Civic News

Philly is among 38 cities where first responders will get 5G+ access through AT&T’s FirstNet

The network provides first responders with dedicated coverage and capacity, so a 911 call isn't jammed.

A FirstNet "deployable" in Baltimore. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

AT&T announced this week that it would be expanding FirstNet, the company’s nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform built for first responders, to include 5G+ in 38 cities across the U.S., including Philadelphia.

FirstNet was built with AT&T in a public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority – an independent agency within the federal government — three years ago, with strategies implemented following the 9/11 attacks. The network provides first responders with dedicated coverage and capacity, so a 911 call isn’t jammed in a busy network. Now, first responders in these 38 cities and more than 20 venues will gain access to AT&T mmWave (5G+) spectrum this month.

5G is the most current generation of cellular tech and standards, allowing for faster speeds and better latency — the time between user action and response.

Current FirstNet subscribers will not have any additional charges for the upgraded 5G coverage, whether for access to current 5G+ spectrum or future 5G spectrum on FirstNet, AT&T said. These updates should allow first responders greater ability to support use cases like transmitting patient data from an ambulance to a hospital or quickly sending other large files that require high bandwidth.

“Now, there’s no doubt that 5G has a lot to offer the entire public safety community, but what’s most important is ensuring that as new technologies become available — whether it’s 5G, augmented reality, edge computing or others — that we take a first responder-centric view in how we approach its deployment,” said Jason Porter, president of public sector and FirstNet at AT&T, in a statement.

In its announcement, AT&T also touted security qualities like its comprehensive tower-to-core encryption, which secures network traffic through its entire route. The company is rolling out security upgrades on every cell tower across the country, and Houston and Cleveland are the first two cities to upgrade this month, with nationwide completion expected by the first quarter of 2022.

“The FirstNet Authority has spent years working hand-in-hand with public safety across America to plan for, launch and innovate their network,” said Edward Parkinson, CEO of FirstNet Authority. “They’ve told us about the need for a dedicated network that would continue to evolve as technology advanced. While there is more work to be done to advance mission-critical 5G capabilities for first responders, the FirstNet Authority is thrilled to deliver lifesaving capabilities to first responders with access to this new technology.”

The company’s done recent work upgrading FirstNet networks in nearby Maryland, investing nearly $450 million in both wireless and wired upgrades for the state from 2016 to 2018, and installing a new cell site in 2019.

Companies: AT&T

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