• The U.S. Air Force is adding first responder network capability to 15 of its bases, which will help public safety personnel communicate during operations or emergencies, such as weather-related disasters, like Tyndall faced in 2018 with Hurricane Michael. Credit: Staff Sgt. Alexander Henniger
     The U.S. Air Force is adding first responder network capability to 15 of its bases, which will help public safety personnel communicate during operations or emergencies, such as weather-related disasters, like Tyndall faced in 2018 with Hurricane Michael. Credit: Staff Sgt. Alexander Henniger

Air Force Adds FirstNet to 15 Bases

October 5, 2021
Posted by Kimberly Underwood
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The service selects the public safety network for base emergency communications.


Under an agreement with the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center and telecommunications carrier AT&T, the Air Force will add FirstNet to 15 of the service’s bases to better support base first responders. For the next 21 years, AT&T will deliver FirstNet connectivity to the facilities, the company reported October 5.

Built in response to first responder and public safety needs following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, FirstNet is the nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform for police, fire, emergency medical and public safety personnel. It was constructed in 2018 with AT&T in public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority.

“FirstNet offers a wide range of mission-centric capabilities to support communications among base first responders and public safety personnel,” an AT&T spokesperson explained. “It supports reliable, secure and interoperable communications among on- and off-base public safety personnel when collaborating to mitigate incidents that threaten the safety of airmen and the general public. Unlike commercial networks, FirstNet is built to public safety’s strict specifications and requirements.”

AT&T will design the Air Force’s specific public safety network to have unique features and functionality, including a physically separate, dedicated, 5G-enabled core that will provide a so-called always-on priority and a preemption capability for first responders. It also will include the long term evolution (LTE) Band 14 high-quality spectrum—which is set aside for the government use—as well as all of AT&T’s commercial LTE spectrum bands.

“The dedicated lane of connectivity for the Air Force’s military and public safety community will help them connect to critical information they need when they need it,” the company emphasized. “In addition, with FirstNet, these U.S. Air Force bases will have access to a dedicated nationwide fleet of 100+ land-based and airborne portable cell sites stationed across the country to provide connectivity during significant events in support of public safety’s mission. These critical response assets are available 24/7 at no additional charge.”

The FirstNet core will give the Air Force bases access to ensured network connectivity and increased bandwidth efficiencies and high throughput speeds, as well as to 5G-powered network edge innovative solutions, the company indicated. The network will support voice, data and streaming video communications. It also offers interoperability with the bases' existing LMR capabilities—land mobile radio—and communication ties to off-base first responders.

FirstNet also features comprehensive tower-to-core encryption based on open industry standards—and is the first nationwide network to do so, according to AT&T. The network traffic can be automatically secured as it moves from the cell tower, to the backhaul, the core and back.

“Modernizing communications is a top priority for the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense,” the company said. “The Air Force is delivering on this strategy by investing to improve network coverage and adopting FirstNet initially across 15 bases while it considers expanding FirstNet accessibility to others.”

The service’s 21-year agreement represents the remaining timeframe of the 25-year public-private partnership between the U.S. government and AT&T under the First Responder Network Authority contract, the company noted.

“We aim to be the network provider of choice as the Air Force moves more deliberately toward consuming advanced communications capabilities,” said Lance Spencer, client executive vice president, Defense, AT&T Public Sector and FirstNet. “It’s an honor to deliver FirstNet to support base personnel and first responders to help ensure the safety of each base and its surrounding community.”

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