AT&T pumps $2 billion into FirstNet’s rural coverage

The company says it expects many public safety agencies and commercial customers will begin switching to its service as the public safety network is expanded in under-connected regions.

AT&T will invest $2 billion into FirstNet to facilitate the dedicated public safety network’s rural deployment, AT&T communications chief executive John Donovan said earlier this month. 

The injection comes as the company says it expects an influx of public safety agencies subscribing to the network in the next six months, Urgent Communications reported.

AT&T invested $40 billion into FirstNet when it was selected as the federal government’s vendor for a nationwide public-safety broadband network last March, and will utilize the additional $2 billion to build out Band 14 spectrum — the dedicated public safety spectrum that FirstNet will operate on — in rural areas lacking connectivity. 

The investment continues an effort that officially began earlier this year.


“FirstNet is being built through an innovative public-private partnership,” a FirstNet spokesperson told StateScoop on Wednesday. “Our partner has committed to investing in this network for public safety, with a focus on rural areas, and evolving it to meet public safety’s needs. We are pleased to see that AT&T is moving quickly to accelerate the deployment of public safety’s network; it is a win-win for first responders and the communities they serve.”

While AT&T owns the contract to build out the network and is legally mandated to provide coverage to under-served rural areas of the country, its largest competitor and owner of the industry’s biggest wireless market share, Verizon, has outpaced the government contractor in those areas. 

Donovan says FirstNet is an opportunity to take back some of AT&T’s commercial market in rural America. 

“If you look at where T-Mobile in wireless and Verizon in wireless are succeeding, they’re polar opposites — T-Mobile much more urban, Verizon much more rural,” Donovan said. “FirstNet gives us a great opportunity to go into the rural markets. Not only will we be building the network for first responders, it dawned on us that we should also be putting up stores and going after the consumers.”

Donovan also says that AT&T is expecting many of the public safety agencies in those areas previously only covered by Verizon to switch their service to AT&T as FirstNet is built out. 


Verizon isn’t sitting on the sidelines, though — it announced the completion of its own dedicated public safety network core on the same day as AT&T earlier this year, advertising to offer virtually the same services included in the government-backed FirstNet core.

Speaking at the MoffatNathanson Media & Communications Summit earlier this month, Donovan also said that AT&T will deploy an additional 20 MHz of wireless communication service spectrum (WCS) and 20 MHz of advanced wireless services spectrum (AWS-3) at the same time as the Band 14 deployment. It will save about a billion dollars in infrastructure costs for the company, he said, while offering 60 MHz total in additional spectrum for LTE devices.

At the summit, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that expansion also sets the table for the next wave of wireless communication: 5G. 

AT&T will install carrier-aggregation technology with the Band 14, WCS and AWS-3 spectrums that will increase bandwidth, expand data capacity and double LTE speeds — all while paving the way for 5G services, Stephenson said. With that technology in place, AT&T won’t have to send crews out to individually upgrade the cell sites. It will be able to upgrade through software updates when the time comes for 5G.

Stephenson said that AT&T will have 500 markets with the new technology in place by the end of the year, dramatically increasing LTE performance across the company’s commercial coverage footprint while also building out FirstNet’s Band 14 spectrum “before you’ve even gotten to 5G,” he said. 


When 5G is ready, Stephenson added, the software upgrade will be all that is necessary to enable every cell site with the new tech.

“So, we’re going to touch the cell sites one time to deploy FirstNet, to deploy LTE evolution and to deploy 5G. [As] you put all this together, it’s a very robust plan over the next two to three years to put all this in place, and all of it rolls together.” 

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