FirstNet Subs Now Over 1M, Adds Blimp

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The FirstNet public safety communications platform – built with AT&T in a public-private partnership –is growing. More than 10,000 public safety agencies and organizations have subscribed. And just over one million FirstNet connections are in service. 

“Public safety is called upon to handle emergencies every single day. They have to be ready for the worst with the best tools to help them respond safely, efficiently and effectively,” said Jason Porter, senior vice president, FirstNet Program at AT&T. 

Porter said the FirstNet Band 14 coverage expansion is now 75 percent complete. FirstNet added a new tool, an approximately 55-foot aerostat, more commonly called a blimp. “FirstNet One” brings new capabilities to help keep responders connected during large-scale, catastrophic events: 

  • Can fly up to 1,000 feet, potentially providing over two times the coverage area as compared to other deployable solutions, like Satellite Cells on Wheels and Flying Cells on Wings™ (COWs).
  • Fully operational in wind speeds up to 50 mph and capable of withstanding wind speeds up to 70 mph.
  • Able to stay aloft for about two weeks before needing additional helium top-off, giving first responders wide-scale portable connectivity over an extended period of time.
  • Tethered to a trailer to provide either satellite or wireline backhaul.
  • Reduces the need for multiple ground-based portable cell sites, freeing those dedicated assets to be used by other agencies nationwide.   

The aerostat was recently tested in Tuskegee, AL. Flight testing established its initial coverage area, airworthiness, payload lift potential, avionics and flight controls, and performance of the power and data transmission lines connecting to the FirstNet network core. Operational methods, procedures and safety standards required to deploy, launch, operate and recover the asset in a public safety incident response scenario were also tested.

Like the other 75 portable assets – including three Flying COWs™ – FirstNet One will be available 24/7 at no additional charge to FirstNet subscribers for potential use during major incidents. Disasters where the blimp could be deployed include major hurricanes. The FirstNet team at AT&T, led by former first responders, will determine the appropriate asset to send based on the situation.

December 6, 2019

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