Diversity & Inclusion

A new cell site in Baltimore County is part of a wireless upgrade for first responders

New technologies for public safety communications are coming online through the nationwide buildout of FirstNet.

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

On Hazelwood Avenue in Baltimore County, there’s a new addition to the area’s wireless network for first responders: A new cell site, or tower, will help to expand communications coverage during emergencies, events or during every day needs.

It’s one of the upgrades that’s part of FirstNet, a wireless communications platform being built out by AT&T around the country through a public-private partnership. It’s designed to modernize public safety communications; Maryland opted in about 18 months ago.

The FirstNet effort also includes deploying Band 14, which is LTE spectrum specifically set aside for public safety officials and first responders that was used in the cell site.

The cell sites can help increase connectivity for first responders, officials said. In rural areas, that might mean filling coverage gaps. In more urban areas, that means adding capacity. Along with the public-safety-only spectrum, the cell sites can also help increase connectivity for any AT&T customer in the area.

“We worked with local and state public safety officials in Maryland to help identify locations where increased network capacity was needed to best support our first responders, and to provide additional mobile broadband coverage for Marylanders,” said AT&T Mid-Atlantic President Denis Dunn.

Baltimore County’s spot is the first publicly announced cell site in Maryland, and more are expected. The idea was to locate it in a high traffic area where it could best serve public safety needs.

Legislation that created FirstNet was supported by Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who was on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon for the new site on a chilly Tuesday morning.

“I supported the legislation behind FirstNet, recognizing the need for and benefits of a dedicated, nationwide broadband network for public safety,” Ruppserberger said, “and I’m pleased to see the early benefits that FirstNet is already bringing to Maryland’s first responders as it paves the way for new capabilities and innovations in the way public safety handles emergencies and serves our communities.”

At the event on Tuesday, officials also brought out a Satellite Cell on Light Truck (SatCOLT), known as a “deployable.” These large units on wheels connect via satellite, and function like a mobile cell site. They can be sent to large public events to help provide communications channels in crowded areas, or be used to provide communications at a site that’s being affected by a disaster.

“Last year a vehicle like this one was dispatched to both Washington County and Ellicott City to help public safety respond to historic flooding,” Dunn said.

In all, about 70 of the SatCOLTs will be deployed around the country.

Companies: AT&T

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