FirstNet spokesperson said.

“These investments mark the next major step in our mission as we continue to evolve the FirstNet network based on public safety’s needs,” said FirstNet Authority Board Chair Edward Horowitz. “The board’s actions set the network on a path to 5G and will boost on-demand coverage for public safety. We look forward to delivering on these advancements for public safety and working to identify our next network investment opportunities.”

Evolving the network to 5G is expected to be a multiphase effort, beginning with upgrades to the dedicated FirstNet network core. The physically separate, highly available, redundant and highly secure network core separates all public-safety traffic from non-public safety user traffic, enabling differentiated services for network users.

In the future, 5G is expected to drive major increases in the quantity and types of connected devices for FirstNet users, including vehicles, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and sensors. 5G will offer several benefits including improved data rates and latency, along with access to new 5G spectrum, said Neil Cox, FirstNet board member and chair of the FirstNet Network and Technology Committee.

“The action we are taking today will ensure public safety is able to take advantage of 5G when it’s available,” he said.

The approved money will also be used to increase the fleet of deployables available to FirstNet subscribers, but the board didn’t specify how many deployables or what types would be added. The fleet currently includes satellite cells on light trucks (SatCOLTS), plus three airborne cells on wings (flying COWs) and one aerostat. The deployables were used in more than 450 operations around the U.S. during 2019, a FirstNet statement said.

The legislation that created FirstNet requires the board to maintain a sustainable business model that enables the organization to continually improve and advance the NPSBN for public safety.

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