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How FirstNet plus mobile computing represents the evolution of public safety communications

Connect your agency’s rugged mobile computing tools to the FirstNet public safety wireless network for fast, reliable, dedicated broadband coverage across the country


Sponsored by Dell

By Police1 BrandFocus Staff

In the late 1960s, the Federal Communications Commission tapped AT&T to help create an easy way for the public to reach first responders and accelerate emergency response. That’s how 911 came to be.

Look for a vendor that has worked with FirstNet to earn “FirstNet Ready” certification on select devices, like the rugged Latitude 5424 from Dell, to make it easier to tap into this broadband network dedicated for public safety use.
Look for a vendor that has worked with FirstNet to earn “FirstNet Ready” certification on select devices, like the rugged Latitude 5424 from Dell, to make it easier to tap into this broadband network dedicated for public safety use. (Dell)

“If you think about back in those times, it was about a U.S. consumer calling to an operator and trying to get a call out,” said Christopher Ortiz, AT&T FirstNet channel manager. “That could be a big challenge, because many times there were a lot of busy signals that just made it really difficult for officer response.”

Communications between citizens and public safety agencies is only half the challenge. The creation of the standard nationwide 911 emergency number solved the problem of effectively connecting the public to first responders. But the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center underlined the shortcomings in communications within and between public safety agencies that remained decades later.

The reliance on proprietary two-way radio systems meant that first responders in one agency couldn’t talk to those in another organization, even if they were operating side by side. Add in gaps in wireless coverage and problems penetrating buildings, and many first responder lives were lost during 9/11 simply because people couldn’t talk to each other.

The federal government put together a working group to evaluate the challenges and develop standards for the next evolution of public safety communication and to establish a broadband network specifically designed and reserved for public safety.

“What really happened beyond 9/11 was the federal government put together a commission to evaluate all the different flaws and how to improve against those things,” said Ortiz, “and to enhance the ability for U.S. first responders to be prepared and to be ready.”

FirstNet, the dedicated public safety communications platform, was born of this investigation into the challenges laid bare by 9/11. In 2017, AT&T was awarded a contract to provision FirstNet for 25 years. The concept then and now was to give first responders access to a dedicated broadband wireless network, made interoperable by requiring vendors to build equipment that would run seamlessly on the system.

“Now we are able to provide over 1.5 million connections a day of public safety constituents today that are leveraging this network every day to drive the most mission-critical needs,” said Ortiz.

FirstNet is backed both by federal dollars and by AT&T’s $145 billion investment in national coverage equipment and services. Ortiz says the company will continue to focus on innovations to support the growth and evolution of FirstNet, including 5G and geographic expansion.

“Our goal is to reach 99% of where Americans are located today with FirstNet broadband coverage,” said Ortiz during the event. “Whether you’re talking about a small rural town or a very dense city, our buildup is going to be there.”

FIRSTNET PROVIDES FAST, SECURE, DEDICATED COMMUNICATIONS

In March 2018, AT&T began building the FirstNet Core, which serves as the foundation of the network to support mission-critical applications that police and other public safety agencies depend on each day. FirstNet provides several key benefits:

1. Speed: The network has been developed to have a very fast throughput and designed to make sure that it can support a high capacity of usage when needed. Throttling has been a problem with some networks, but Ortiz says the FirstNet Core network is designed to not have any throttling, so public safety agencies can expect consistent speed, even during an all-hands response.

“The consumption of data that we’ve seen [during the COVID-19 pandemic] has been two times more than we typically would ever see across the entire nation in any given time,” said Ortiz. “The great thing is that customers can validate that this network has been able to deliver at the time of need, especially during this pandemic.”

2. Coverage: In response to customer feedback from across the country, FirstNet developers are building out coverage where most needed to maximize availability. Ortiz says AT&T is building out over 2.61 million square miles of LTE coverage nationwide to better serve the general public as well as first responders.

3. Dedicated Network Access: Band 14 is the core spectrum of FirstNet and the default public safety connection that grants priority access into a specific block of the spectrum, with 20 megahertz dedicated to public safety users. This priority access automatically places police, fire and EMS at the front of the line to provide sufficient speed, access and bandwidth for emergency response of any scale.

“Band 14 is the pipe that’s really designed to ensure you’ve got access,” said Ortiz. “Even when there’s large response to major events, whether they’re planned or unplanned, you know that your service will be able support that level of access when you need it the most.”

Band 14 also helps maintain connectivity in difficult-to-reach spots.

“Band 14 has the ability to have a further reach in building penetration,” said Ortiz. “We know that sometimes infrastructure within facilities can affect the way the signals can come in, and Band 14 has been tested to demonstrate that it’s got a good ability to penetrate in some of the most difficult conditions out there.”

4. Cybersecurity: FirstNet operates multiple security operations centers 24/7 to monitor the data packets coming across the network for an added layer of security and CJIS compliance.

‘FIRSTNET READY’ TECHNOLOGY PARTNERS

Computing devices vary in processing power and other performance capabilities, including connectivity. Ortiz recommends looking for a vendor that has worked with FirstNet to earn the “FirstNet Ready” designation, like Dell, to make it easier to tap into the network.

To meet the varied needs of FirstNet users, Dell offers a range of certified rugged laptops and tablets that include mission-specific computer processors built for law enforcement and for FirstNet compatibility.

“We partnered with FirstNet early in the process, making sure that the architecture was designed correctly and that the platform essentially is certified for the network,” said Patrick Seidensticker, Dell’s director of rugged mobility for North America. “We’re proud to say that all five of the devices in the Dell rugged portfolio are FirstNet Ready, as well as four of our non-rugged devices, mobile devices that are ready out of the box to go on the FirstNet network.”

Moreover, Dell helps its public safety customers get their equipment activated and running on FirstNet. If a customer has already completed the FirstNet registration process, then getting their new Dell laptops and tablets on the network takes only a couple of days.

The challenge as a vendor, says Seidensticker, has been to design and deliver solutions that meet the needs of the end users – officers in the field – so the company collaborates with law enforcement users to better understand how they use mobile computing products and what they want.

“There are lots of features and elements and innovations that we include in the devices that not only help them survive, but do their job to the best of their ability and help our officers and users in the field have the best experience while they’re using it,” said Seidensticker. “No one size fits all. We like to be collaborative in working with you to design the best solution that fits your needs, whether it be in the vehicle or outside the vehicle.”

Visit Dell for more information.

Read Next: Be ready to take FirstNet into the field (on-demand webinar)

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