FirstNet Officials Pitch Apps at Electronics Show

ambulances first responders

FirstNet and AT&T Inc. officials talked up the potential for software developers and tech companies to create apps for an AT&T-built first-responder network at the nation’s premiere consumer electronics show Jan. 11 in Las Vegas.

AT&T has a 25-year contract with the government to build and maintain FirstNet, a dedicated wireless network to be used by first responders like firefighters and police. The company aims to start rolling out FirstNet services this year and have the network fully operational in every U.S. state and territory by 2023.

AT&T faces competition from Verizon Communications Inc., which now dominates the public-safety communications market and has pledged to build its own dedicated first-responder network, albeit without government backing. The success of one— or the other— could come down to the quantity and quality of apps.

“There are some really great solutions, but they’re kind of stove-piped right now, and they’re only in certain hands of certain departments,” FirstNet CEO Mike Poth told Bloomberg Law. “So we want to make sure that departments across the country have something that’s tested, certified, and successful in other parts of the country.”

Applications on the networks could include more universal, faster versions of things first responders already deploy, like gunshot detection systems alerting police when a gun is fired in their precinct. But they could also be more sophisticated, integrating with next-generation technologies, said FirstNet Senior Advisor Bill Schrier.

That might mean wearable sensors that detect police officers’ vital signs and instantly transmit an alert over FirstNet if an anomaly is detected.  Or networking apps for connected first-responder vehicles like ambulances and police cars that could potentially include autonomous vehicles at some point, Schrier said.

FirstNet officials want to see applications that can be adopted by FirstNet users around the country. Any developer building a FirstNet app should “make sure it’s not just usable for that department but for public safety as a whole,” Schrier said.

Poth said he hopes other countries will follow the U.S. lead, should FirstNet apps prove popular. FirstNet officials have already met with representatives of countries, including South Korea, the U.K., and Finland, who have shown interest in adopting a similar system.