Understanding the FirstNet Network

The FirstNet network is being built to solve the problem of accessing wireless networks during periods of congestion.   As many people in the emergency communications community know heavy public use, during large events or in an emergency incident, can lead to wireless communications networks becoming overloaded and inaccessible. In those instances, public safety users are treated the same as any other commercial or enterprise user, limiting access due to congestion and capacity issues, during the time emergency communications are most needed.

With the FirstNet Network, public safety gets a dedicated “fast lane” that provides highly secure communications every day and for every emergency. FirstNet delivers specialized features to public safety that are not available on wireless networks today – such as priority access; preemption; more network capacity; and a resilient, hardened connection.

As part of the FirstNet project, the FirstNet Authority is overseeing AT&T’s work in deploying FirstNet.  This includes:
  • An aggressive New Site Build a plan
  • Making Priority and Preemption is available on all AT&T LTE Bands
  • Extending FirstNet capabilities to the entire AT&T LTE network
  • Building a new Network Core dedicated to FirstNet
  • Adding additional coverage in rural areas

Priority and Preemption Explained

More to come


Accessing the FirstNet Network

Accessing the FirstNet network requires signing up for service on the network.  Just as you purchase a monthly service plan from a cellular carrier to allow your smartphone or network device to use the cell network you will need to purchase a monthly FirstNet Service Plan. In some cases, you may be able to reuse your current smartphone or network device and simply replace the device SIM card with the new SIM card provided by FirstNet.  The FirstNet website offers a compatibility checking tool to verify if a device can be reused. Older devices will use the current AT&T LTE network infrastructure, however, these older devices may not support the Band 14 spectrum.

Band 14 support allows a cellular-enabled device to access the dedicated FirstNet bandwidth which will increase the amount of bandwidth can capacity available for emergency communications.


What is Band 14

More to come


FirstNet, WPS, and GETs – What is the difference

WPS and GETS are programs managed by the FCC to provide priority access to communication networks during emergencies. Both systems provided a way to designate cell phones or users with priority access to traditional landline communications networks.  An emergency manager or communications manager traditionally managed access to these programs, either registering a cell phone on the WPS system or ordering a GETS card which provided the user with a special toll-free phone number and access code to allow priority access to landline communications networks.

Although the WPS system was created to ensure a high probability of call completion, it is not without limitations. WPS will not preempt calls in progress, so the user will have to wait for bandwidth to open before a priority call is placed, in essence, you are first in line when bandwidth becomes available. A cell phone using WPS will also not automatically get priority on landline networks, therefore, congestion on the Public Switched Telephone Network may prevent call completion.   The user can take the additional steps of using the GETS service for priority access to landline calls as well but this would add additional steps to place emergency calls. Because of these and other limitations, the WPS explicitly does not guarantee call completion.

The FirstNet network provides solutions to some of these problems.  By design calls on the FirstNet network not only get priority over regular cell phone users but also preemption which will actively push normal users off the network when it becomes congested.  The only exemption for normal users is when they dial 911,  911 calls receive the highest priority.  As Band 14 is deployed and devices are purchased that support Band 14 additional dedicated bandwidth will also be available to FirstNet users.  These features of the FirstNet network will enhance emergency communications and as the program expands other capabilities will be added that will further enhance emergency communications capabilities.

See “WPS and GETS” for more information on these programs. 


Expanding Options

As FirstNet expands its operations, other communication networks are responding by expanding and enhancing their service offerings.  Verizon’s Responder Private Core solution is offering a number of solutions for enhancing emergency communications that mirror in many ways the FirstNet solution. 

Additional Resources

-FirstNet Authority – https://firstnet.gov/

-GETS – Government Emergency Telecommunications System – https://www.dhs.gov/cisa/government-emergency-telecommunications-service-gets

– WPS -Wireless Priority Service  https://www.dhs.gov/cisa/wireless-priority-service-wps

 -Verizon Wireless – Responder Private Core – https://enterprise.verizon.com/solutions/public-sector/public-safety/