FirstNet board votes to direct $218 million in network reinvestments

The First Responders Network Authority board has approved $218 million in network investment to support 5G and additional deployables for first responders using the FirstNet-AT&T network.

The FirstNet Authority said that the funds will support “initial network upgrades to set FirstNet on the path to 5G” and expand FirstNet’s fleet of deployable assets, which include cell sites on wheels (COWs) cell sites on light trucks (COLTs) and several unmanned aerial vehicles, including a blimp.

The First Responders Network Authority will be receiving about $18 billion in payments from AT&T over the 25-year-term of its contract to build out and operate the nationwide FirstNet network for public safety. An estimated $16 billion of that is expected to be reinvested in the network, as is required under the law which established FirstNet. The authority has published a roadmap and the related investment principles which guide its priorities for directing those reinvestment funds.

FirstNet currently has 72 ground-based deployables, three “flying cell-on-wings” unmanned aerial vehicles and a blimp, and some of the funds approved will go to expand that fleet. The Authority said that during 2019, deployables were used to support coverage or capacity for more than 450 operations around the country, and this year, deployables are being used at large events, emergencies, as part of disaster response and in support of COVID-19 response.

In addition, the Authority is looking ahead to how first responders will leverage 5G services. The organization said that “evolving the network to 5G is expected to be a multi-phase effort, beginning with upgrades to the dedicated FirstNet network core.” FirstNet’s public safety traffic is handled separately from the rest of AT&T’s commercial traffic, with a physically separate core specific to the FirstNet network.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Edward Parkinson, who serves as the executive director of the FirstNet Authority, called the board’s decision “a significant milestone for the FirstNet Authority’s strategic investment program” that is driven by the needs of FirstNet’s public safety users.

“This is just the beginning; we look forward to the work ahead to achieve the full potential of this network,” Parkinson added.



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