First responders perform a specialized job. And with the launch of the FirstNet network core, first responders now have access to a truly specialized communications system that can keep up with their needs.
FirstNet is the country’s first nationwide public safety communications platform dedicated to first responders in times of need. Built with AT&T*, in public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority, FirstNet is bringing public safety a much-needed technology upgrade.
“The launch of the network core comes a year into the FirstNet public-private partnership. 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,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T – FirstNet. “But bringing the FirstNet network core to life is one of the most exciting milestones yet.”
What this means for first responders
While we’ve already given first responders access to the early benefits of FirstNet, the launch of the FirstNet evolved packet core is a major breakthrough for public safety. Built on physically separate hardware, it finally gives first responders their own separate, nationwide broadband network. And it’s being certified by the First Responder Network Authority, so first responders can be confident that it’s a solution they can count on.
“This is what public safety has spent years advocating for,” said Scott Edson, executive director, Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communication System (LA-RICS). “We knew giving first responders a network that they could truly call their own was possible from our work on LA-RICS – 1 of 5 FirstNet early builder projects. But to see public safety’s network core roar to life nationwide, well, there are no words for how meaningful that is. We at LA-RICS look forward to connecting our sites to the FirstNet network core.”
How it works
The evolved packet core operates like the brain and nervous system of FirstNet. It:
- Creates and controls the FirstNet experience, which is only available to FirstNet subscribers.
- Processes and carries public safety’s vital information.
- Unlocks critical capabilities, like First Priority™, to help law enforcement, EMS and fire respond to unfolding incidents around them.
- Forms the basis for the unified, interoperable and nationwide communications system that public safety envisioned.
Built from the ground up, the FirstNet evolved packet core is designed to meet the needs of first responders. It was designed on the objectives and standards provided by the First Responder Network Authority based on years of consultation with public safety.
The evolved packet core distinguishes FirstNet from other network offerings. We believe public safety has never had access to something like this.
“Outdated communications capabilities are a threat to public safety. We’ve seen it repeatedly when disasters strike – from September 11, the Boston Marathon and Parkland,” said Ed Davis, former Boston police commissioner. “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.
“Those on the front lines can now evolve the way we communicate, using mission-critical text and data on top of voice to ensure we are connected to as much information as possible to achieve our missions. Because the more connected we can be, the more protected we can be.”
Creating the network core
We’ve been working on the FirstNet evolved packet core since early 2017, putting hundreds of millions of dollars behind it.
And while all networks have a core, this is the first-ever evolved packet core dedicated entirely to public safety. Only FirstNet traffic will move through the core.
To do this, we built the FirstNet evolved packet core on physically separate hardware, which will effectively separate public safety’s traffic from commercial traffic. It’s like having a super highway that only public safety can use. Other highways at times have lanes filled bumper to bumper with consumer, commercial and public safety users.
To keep all traffic on the FirstNet evolved packet core protected, it is designed with a defense-in-depth approach that helps maintain security at every level. It also will be monitored 24/7/365 by a dedicated Security Operations Center with a dedicated team of experts.
Their sole focus is to watch over the security of the network, analyzing all traffic that crosses the network core to identify and help mitigate possible threats. And with more than 197 petabytes of data crossing the AT&T global network on an average business day, we bring the right expertise to manage a highly secure network for FirstNet.
The First Responder Network Authority can check in on the network at any time through a custom portal that provides full visibility into the Security Operations Center.
Fostering new capabilities
The FirstNet network core will serve as a springboard for ongoing innovation and advanced functionality, delivering value-added capabilities and benefits that commercial cores can’t match.
- First responders on the FirstNet evolved packet core can now access First Priority™. This turns FirstNet’s always-on access to priority and preemption up a notch, giving first responders 2 more priority levels. With 3 options at their fingertips, public safety agencies will have the ability to assign priority levels based on their command structure or shifting needs.
- The launch of the FirstNet evolved packet core also unlocks the Incident Management Portal. This puts public safety in control of their network resources. Depending on the event or emergency, public safety may need to uplift critical users to the highest priority levels. Using the Incident Management Portal, they can make these adjustments in near real time to help first responders stay safe and save lives. Public safety can also temporarily uplift other non-first responder users that are essential to managing the incident – like utilities or transportation.
- The FirstNet evolved packet core will continue to deliver a range of next-generation public safety capabilities. First responders can look forward to future technologies like mission-critical Push-to-Talk, z-Axis location-based services and more.
Moving to the FirstNet evolved packet core
While the FirstNet evolved packet core was under construction, first responders were utilizing the AT&T commercial core to access the early benefits of FirstNet. But now that the FirstNet evolved packet core has launched, we can begin moving users to this new, dedicated experience. We’ll start with a controlled introduction with a limited customer set while the First Responder Network Authority completes its extensive testing of the network core.
Once the controlled introduction wraps, more FirstNet customers will be moved – likely in the April/May timeframe.
“We’ve been transitioning to FirstNet to take advantage of our network – a network designed for and being built just for us. And we’ve already seen the tremendous difference FirstNet can make in helping us cut through the clutter and get access to the vital information we need to keep ourselves and those we protect out of harm’s way,” said Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk. “That was before the launch of the FirstNet network core. So, we’re expecting it to only get better from here, which we believe will continue to improve our operations.”
Since this is public safety’s network, it brings first responders their own dedicated FirstNet SIM. And moving to the FirstNet evolved packet core may be as simple as swapping out the commercial SIM card with a FirstNet SIM card.
With the launch of the FirstNet evolved packet core, users can now also take advantage of recently announced FirstNet-ready devices. This includes popular mobile devices like the Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+. Rugged mobile devices like the Sonim XP8 and XP5s will be coming soon. And the FirstNet SIM will also work with other devices, but firmware updates may be required.
The NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 Mobile router – a mobile hotspot router – is another product that will accept the FirstNet SIM. First responders can use the NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 Mobile router to provide the in-vehicle mobile connectivity they need.