AT&T extends 5G access to FirstNet customers in 10 more cities

AT&T is making sub-6 GHz 5G network access available to FirstNet customers in 10 more U.S. cites, expanding the use of High-Power User Equipment and touting the ability of the network to be used as a backup connectivity option for public safety answering points (PSAPs).

The 10 cities with expanded sub-6 GHz 5G access for FirstNet users include five in Texas — Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio — as well as Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina, Cleveland, Oh. and Knoxville, Tenn. AT&T said that it has already made its millimeter-wave (branded at 5G+) spectrum available to FirstNet customers in parts of 38 cities and more than 20 venues around the country.

AT&T said that it expects to offer mmWave 5G to FirstNet subscribers in parts of more than 40 ciites and 40 venues by the end of this year.

FirstNet customers won’t pay an additional charge for using 5G, but they do need a 5G device that can access the FirstNet network. AT&T noted that the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G both have the necessary capability and are available for pre-order.

FirstNet customers retain their network priority and preemption access on AT&T’s LTE spectrum, and if they have a 5G-capable FirstNet device, they can get additional speed via 5G. The carrier says that the network “determines the best route for data traffic, whether that’s 5G or LTE spectrum.”

The FirstNet Authority has been laying the groundwork for a phase-in of 5G availability for FirstNet customers. In March of this year, it approved $218 million in network reinvestment to support “initial network upgrades to set FirstNet on the path to 5G”, and additional deployables for first responders.

AT&T is also focused on boosting the use of HPUE, which extends the range of network coverage in FirstNet’s Band 14 spectrum and is particularly useful in rural and hard-to-reach urban areas such as basements and stairwells, where signal strength can be low. It has branded its FirstNet HPUE tech as “FirstNet MegaRange” and last week launched a new promotion with Airgain for its AirgainConnect AC-HPUE LTE antenna modem, with a $400 discount on the equipment and $800 in FirstNet service credits. The promo is only available in certain states; you can read the fine print here.

AT&T also said that its AT&T ESInet option is now integrated with the FirstNet network, offering PSAPs the option to use the FirstNet network as an automatic wireless network backup that can deliver IP-based 911 calls through an AT&T virtual private network.

AT&T’s announcements come as APCO International holds its 2021 annual conference this week in Texas.

Agencies like Bangs Ambulance in Ithaca, New York have been utilizing FirstNet MegaRange to deliver critical patient care and transmit vital data from the field directly to local hospitals – a daily feat that was once near-impossible due to challenging terrain. And now, firefighters are experiencing MegaRange’s unique benefits as they combat this year’s record-breaking wildfire season. For example, Sisters-Camp Sherman Rural Fire Protection District in Oregon used MegaRange during their response to the Grandview Fire, which has burned just over 6,000 acres and threatened hundreds of homes. The fire was in a notoriously difficult communications area (for both cellular and radio transmissions), and MegaRange enabled key personnel to provide live situational awareness to commanders via call, text and other FirstNet certified applications.

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