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Building on a Year of Progress, FirstNet Authority Looks to Public Safety to Drive Future Growth

By Lisa Casias, Acting CEO, First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority)

2022 was another banner year for public safety and their network — FirstNet.  The network now provides over 4 million connections serving more than 23,000 public safety agencies and organizations. And it continues to bring innovation and special features to public safety users, offering more than 200 unique apps and 525 devices designed for emergency communications.

As we, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority), reflect on the past year and look to 2023 and beyond, we are pleased with the progress to date and the opportunities that lay ahead for the network. We know the continued involvement of public safety will be critical to the ongoing growth and evolution of FirstNet.

A look back at a year of major milestones

The FirstNet Authority crossed two key milestones in 2022: the 10-year anniversary of the legislation to create FirstNet and the 5-year anniversary of our public-private partnership with AT&T. Both were critical to making FirstNet possible today and position us for continued success in the future.

As the FirstNet Authority has evolved over the last ten years, so has our focus. We have moved from the early days of consultation to network planning and implementation, and now, to investments and oversight of a nationwide network. Along the way, public safety has been at the center of everything we do.

Understanding public safety’s experience on FirstNet

The FirstNet Authority conducted a comprehensive engagement program with public safety in 2022. We had more than 1,800 engagements that covered every state and territory and across all public safety disciplines. These engagements also included representatives from local, state, tribal, and federal government agencies and collected more than 2,200 unique feedback items about the network. Using this feedback, the FirstNet Authority has helped drive new features and services on the FirstNet this past year, including:

An in-building coverage solution. Approved by the FirstNet Authority Board in May, this investment addresses one of public safety’s top critical communication priorities: to boost coverage inside buildings like police headquarters, emergency operations centers, fire stations, and emergency communications centers. The technology is already being rolled out to public safety agencies, bringing coverage to the places public safety operates regularly.

An immersive test center designed to assess public safety technologies. The Public Safety Immersive Test Center was launched as a collaboration between the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division and the FirstNet Authority. The center uses trainings and simulations to evaluate public safety communications technology and help answer key research questions around user interfaces, including augmented and virtual realities, and location services for public safety training and operations.

A growing fleet of deployables. The FirstNet deployables fleet grew to 150 mobile network assets this year with the addition of mobile communications vehicles with cell sites and compact rapid deployables (CRDs). CRDs have proven critical during major events and disasters, such as Hurricane Ian when CRDs were deployed on amphibious vehicles and helicopters to provide responders and stranded residents with much-needed communications.

Building out broadband for public safety

As we look ahead, the initial buildout of the network remains on schedule for completion in 2023. Through the construction of new cell sites and the expansion of Band 14 spectrum, FirstNet is bringing dedicated coverage to first responders in both urban and rural areas across the country. Today —  according to our network contractor, AT&T — the FirstNet network reaches 99% of Americans.

Completing the initial five-year network buildout of Band 14 will be a major milestone for FirstNet and public safety communications. However, it does not mean that our work is done. The FirstNet Authority will drive the expansion and evolution of the network through strategic investments and ongoing collaboration with public safety. Further, we will continue to oversee AT&T’s operation and maintenance of the network to ensure that it meets first responders’ needs—now and in the future.

Preparing for 2023 and beyond

As it has been true in the FirstNet Authority’s past, it is also true for our future: Public safety engagement is essential to the success of FirstNet. As we head into the next phase of FirstNet, our engagements with public safety will continue to help us understand the operational and communications needs of FirstNet’s end users. We use this critical data to inform the FirstNet Authority Roadmap, which guides network investments as well as the FirstNet Authority’s priorities, programs, and activities.

We thank the women and men of public safety for their support over the last year and look forward to their continued engagement and participation as we drive the future of FirstNet and public safety communications together. 

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