AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority announced the launch of the FirstNet network core on Tuesday, a critical step in establishing the first dedicated public safety communications platform for first responders.
Serving as the brain of Firstnet, the LTE evolved packet network core infrastructure was built on hardware that’s physically separate from AT&T’s commercial infrastructure. The network core boasts end-to-end encryption, and a Security Operations Center will monitor and analyze traffic on the network 24/7 to identify potential threats in real time.
“The launch of the network core comes a year into the FirstNet public-private partnership,” Chris Sambar, senior vice president of AT&T FirstNet, said. “It’s been a non-stop 12 months. And we’re proud of the quick progress we’ve made in this short timeframe, consistently delivering on or ahead of schedule. But bringing the FirstNet network core to life is one of the most exciting milestones yet.”
The FirstNet network core will enable first responders to access First Priority, an enhanced priority and preemption feature that can reflect command structures or changing needs. Additionally, the network core’s launch unlocks FirstNet’s Incident Management Portal, which allows critical users to be given the highest priority levels in real-time. Additional features like push-to-talk and z-Axis location-based services will also be supported by the network core.
“Outdated communications capabilities are a threat to public safety,” Ed Davis, former commissioner of the Boston Police Department, said. “We’ve seen it repeatedly when disasters strike — from September 11, the Boston Marathon and Parkland. We’ve been advocating for the future of communications to bring us a modern solution that will empower us with next-generation tools. And with FirstNet, that future is here, giving us an experience we can’t get on any commercial network.”
The First Responder Network Authority is working to certify the network core. AT&T will utilize a “controlled introduction” in which a limited number of users will be able to use the dedicated system until testing has been completed.
“To ensure the network delivers the performance and integrity public safety demands, the FirstNet core will continue to undergo validation and testing with the First Responder Network Authority,” Jeff Bratcher, the chief technology officer and operations director of First Responder Network Authority, said. “Alongside AT&T, we will exercise the functionality of the public safety features, measure redundancy under a variety of conditions, and validate the overall performance and resiliency of network components. With the results of these tests, the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T will validate that the network will be there when public safety needs it.”
First responders have been able to use the AT&T commercial core to access some of the benefits while the network core was under construction. Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk said FirstNet has already made a “tremendous difference” in helping first responders “cut through the clutter” and gain access to critical information.
“That was before the launch of the FirstNet network core,” Kirk said. “So, we’re expecting it to only get better from here, which we believe will continue to improve our operations.”