FirstNet on track for November award

FirstNet: Two years in

Two years after the FirstNet authority awarded a 25-year, multi-billion-dollar contract to AT&T to build a nationwide broadband public safety network, work on expanding the infrastructure and increasing the number of devices, apps and application programming interfaces designed for responders is picking up steam.

In the last two years, more than 5,000 agencies have subscribed to the network, which has also seen a 100 percent increase in adoption over the last six months, according to Jeff Bratcher, FirstNet's chief technology and operations officer.

Speaking at the March 20 FirstNet combined committee and board meeting, Bratcher reported that  AT&T officials said they "achieved 40 percent of the build-out in 2018, and they've added more than 50,000 square miles of coverage nationwide. They've stated they will reach 60 percent of the build-out by the end of 2019."

FirstNet is boosting its testing capabilities at its Innovation and Testing Lab in Boulder, Colo., where  scenario-based testing of the mission critical functions and features of the network can be conducted.

Special test equipment, Bratcher said, now allows FirstNet to simulate a cell site "with thousands of simultaneous data sessions and ensure that the FirstNet subscribers' priority and pre-emption features are working as designed and implemented."

A partnership with MIT Lincoln Labs on video analytics research in public safety use cases is also in works, Bratcher said.

Besides growing the communications infrastructure, the number FirstNet certified mobile devices and apps designed specifically for responders has increased.

So far, over 70 smartphones, laptops, tablets, modems and hotspots have been approved for use on the network by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The App Catalog features dozens of communications tools, situational awareness solutions and mobile security applications. It also offers a number of cloud services for storage and content delivery. 

All the apps in the catalog have been tested and evaluated by AT&T and the network authority. "FirstNet Certified" apps meet criteria for relevancy, security and data privacy but have also gone through evaluations for public sector availability, resiliency and scalability.

A new category, "FirstNet Listed," gives developers a faster and more cost effective path to approval. FirstNet Listed apps still have the same security, relevance and data privacy requirements, but now, security scans are completed by FirstNet during the review process at no added cost to the developer, AT&T officials said.

Although the full App Catalog available only to FirstNet subscribers, some of the services include:

  • 10-21 Video, a body-cam app that streams live video and shares it with other users.
  • Explorer for ArcGIS, Esri's lightweight mapping app and data viewer that allows responders to create, markup and interact with their maps, even offline.
  • HAAS Alert, a responder-to-vehicle service that delivers real-time alerts to drivers and connected cars via smartphone apps and in-vehicle systems when emergency vehicles are nearby and on-scene.
  • Lookout for Work, which protects responders' devices from phishing attacks, spyware, out-of-date operating systems and rogue Wi-Fi networks.
  • NetMotion, a mobile virtual private network that helps to optimize and secure application traffic.
  • PulsePoint, which crowdsources immediate care through CPR-trained citizens, allowing them to view alerts about nearby cardiac emergencies.
  • Pulsara, a mobile platform that enables clinicians to exchange patient-specific information.
  • SceneDoc, an evidence collection and management tool to assist investigators in the field.
  • Tango Tango, an app featuring encrypted push-to-talk voice, GPS location services, emergency alerting and text/multimedia messaging.

The API catalog now features 25 APIs and software development kits from six suppliers. The APIs enable services like texting to landlines and 911, single sign-on, call management and better integration with FirstNet approved hardware and push-to-talk services.

FirstNet also recently entered into a partnership with the University of Mississippi Medical Center to bring high-speed communications to rural parts of the state to power remote medical applications in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.


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