The goal of a 21st-century broadband network for first responders, FirstNet, is inching toward completion.
In August, the First Responder Network Authority unveiled a roadmap that outlines the future growth of the nation’s interoperable public safety broadband communications network.
As of mid-August, according to AT&T, which is building the network, nearly 9,000 public safety agencies and organizations had subscribed to FirstNet. Those customer agencies accounted for more than 750,000 connections in service in roughly 650 different markets. AT&T also said that 65 percent of the network’s infrastructure had been built out and was providing coverage.
The roadmap “provides a view of public safety’s operational needs and technology trends for mobile broadband communications over the next five years,” according to a FirstNet fact sheet. The roadmap focuses on six key technology areas: the network core, coverage and capacity, situational awareness, voice communications, secure information exchange and the user experience.
“As we look to the future of FirstNet, it is critical that we deliver network enhancements and innovations based on the needs of public safety and in lock step with trends in technology,” FirstNet Authority Board Chair Edward Horowitz said in a statement. “This Roadmap lays out priorities for ensuring first responders have the dedicated and differentiated network they asked for, supported by the FirstNet Authority’s management of and investment in the network.”
FirstNet Plans for the Future of Public Safety Communications
The roadmap notes that the network core “provides the essential intelligence for the functioning of the network,” is foundational and must be kept technologically current. The roadmap says the authority will explore distributing the core and cloud-based operations to additional locations with content closer to users, and will explore how to evolve the core to “address foundational needs for next generation technologies (e.g., 5G).”
Ensuring appropriate network coverage and capacity is also crucial since they enable “robust and ubiquitous access to the network.” FirstNet wants to increase outdoor and indoor coverage, particularly for the 700-megahertz Band Class 14, which the network uses, at locations deemed to be public safety priorities. The authority will also advocate for changes in policies, codes and standards to facilitate in-building coverage enhancements.
FirstNet is also focused on enabling “real-time access, collection, and distribution of critical information” to enhance first responders’ situational awareness. FirstNet plans to “act as a catalyst in the industry for the creation and evolution of mapping and display technologies that allow easy consumption of geo-location information.”
The authority also wants the network to provide “high-quality, reliable voice communications nationwide working seamlessly across analog and digital platforms.”
First responders will also have the ability to “access, exchange, and manage data securely and conveniently within and across public safety agencies and jurisdictions,” FirstNet states. Notably, the roadmap calls for improving “the performance and use of Identity, Credential & Access Management through evaluation of real-world experiences.”
And user interfaces should be “designed for specific public safety users’ operational challenges.” The authority will advocate for the development and use of public safety applications that are “operationally sound, offer intuitive user interfaces, and interoperable collaboration.” FirstNet will also push for the creation and use of mobile devices that support public safety operations, including specialized devices.
The authority says it will follow the roadmap to “prioritize its programs, activities, and investments in network improvements to ensure first responders have the communications tools they need to save lives and protect communities.”