AT&T: FirstNet 25% Faster than Commercial Networks
Monday, May 06, 2019 | Comments

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) network performs more than 25% faster than commercial networks, according to data from AT&T, which is building out the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

AT&T was recognized as the fastest wireless network in the nation, according to the first quarter 2019 results of tests taken with Speedtest as analyzed by Ookla. Because FirstNet subscribers have access to all AT&T Long Term Evolution (LTE) bands in addition to band 14, the results translate to the public-safety communications platform, AT&T said.

With the specialized capabilities enabled by the physically separate and dedicated FirstNet network core, such as priority and pre-emption, the FirstNet communications platform brings FirstNet subscribers the fastest overall experience. According to the results of tests taken with Speedtest as analyzed by AT&T, FirstNet consistently performs more than 25% faster than any commercial network, the company said.

AT&T said there are more than 600,000 FirstNet device connections being used by more than 7,250 public-safety agencies. A majority of agencies and nearly 50% of FirstNet’s total connections are new subscribers, not AT&T migrations, and that mix continues to shift. Since January, most of the FirstNet connections added are new subscribers to AT&T, the company said.

In March, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President John Stephens said most of the 450,000 FirstNet subscribers at that time were former AT&T customers.

AT&T launched the FirstNet Digital Sign Up Portal to help qualified first responders gain access to FirstNet service. Individual first responders can now subscribe online.

Recent agencies that have subscribed to FirstNet include AAA Ambulance Service, American Medical Response, Anchorage Police Department, Chicago Police Department, Elmore County (Idaho) Sheriff’s Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Seattle Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Last year’s 7.0 earthquake really brought the significance of the FirstNet system to light,” said Justin Doll, Anchorage Police Chief. “When the shaking stopped, I relied on my FirstNet phone to begin our response to the disaster. Where others had trouble connecting due to network congestion, FirstNet gave us the uninterrupted ability to coordinate our tireless efforts to keep the citizens of Anchorage safe.”

The carrier said band 14 spectrum, which AT&T has access to under its contract with FirstNet, has been deployed in more than 600 markets.

“Rural Idaho presents significant challenges in terms of emergency communications coverage and interoperability,” said Elmore County Sheriff Mike Hollinshead. “FirstNet is addressing our challenges of coverage and providing state of the art capabilities needed to ensure the safety of the public and our law enforcement officers."

AT&T said it added three flying cells on wings (COWs) to the FirstNet deployable program. Each flying COW is comprised of two tethered drones and a trailer for transport that is equipped with a satellite dish and fiber connections. The units are capable of withstanding light rain and wind speeds up to 25 miles per hour. They can reach heights of up to 400 feet, making them ideal for wildfires and mountain rescue missions where the terrain previously made it difficult to maintain connectivity. The flying COWs are set to be outfitted with band 14 in the second half of 2019.

The FirstNet flying COWs and other 72 FirstNet deployables are available 24/7 at no additional charge. The FirstNet team at AT&T will determine the appropriate asset to send, or resolution, based on the situation.

“Our team remains focused on delivering the modern capabilities, coverage and capacity needed to strengthen first responders’ communications nationwide,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president of FirstNet, AT&T. “These results serve as another proof point to show the work is paying off for public safety. We’ve entered the second year of our FirstNet band 14 rollout with incredible momentum, already tracking well ahead of schedule, covering more than 50% of our total nationwide coverage targets. And we don’t intend to slow down as we keep delivering for those we rely on most.”

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Comments
On 5/22/19, Erik Kalapir said:
In Connecticut, our own internal testing found 3-4 times faster download and uploading speeds with AT&T's competitors.

Personally instead of federal funding going to AT&T to build a nationwide band 14 core and network I would have perfered Homeland Security to provide grants to public-safety agencies for free smartphone purchases and reimbursement of network access costs. Much too early to tell but if carrier network 5G deployment expands all of this effort, which may be outdated soon anyway.

On 5/9/19, Dave Deal said:
This is an interesting claim by AT&T and not at all representative of the experience for agencies testing devices in Minnesota. We have had several agencies test using Speedtest by Ookla. We have seen speeds of only around 5-7 Megabits on the FirstNet devices with full signal strength indicated. For comparison we have seen five times the speed on the Verizon network.

If AT&T can do better than all the other carriers, they should start giving that level of performance to the agencies in Minnesota, although that would not address our main issue of coverage. Even double the speed of every carrier would be pointless if we can't get on the network.

Perhaps AT&T should stop with the heavily skewed sales pitch and get the network built out to the required levels before trying to convert everyone. We don't need any more agencies switching over all of their devices only to find out that they can't get a usable connection in their service areas.

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