connected home user (Nuttapol Sn/Shutterstock.com)

Telecom networks keeping up, stepping up

Although internet use is spiking overall as millions of Americans work, learn and play from home, AT&T reports that FirstNet -- the high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network it’s building for use by first responders -- is performing well. 

More than 1.2 million first responders and other emergency response workers have connectivity, an AT&T spokesperson, told GCN. Additionally, more than 11,000 public-safety agencies and organizations nationwide have subscribed to the network, which gives responders preemption across voice and data with multiple priority levels that they can apportion as needed, too.

To ensure that things run smoothly, FirstNet liaisons are embedded at state and federal emergency operations centers. When connectivity needs a boost, FirstNet users have access to 76 deployable cell sites that the FirstNet Response Operations Group put in place. The team comprises former first responders who manage the program with the National Incident Management System and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Response Framework, according to the company’s website.

On April 2, AT&T reported that it currently has 14 portable cell sites in operation and has deployed more than 28 to bolster coverage for FirstNet customers as needed. Company CEO Jeff McElfresh said in a video update that AT&T had activated more than 1,000 FirstNet devices and added 16 emergency circuits at one large medical campus in California and rolled portable cell sites to remote military bases. A cell tower on wheels is supporting the Navy ship Mercy in Los Angeles.

The company said it is adapting and adding capacity to address increases in traffic resulting from remote workers and students.  Additionally, there have been fewer spikes in wireless usage, officials said, as more people stay home. Overall, on April 1, core network traffic was up 18% compared to March 1, officials said.

Other companies are also working to keep first responders communicating. For instance, the Verizon Response Team has deployed mobile cell sites and Wi-Fi- hotspots to boost network performance. It is working with the Navy to deliver connectivity for the USNS Comfort docked in New York and the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide internet connectivity for students who lack access at home.

T-Mobile saw an increase of 26% in texting, a 77% bump in MMS and a 17% increase in call times.

Comscore’s Total Home Panel data shows that average in-home data usage was up 18% between March 1 and 17, compared to the same period in 2019. The most notable device-level increases are for mobile phones, smart speakers, connected televisions and streaming boxes or sticks.

As quarantine and shelter-in-place orders increase and persist, network usage will likely increase.

On April 2, the Federal Communications Commission announced a $200 million emergency COVID-19 Telehealth Program to implement the coronavirus response CARES Act to ensure access to connected care services and devices.  The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will help eligible health care providers purchase telecommunications and information services and devices to support remote medical treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 20, the FCC granted temporary access to more wireless spectrum to AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and US Cellular to help with the increased demand. A week before, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asked broadband providers to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which includes opening Wi-Fi hotpots to any American who needs them.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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