FirstNet, Verizon announce core public safety networks

As FirstNet and AT&T launch the dedicated evolved packet core network to support first responders, Verizon announced general availability of its competing network.

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FirstNet, the nationwide public safety broadband network, on March 27 announced the launch of the evolved packet core network that will deliver mission-critical network services and enhanced data services to the first-responder community.

Until now, FirstNet's early users had been accessing the public-safety features over AT&T's commercial network. With the launch of the core, the First Responder Network Authority has laid the foundation for the delivery of advanced public safety features.

"The FirstNet core serves as the brain and nervous system of the nationwide network," FirstNet CTO and Operations Director Jeff Bratcher wrote in a blog post.  Built on dedicated hardware, the core separates public safety traffic from commercial traffic and supports:

  • Priority and preemption capabilities, giving responders three priority levels they can use depending on their command structure or shifting needs.
  • End-to-end encryption, allowing responders to transmit encrypted data securely across LTE-enabled devices. 
  • Around-the-clock security monitoring at an operations center that is scheduled to go live at the end of March.
  • An incident management portal that public safety officials can use to adjust users' access to network resources in near-real time.
  • FirstNet-ready devices, such as the recently introduced Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+.

The FirstNet core will also support future mission-critical services such as push-to-talk and z-axis location-based services to help responders pinpoint their location in high-rise buildings.

While FirstNet and AT&T complete testing of the network core, some customers will start moving to the new network as part of a controlled introduction. Testing will evaluate the functionality of the public safety features, network redundancy and overall performance of network components. Once the network is fully tested and validated -- expected in the April/May timeframe -- more users will move to the core.

The launch of the core network follows FirstNet's task order to AT&T for Band 14 deployment across statewide radio access networks.

Also on March 27, AT&T rival Verizon also announced general availability of its own public safety core network. Verizon's dedicated network  offers public safety customers traffic segmentation, priority and preemption, improved security as well as enhanced service management and control, according to a company statement.  Verizon's core network is built out of its commercial 4G LTE network, which it says covers 2.4 million square miles of the U.S.

Because of the size of its network, Verizon has called itself the largest provider of public safety communications in the country. In January, the company said it was working on an interconnection agreement with FirstNet and AT&T that would bring interoperability between the networks, a claim AT&T said was not true.