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AT&T Celebrates 1 million FirstNet Connections with FirstNet One, a 55-foot Aerostat


I recently wrote about 3GPP progress towards 5G drones (UAS/UAV) connectivity here. In addition, there is also Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) feature that could be used to bring connectivity to hard to reach areas and in case of emergencies and disasters. I wrote about that here.

AT&T on the other hand is celebrating 1 Million Connections and Launch of “FirstNet One” – a Deployable Blimp – for Public Safety. Their press release says:

More than 10,000 public safety agencies and organizations across the country have subscribed and over 1 million FirstNet connections are in service, bringing first responders and those that support them the reliability, capability and accountability they trust to carry out their mission.

Jason Porter, senior vice president, FirstNet Program at AT&T said, “FirstNet is the only wireless communications platform that’s been architected from the ground up just for the public safety community. It’s specifically designed to advance public safety communications, equipping subscribing first responders with the innovative, mission-focused tools, technologies and features they can’t get anywhere else.”

That includes a giant addition to the FirstNet disaster response arsenal: FirstNet One – an approximately 55-foot aerostat. More commonly known as a blimp, the FirstNet One aerostat is the 76th deployable network asset to join the nationwide FirstNet fleet.

FirstNet One brings a first-of-its-kind public safety communications solution to help keep responders connected during large-scale, catastrophic events:
  • Can fly up to 1,000 feet, potentially providing over 2 times the coverage area as compared to other deployable solutions, like Satellite Cells on Wheels and Flying Cells on Wings™ (COWs).
  • Fully operational in windspeeds up to 50 mph and capable of withstanding windspeeds up to 70 mph.
  • Able to stay aloft for about 2 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, Ala. 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.



Their Innovation Blog adds:

When disaster strikes, keeping first responders and our other customers connected is our priority – and the specific mission of our Network Disaster Response (NDR) team.

Unfortunately, catastrophes like earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods won’t simply just stop occurring. Being prepared is the best way to combat these inevitable events and we do that through our NDR team – we’ve invested more than $650 million in our program, making it one of the industry’s largest and most advanced. In fact, the team has been deployed more than 200 times since 2011 with 12 deployments in 2019 alone, including support for Hurricane Dorian, flooding in the Midwest, and California wildfires.

NDR’s mobile fleet is maintained in 4, strategically placed warehouses across the country, plus a 5th location supporting our markets overseas. And to serve public safety even further, more than 40 sites nationwide house the FirstNet fleet of dedicated deployable network assets, enabling a 14-hour delivery window following the initial emergency request.

Like our Flying COWs™, when deployed FirstNet One provides LTE coverage across the targeted area during times of disasters. FirstNet One is portable and can fly up to 1,000 feet for approximately 2 weeks before needing additional helium top-off, which means it has advantages in altitude and duration. It can also reduce the need for other traditional temporary ground-based assets, such as SatCOLTs.

FirstNet One could operate during major disasters like last year’s Hurricane Michael, where assets were deployed for 3+ months in the Florida panhandle while recovery efforts were underway. This is the latest chapter in our spirit of service heritage and demonstrates our belief in the ability to make a better world through technology.


More details on AT&T FirstNet:

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