WATCH: AT&T’s Stacy Schwartz Talks FirstNet’s Purpose During COVID-19 and Beyond

Senior reporter Amanda Ziadeh is joined by Stacy Schwartz, vice president of federal public safety and FirstNet for AT&T Global Public Sector, who discusses the background and progression of FirstNet and how it has been helpful to public safety agencies and the nation during the pandemic.

Read the Q&A with Schwartz below, where she expands on the creation, value and impact of FirstNet, and the benefits to government agencies of implementing of 5G.

FirstNet was first awarded in 2017, can you give a brief background on what it is? Why it’s in existence and where this program is now?

FirstNet is a game changer for the daily work of keeping the public safe. It is America’s public safety communications platform. It’s bringing public safety communications into the 21st century with new, innovative capabilities to strengthen first responders’ incident response. And it’s helping them connect to the critical information they need — every day and in every emergency.

Due to communications challenges during the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 9/11 Commission recommended the establishment of a single, interoperable network for public safety. For years, public safety organizations lobbied Congress to make this recommendation a reality. When Congress established the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) in 2012, it based its mission on public safety’s express concerns and desires.

The FirstNet Authority is an independent government authority. It awarded the FirstNet contract to us in March 2017 as a public-private partnership. Here are some of the most recent statistics about the growth of FirstNet:

  • There are more than 1.3 million FirstNet connections in service with more than 12,000 public safety agencies and organizations subscribed.
  • Using all AT&T LTE bands, more than 99% of the U.S. population is covered by FirstNet.
  • There are more than 100 FirstNet Ready devices available and more than 100 apps in the FirstNet App Catalog.
  • FirstNet also has 76 dedicated deployable network assets, including 3 Flying COWs and an Aerostat (“blimp”).
  • In 2019, FirstNet had more than 450 requests for planned and emergencyevents.

FirstNet’s mission-centric design and unparalleled capabilities led to AT&T being named the public safety company of the year by Frost & Sullivan. According to Frost& Sullivan: “AT&T is at the forefront for providing industry-leading public safety solutions that modernize public safety communications and transform emergency reporting and response. By leveraging proven experience and technological know-how in developing innovative public safety solutions, AT&T outpaces its competitors and maintains a distinguished reputation among customers.”

How has FirstNet been helpful to public safety agencies and the nation during the pandemic?

Here are just some of the facts about the role of FirstNet in helping public safety during COVID-19.

Since the first wave of cases began to appear in early March, we’ve seen many public safety agencies join or expand their use of FirstNet for COVID-19 response. In addition, our FirstNet Response Operations Group has supported more than 50 COVID-19 emergency requests and more than 25 Non-COVID emergency requests. FirstNet fleet response times to COVID-19 emergency requests have averaged less than 14 hours from first contact. We’ve also completed more than 4,750 network assessments for federal, state and tribal COVID-19 sites including emergency operations centers, medical facilities, drive-through testing sites and quarantine centers.

FirstNet continues to deliver excellent network performance perform even with the massive increases in volume and orders we’ve seen from first responders. It’s providing public safety with dedicated connectivity when they need it, unique benefits like always-on priority and preemption, and high-quality Band-14 spectrum. These advanced capabilities enable FirstNet to perform faster than any commercial network.

During a nationwide event like COVID, network reliability is what matters most. That’s where the FirstNet network core comes in to play. The FirstNet core was architected for superior reliability and service availability. Plus, it uses multiple geographically distributed core sites nationwide for enhanced redundancy and performance. On average, first responders consume more than 2 times as much data compared to general consumers — reinforcing the need and importance of having a network purpose-built for public safety.

FirstNet Push-to-Talk was developed from the ground up specifically for and with public safety. It is the first-ever nationwide mission-critical standards-based push-to-talk solution to launch in the U.S.

All over the country, we’re delivering FirstNet devices and setting up hotspots to support public safety command centers. For example, we did this for a mayor and fire department in a major city in Utah. We delivered and activated the FirstNet devices and hotspots within 1 hour.

We’re also deploying mobile devices and portable cell sites to support COVID-19 drive-through testing centers all around the nation and portable cell sites to military bases where early quarantine centers were set up.

At a large medical campus in California, we activated FirstNet connections and deployed a Cell on Wheels. In New York City, we stepped in to help ensure EMS and other first responders have the interoperable connectivity they need. We equipped hundreds of ambulances with FirstNet Ready ultra-rugged Sonim XP8s and AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk. We also deployed FirstNet portable cell sites and new, temporary in-building solutions at their base location to increase network capacity for first responders and emergency staff.

We also worked to ensure connectivity for the USNS Comfort in New York and the USNS Mercy in Los Angeles. These naval medical treatment facilities are being used to alleviate the overcrowding in local hospitals. FirstNet, combined with our Fleet solutions, is helping first responders stay connected with First Call Ambulance. It’s a Tennessee ambulance company using these solutions to stay connected, work remotely and stay connected with their customers seamlessly through the pandemic.

Can you provide an update on the implementation of 5G and its impact?

In December 2018, we introduced the U.S. to commercial mobile 5G and jumpstarted the next wave of innovation poised to significantly alter mission, business and consumer experiences. Over time, 5G is expected to deliver latency and capacity enhancements that will enable revolutionary new capabilities for consumers and businesses.

AT&T 5G is now live in a total of 190 markets across the U.S. We are offering two flavors of 5G technology. Our more widely available 5G network uses low-band spectrum. This service now covers more than 120 million people, offers impressive speeds over broader distances and is ideal for mobile customers who need performance while on the go.

We also offer an enhanced wireless experience on 5G+ with its millimeter wave service, though with more limited coverage. Mmwave technology delivers ultra-fast speeds capable of 1+ Gbps, more capacity and lower latency to unlock unprecedented experiences.

Businesses and government agencies are coming to us for 5G solutions. Lining up to trial services. Our trials are in various stages of progress across multiple verticals — government, manufacturing, retail, health care, financial, entertainment, among others.

Much like 4G introduced the world to the gig economy, we believe mobile 5G will jumpstart the next wave of unforeseen innovation. 5G will eventually power future smart factories, self-driving cars, virtual and augmented realities and other yet-to-be discovered experiences as we explore the possibilities of 5G.

How will government agencies benefit from the implementation of 5G?

5G can bring a multitude of benefits to government agencies. Examples include the ability to support massive IoT to power smart cities, smart military bases, smart buildings, autonomous vehicles.

Massive IoT will support a greater number of sensors chirping data than previous technologies, allowing for more data to be collected from across the IoT system. That will open the door to integrated lighting systems, energy, water and waste system management, and connected surveillance systems that help improve public safety.

Also, the low latency of 5G has the potential to transform traffic flows within a city. The ability to have near-real time traffic data can help with quick re-routing in the case of an accident or help first responders control traffic signals to reach an emergency faster.

A new wave of 5G-based apps, as yet unimagined, will likely transform the way government field workers get work done. And another capability 5G can power is augmented and virtual reality to help improve training for first responders, disaster recovery, law enforcement, our nation’s military.

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