AT&T, FirstNet unveil $8B investment

AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) announced the next phase of FirstNet with a series of investments totaling more than $8 billion over 10 years.

This next phase will create a 5G standalone (SA) core and support the transition of public safety’s Band 14 spectrum from LTE to 5G. It will also expand mission-critical services – such as voice, video, data and location – and prepare the network to evolve beyond 5G.

The build includes 1,000 new cell sites within the next two years and upgrades to public safety’s dedicated fleet of deployable network assets with 5G connectivity.

Starting in March, FirstNet will be “the first and only wireless network” to provide America’s first responders with always-on priority and preemption across 5G, expanding to include all of AT&T’s 5G commercial spectrum, according to a press release.

A Verizon spokesperson said Verizon Frontline offers “all eligible public safety customers always-on priority and preemption” on its LTE and 5G nationwide networks. The services are included in its public safety plans at no additional cost to the customer.  

Fierce reached out to T-Mobile as well to inquire about its always-on priority and preemption services on 5G and will update this story with their response.

Update: A T-Mobile spokesperson provided the following statement: "T-Mobile customers with Wireless Priority Service (WPS) get always-on priority and preemption for voice, and always-on priority for data, across both 5G and LTE."

FirstNet 3.0 begins now

During an event at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue station in Virginia today, FirstNet CEO Joe Wassel called AT&T one of the best partners ever and said “we’re not done. FirstNet 3.0 begins right here, right now,” fueled in part by over $8 billion that will transform the network.

AT&T was awarded the 25-year FirstNet contract in 2017 and now boasts more than 5.5 million connections and about 27,500 public safety agencies and organizations on its system.

AT&T and FirstNet say that FirstNet is the only network built with and for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community, but that has not stopped Verizon and T-Mobile from trying to woo public safety agencies to their networks.

Verizon has served public safety agencies for decades and had the lion’s share of the public safety market, a situation that Verizon executives didn’t see changing with AT&T’s win of the FirstNet contract. As for T-Mobile, it started more aggressively targeting public safety with its “Connecting Heroes” program in 2020.

When AT&T won the FirstNet contract, it also obtained access to FirstNet’s 20 MHz of 700 MHz low-band spectrum, aka Band 14.

The $8 billion investment announced today includes $6.3 billion for delivering full 5G capabilities on FirstNet, expanded mission-critical services and enhanced coverage. The FirstNet Authority expects an additional $2 billion in ongoing investments for coverage enhancements, which is “currently under discussion by the parties,” according to the press release.

AT&T said the investment does not change AT&T’s financial guidance provided during its January 2024 earnings, when it reiterated capital investment in 2024 will be in the range of $21 billion to $22 billion.

In a note for investors, New Street Research analyst Philip Burnett said today’s $8 billion announcement simply guarantees AT&T the funding that it had already expected.

“It was always likely AT&T would win the next leg of funding from FirstNet, as the agency would otherwise have to select another carrier and create a new FirstNet network from the ground up,” Burnett said. “Nevertheless, because FirstNet is subject to federal acquisition rules, the agency was ‘prohibited from contractually committing to a specific vendor’ [ie, AT&T] for future FirstNet investments beyond those first five years.”

In December, FirstNet certified that AT&T had met its initial five-year buildout requirements under the first leg of the 25-year contract.

Editor's note: This article was updated February 13 with a statement from T-Mobile.