AT&T/FirstNet Indoor Coverage off to a Great Start

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2Q 2018 | IN-5080

Emergency response public safety is mission- and life-critical, so the network built to support it must be secure, built to scale, and reliable. FirstNet has contracted AT&T to build, operate, and maintain such a network, but competition is heating up.

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The FirstNet Build Gets Underway in Earnest


The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created in the United States under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). FirstNet was created to build, operate, and maintain a nationwide interoperable public safety high-speed broadband network. Congress allocated US$7 billion in funding and 20 MHz of D-Block (758 to 763 MHz/788 to 793 MHz) spectrum to FirstNet. LTE technology was chosen by FirstNet as the communication protocol, because LTE penetration in the United States is greater than 95%. FirstNet plans to leverage the economies of scale inherent in using commercial networks and user equipment.

AT&T was contracted by FirstNet to build and manage the network on March 2017 and will incorporate its commercial LTE assets as part of the new public safety network. The 25-year contract sees AT&T acquiring a license for 20 MHz of low-band 700 MHz spectrum (band 14) from FirstNet and receiving payments totaling US$6.5 billion over the next 5 years for network buildout. In return for its access to this spectrum, AT&T expects to spend around US$40 billion over the life of the contract, building, operating, and maintaining the network. In December 2017, all 50 states, 6 territories, and the District of Columbia unanimously opted in to the FirstNet/AT&T network for public safety, and network construction began in January 2018.

In-Building Coverage Will Be Essential


ABI Research believes that emergency response public safety LTE access, as embodied in the FirstNet network, is crucial in today’s interconnected world. High in reliability and availability, a public safety LTE network provides flexible coverage and quick response time for real-time applications, empowering public safety agencies. LTE offers unparalleled and unrivaled broadband bandwidth and services to public safety agencies. Aside from voice and video data transmission and middleware integration, LTE allows the use of sensors, real-time surveillance, big data analytics, and drones.

More than 80% of wireless traffic originates or terminates indoors, so ensuring that a strong signal is available to first responders indoors in emergency situations becomes a mission- if not life-critical service. As a result, AT&T has immediately made its significant in-building resources consisting of more than 6,000 distributed antenna systems and 40,000 Wi-Fi access points available to the first responder community and has also made priority and pre-emption immediately available to public safety users on these systems.

Indoor Public Safety Standards Needed as Competition Starts


Although the FirstNet buildout has just been started by AT&T, the requirements for in-building coverage have received an immediate boost using AT&Ts commercial DAS and Wi-Fi installed base. However, the FirstNet signal must also be made available indoors. Overlooking FirstNet standards for in-building public safety risks compromising the effectiveness of this mission- and life-critical service. Also, multiple authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) with differing standards for indoor public safety wireless systems drives some uncertainty as to how the FirstNet signal is received inside the building and what provisions will be required to make that happen.

Cooperation and collaboration between all members of the ecosystem, including FirstNet/AT&T, building owners/managers, system integrators, equipment vendors, and state and local authorities will be essential to ensure the success of FirstNet indoors.

In a sign of the competitive dynamics at play, both AT&T and Verizon announced, late May, the release of their public safety cores. Verizon will offer first responder priority and pre-emption for its public safety users on its commercial RAN. AT&Ts FirstNet core will also offer priority and pre-emption on its commercial bands, in addition to the FirstNet band 14, and most of AT&T’s 30,000 FirstNet customers will be transitioned to the core by May.

Competition is about to heat up, as now both AT&T and Verizon compete for public safety subscribers, and the various public safety agencies will need to decide which service provider offers the best coverage for both outdoor and indoor scenarios, for their jurisdictions. Agencies will ask service providers to provide in-building coverage maps, for example, as a more accurate representation of the public safety user experience than that from vehicle-mounted devices.


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